Peter Bergen is CNN’s national security analyst, a vice president at New America and a professor of practice at Arizona State University. He is the editor of the Coronavirus Daily Brief and author of the new book “Trump and His Generals: The Cost of Chaos.” The opinions expressed here are his own. Read more opinion at CNN.
President Donald Trump said at a White House roundtable event on Monday: “I’m taking it, hydroxychloroquine. Right now, yeah. Couple of weeks ago, I started taking it. Cause I think it’s good, I’ve heard a lot of good stories.”
This admission about his use of hydroxychloroquine makes Trump’s previous musings about using disinfectant to treat the coronavirus look sage. The President can call on the best scientists and doctors in the world for medical advice, and he comes up with this? Trump’s own FDA in late April warned of the dangers of taking hydroxychloroquine outside of a hospital or a clinical study setting “due to risk of heart rhythm problems.”
Even Fox News anchor Neil Cavuto warned his viewers not to follow the President’s example, saying, “If you are in a risky population here, and you are taking this as a preventative treatment to ward off the virus or in a worst-case scenario, you are dealing with the virus, and you are in this vulnerable population, it will kill you.” (Trump swiftly slapped Cavuto down on Twitter.)
The President has made any number of other non-scientific claims about the coronavirus, including that warm weather will take care of the virus (don’t count on it, says his own Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), or that the US had coronavirus “totally under control,” (see today’s death toll of more than 91,000) or that we are “very close to a vaccine” (not likely, medical scientists say).
It’s Trump’s disregard for science that prompted the leading medical journal The Lancet to publish an unusual editorial over the weekend saying that “Americans must put a president in the White House come January, 2021, who will understand that public health should not be guided by partisan politics.”
But he is not the only Trump to play fast and loose with the reality of this contagion: The apple falleth not far from the tree. A day before his father’s stunning hydroxychloroquine admission, Eric Trump told Fox News that Democrats are milking the pandemic for political gain and trying to prevent his father from holding campaign rallies. And he predicted that after the presidential election on November 3 the “coronavirus will magically all of a sudden go away and disappear and everybody will be able to reopen.”
In fact, as the number of dead inches, day by day, toward 100,000, there is widespread agreement among scientists, including Trump’s CDC Director, Robert Redfield, that a second wave of the pandemic will likely hit the US later this year. Redfield explained last month, “There’s a possibility that the assault of the virus on our nation next winter will actually be even more difficult than the one we just went through…We’re going to have the flu epidemic and the coronavirus epidemic at the same time.”
Not to be outdone, Donald Trump Jr. recently defended remarks he’d made on air before Fox News’ large audience in February, when he suggested that “for Democrats to try to take a pandemic and seemingly hope that it comes here and kills millions of people so that they could end Donald Trump’s streak of winning is a new level of sickness.” He told Axios earlier this month that he was “entitled to speak with such hyperbole.”
Meanwhile, a week ago presidential son-in-law, senior adviser and savior of worlds Jared Kushner mused to a Time reporter that he couldn’t “commit one way or the other” about the possibility of postponing the presidential election (neither he nor the President are legally empowered to do this).
And at the end of April, Kushner touted to Fox News the “great success” of the Trump administration in fighting the coronavirus. Kushner told the network that he hopes the US will be “really rocking again” by July. The official death toll for Americans is already the worst in the world. A month and a half out, we’re not rocking.
Jared’s wife Ivanka, another senior adviser to the President, who is her father, also took one for the team by disregarding federal guidelines on not taking discretionary travel during the pandemic when she traveled from DC to her family golf club in New Jersey in mid-April.
First Lady Melania Trump? She has been strangely absent throughout this crisis despite her “Be Best” campaign that is focused on the well-being of American children — and at a time when many children are living through what might be the most difficult experience of their lives.
Trump has cast the battle with coronavirus as a war and ordinary Americans as “warriors.” But if the President is the general, he is leading his troops into battle armed with misinformation. Presumably, he is trying to control the narrative as he charges on toward the election — and by doing so he appears more concerned with winning the election battle rather than beating the coronavirus.
What an unbearable sadness for Americans to have such incompetence at the helm during the worst crisis in eight decades.
America the Pitiable.