Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – Trump has sidelined Dr. Anthony Fauci again, and sent his assassin, trade adviser Peter Navarro out to attack him in USA Today. (Trump denies that he was behind the hit job, but organized crime bosses always blame their subordinates for the violence they decree.) It is said that Trump is upset that while most Americans tell pollsters that they trust Fauci on handling the coronavirus, they mostly say they don’t trust Trump.
Trump’s approach to the novel coronavirus has been denial and magical thinking, which is the main reason that the Centers for Disease Control reported 61,000 new cases on Tuesday. There is no Federal strategy, so that states are left to their own devices. Trump boasts of how many tests are now being done, but it is states and state-private consortia that are responsible for most of those. Moreover, testing people isn’t all that useful unless you follow up with contact tracing (when you get a sick person positive for the virus, you have to have people call up all their friends and contacts and tell them to quarantine for two weeks).
There are now 37,000 contact tracers, most of them paid for by states, up from 6,000 in the spring. The bad news? The US still needs to add at least 100,000 contact tracers, and some authorities say we need 300,000.
1. So that is one sore point with Trump and his acolytes like Navarro. Fauci says contact tracing is presently not going very well. Trump doesn’t seem to know what that is, and isn’t doing anything to help, and just brays about how many tests are being administered, which doesn’t slow the advance of the virus.
Trump has also given people false hope by promoting nostrums like hydroxychloroquine. He either owns stock in it or is convinced it will help him if people have hopes in a medicine. France, Italy and Belgium have all banned this treatment for Covid-19, because it does not show substantial results in most patients and also because it has dangerous side effects like weakening the heart.
2. Trump’s character assassin, Navarro, is still harping on hydroxychloroquine and attacks Fauci for being unconvinced of its value. We know where that is coming from, since that medicine has been Trump’s idee fixe. On July 4, the World Health Organization, which Trump is also trying to sink, accepted the advice of the Solidarity Trial International Steering Committee, and discontinued hydroxychloroquine trials for Covid-19, since there is no evidence it does any good as a general matter. Trump is a businessman with repeated bankruptcies and a shaky hold on reality, while Navarro is a quirky and little-cited trade economist. Neither has the slightest idea what they are talking about.
Trump had not wanted to close down the US economy in March and April, and wanted to open it right back up by Easter. Navarro supported Trump’s stance with specious arguments that the shutdown itself was a worse public health menace than the virus.
3. Fauci, in contrast, championed the spring mitigation measures and warned against a rush to reopen at Memorial Day. By that point, the states that fully reopened were not trending down as the CDC had advised. It was that premature reopening, pushed by Trump, that has landed Florida, Arizona, Arkansas and Texas in such hot water with regard to the coronavirus outbreak.
Fauci was right. Trump and Navarro were dead wrong (and thousands of Americans are dead because of it).
And that is why they are assassinating Fauci’s character. Trump doesn’t like being contradicted, and doesn’t like government officials who are more popular than he is. Above all, he hates any challenge to his pet conspiracy theories.
In the end, it comes down to Trump’s hatred for science, especially for science that demonstrates how wrong he is.