What’s next, leeches?
Since 2016, I’ve been ranting and raving about how public policy — starting with the Brexiteers in Great Britain followed by the Trumpeteers in the United States — is being driven by misinformation, lies and manipulation of selected information.
I try to stay rational, really I do.
Even as they agree with me, my friends and family roll their eyes when I get started – my poor wife begs me to stop reading her the news stories that fuel my outrage before we go to sleep – while my colleagues make jokes just to enjoy my rage.
But, come on. Can you blame me, given the ever-faster, ever-more-intense flurry of lies, distortions and quarter-truths by selected leaders that led first to Britain exiting the European Union, then to the election of Donald Trump, whose inconceivably irresponsible declarations day after day (and attacks on the reporters challenging him) only confirm what so many feared from the outset: that no one in modern history has been more supremely unqualified to hold the job as the most powerful person in the world.
He is what he’s always been: The boor standing at the bar, provoking everyone within earshot with his uninformed opinions and lies, based not on an understanding of…well, anything, really.
As you can guess by now, this is not a piece analysing the perfect economic, political, social and global storm that created the opportunity for such a person to rise to that pinnacle, the American presidency.
Raising the dead
In fact, I’ve often fantasized of a conversation I would love to have with my mother – who died in 1988 – and my father, who died in 2003 – both alive in the years when the current leader was something of a national joke. It goes like this:
“Guess who’s the president of the United States?”
“Now guess what he speculated could be an effective treatment – injections, even – for a new virus that as yet has no vaccine or cure?”
The answers, as the expression goes, would send them spinning in their graves.
Bleach? Disinfectant? Ultraviolet rays? It would be laughable if it weren’t so tragic, if millions of Americans weren’t so ignorant as to believe a man who puts his own ignorance on public display virtually every time he opens his mouth.
We’ve already had the chloroquine-and-hydroxychloroquine-Covid-19-treatment “miracle” cure story. Well, maybe — but clearly no miracle, at least not so far and not yet, according to pretty much every reputable medical and health source that’s responsibly studied their effects, culminating in the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warning on 24 April that using the drugs outside a hospital setting or clinical trial is dangerous, with the potential to trigger serious heart problems for coronavirus patients.
Yet, his habit is to present these notions like that guy in the bar, absolving himself of responsibility for verifying information that he presents to the world as if he had any authority on anything he talks about beyond his own flawed intuition.
Here’s the tragedy: As stupid, ignorant and foolish as the man is, he has the highest and loudest bully pulpit on the planet and his musings have consequences. In this case, they triggered a surge in prescriptions when he recommended those treatments for Covid-19.
According to Carmen Catizone, executive director of the National Association of the Boards of Pharmacy, a resulting shortage “put patients at risk who depend on these medications” to treat conditions including lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, various skin conditions and tropical diseases such as malaria and amoebic dysentery.
The message seems to have gotten through now that both he and Fox News personalities have gone quiet on this particular miracle cure based on the solid and undeniable information now pouring in.
That said, we’ve seen, as one columnist put it succinctly, “the societal costs of having a leader who relies on his gut and random members of his family rather than on bureaucratic and medical experts now seem clear.”
Lysol, Clorox warn about coronavirus treatments
Which brings us to….bleach and UV rays, and the now-infamous video, co-starring Dr. Deborah Birx, the coordinator of the government’s coronavirus response, and her pained expression throughout what one can assume to rank among the most agonising few minutes of her professional life.
It seems the guy at the bar may have gone too far this time, so overwhelmed by a global onslaught of abuse, derision (and some delightfully funny satire) that it may even have convinced him to give up his cherished two-hour-a-day mouthings-off.
Yes, funny. Until you read things that chill you, like the fact that after his bleach-and-UV-rays speculation, government officials, disinfectant companies and medical experts emitted streams of statements warning people not to ingest products such as Lysol or Clorox bleach.
“This notion of injecting or ingesting any type of cleansing product into the body is irresponsible and it’s dangerous,” pulmonologist and global health policy expert Dr Vin Gupta told NBC News. “It’s a common method that people utilise when they want to kill themselves.”
Here’s where I’m driving: Facts matter. Uninformed speculation, even when it’s laughable — particularly out of the mouths of national leaders during a crisis — is irresponsible at best and life-threatening at worst.
Facts are what I traffic in as a journalist — and what the company I founded and lead does for its business. We live or die based on the quality of the facts we produce for our clients. We strive to provide them with information that will help guide them and their clients and customers into informed decisions because, at the end of the day, that’s the only path to making the right choices.
You can overlay those decisions with emotion, analysis, good faith, whatever. But if the facts are wrong…well, you’re in trouble long before you get to your decision.
Another fantasy would be to hear this from the president’s mouth, not just from Ohio Republican governor, Mike DeWine; “When I’ve made decisions that I’ve regretted, it was often because I didn’t have enough facts, I didn’t ask enough questions, I didn’t ask the right people.”
Several decades ago, I co-wrote a general health book with Dr. Dean Edell, a popular American radio-and-tv personality who built his career on debunking the exact kinds of misinformation Trump traffics. In it, we praised science as “that force which has lifted us from the dust and the darkness, slain the demons and fears of yore, and brought us the world we have now. It is the application of reason and logic, of trial and error, of scientific method and experimentation Through science we have created our world and vanquished the great medical foes of the past…That’s the fundamental beauty of science. Most scientists will change their minds with the evidence.”
Covid-19 and bleach: it’s not that complicated
It’s one of the reasons I so admire German Chancellor Angela Merkel — herself a doctor of quantum chemistry — who clearly, rationally and consistently explains to the country the reasons and science behind her government’s Covid-19 policies. It’s heartening that more than 80% of Germans approve her sober, effective and reasoned handling of the crisis.
And I would take that as one of the explanations why various polls — the most recent before Trump’s sunlight-and-disinfectant dust-up Thursday — show more than half of Americans disapprove his handling of the crisis (and the Republican Party reportedly getting increasingly nervous that he’s leading the party into an electoral disaster in November).
If he had the capacity, Trump would learn a thing or two from his German counterpart: that communicating with accurate, responsible information based on scientifically-proved, verifiable facts could work…even for him.