United States President Donald Trump has made many stupid remarks in his daily campaign events on TV, mischaracterised as “informational sessions” on the COVID-19 pandemic.
One particularly ignorant and dangerous remark from the past week has gotten a lot of attention.
Trump was speaking to scientists and doctors, and said that he had heard that ultra-violet light and household disinfectants were useful in killing the virus. He then said that it might be possible to “get that light into the body” of infected patients. He also suggested that injecting or ingesting “disinfectants” could be used to combat the virus.
No one knew what he was talking about regarding getting ultra-violet light into the body. However, Trump’s comments on disinfectants drew immediate warnings from doctors and scientists that such a suggestion was very dangerous, as these are poisons.
The next day, Trump’s press secretary said his comments were “taken out of context” by the media.
The day after that, Trump said he was just being “sarcastic” to a “nasty” reporter. However, Trump’s initial remarks were re-broadcast many times. His demeanor was clearly that of someone making what he thought were important remarks, without a hint of sarcasm. They weren’t aimed at any reporter, and some in the media say there were no reporters present.
Doctor Deborah Birx, the beleaguered White House coordinator for its response to the pandemic, then said the president was just “musing” with the doctors and scientists present. This explanation only made Trump look even more foolish.
In spite of the loud warnings against ingesting or injecting disinfectants, many took Trump’s suggestions to heart. Some people thought that, since alcohol is a common disinfectant in hand sanitisers, then drinking a lot of whiskey, wine or other alcoholic beverages would disinfect the body.
However, the alcohol in such beverages is ethanol. The alcohol in hand sanitisers is isopropyl alcohol. Ingesting it causes severe gastric distress in small doses and painful death in larger amounts.
Injecting disinfectants is certain to be fatal.
Right after Trump’s remarks, poison control centers reported a spike in calls reporting poisonings from hand sanitisers, bleach and similar substances. Trump said he took no responsibility if someone died as a result.
Trump's shows cancelled
Prior to Trump’s irresponsible remarks, polls showed his daily TV shows were hurting him politically. Doctors and scientists were often present on these shows. They had to walk on eggshells not to anger Trump, while distancing themselves from his “commentary”.
Trump dominated the shows, and even at times blocked experts present from answering reporters’ questions. He spent a lot of time attacking reporters who asked questions he didn’t want to answer, dodging his responsibility for making the pandemic much worse and blaming others (Democrats, China, the media, immigrants and so on).
Following Trump’s “disinfectant” comments, he was pressured into canceling these shows. He still calls press conferences, however, featuring just himself.
A New York Times article, entitled “Some Republicans see Trump sinking, and taking Senate with him”, quoted some party leaders with mild criticisms of Trump’s performance.
However, the article went on to say: “Privately, other party leaders are less restrained about the political damage they believe Mr Trump is doing to himself and Republican candidates.
“One prominent GOP [Republican Party] senator said the nightly sessions were so painful he could not bear watching any longer.”
Following those comments, a NYT columnist wrote that Trump’s “self assessment” has been consistent: “‘I’m, like, a very smart person,’ he assured voters in 2016.
“‘A very stable genius’, he ruled two years later.”
“I’m not a doctor” Trump admitted, when making his disinfection comments in the White House briefing room. He then pointed to his skull, saying “but I’m like, a person who has a good ‘you-know-what’”, said the NYT.
We have become used to Trump dismissing science when it conflicts with his political or economic interests, but now it is clear he is a complete ignoramus concerning science. School children know more about science than he does. Parents keep household disinfectants away from their children.
‘Opening up’ the economy
Trump is pressuring state governors to quickly reopen shut-down sectors of the economy. Some states are moving to do just that. However, others are much more cautious.
However, states that are trying to do this prematurely are gambling with the risk of once again spreading contagion, not only within their territory, but to other states.
Scientists say that to safely open up businesses, it is necessary to know the extent of the spread of the virus, and who is or has been infected. This requires testing on a mass scale. Once people are found to test positive (and many may show no or mild symptoms) it is necessary to have enough personnel to track others who had close contact with the infected person, and test them also.
Testing is nowhere near adequate enough in the US to do this. Less than 1% of the population has been tested, and there is not yet enough equipment to do the testing at the scale required.
There are not enough personnel anywhere in the country to check those who had close contact with infected persons.
The Trump administration says it is up to the states to find and buy the equipment necessary to test on the scale required.
State governors have pointed out that they don’t have the funds, and have asked for help from the administration, which has adamantly refused to assist from the trillions of dollars supposedly to be used to counter the effects of the pandemic. Heads I win, tails you lose.
Mitch McConnell, Trump’s “genius” in the Senate, proposed that states should just declare bankruptcy to cover the cost of testing. But, how would these states then fund education, firefighters, street repairs and the other social services necessary for the economy to get back on its feet?
Helping small businesses and the unemployed?
Part of the trillions of dollars in federal government assistance funds was allotted for loans to small businesses.
This was sold to the public by the Democrats as a way to help these firms keep paying laid-off workers. That is why it was called the “Paycheck Protection Program”. Within days of its start, the allotted funds were spent.
Where did these funds go? Most often they did not go to “paychecks” or even to small businesses. A NYT article, entitled “Large companies take bailout aid in dubious gains” pointed to “countless small businesses” that were shut out “even as a number of large companies received millions of dollars in aid”.
Some of these large companies are restaurant chains. While each restaurant is small, they are owned by giants like McDonalds, Burger King and others.
According to the NYT, some of them agreed to return the funds after a public outcry. However, “dozens of large but lower-profile companies with financial or legal problems have also received large payouts under the program, according to an analysis of the more than 200 publicly-traded companies that have disclosed receiving a total of more than US$750 million in bailout loans.
“Another dozen or so collected money even though they have recently reported being able to raise large sums through private means.
“Several others have recently showered top executives with seven-figure pay packages.
“The government isn’t disclosing who received aid, leaving it up to individual companies to decide whether to disclose that they obtained loans. That makes a full accounting of the loan program impossible.
“Applicants for loans do not need to provide evidence that they have been harmed by the pandemic. They simply need to certify that ‘current economic uncertainty makes this loan request necessary’ to support their operations.
“Instead of having the Small Business Administration, which is guaranteeing the loans, decide which companies get funding, the process was essentially outsourced to banks. The banks collect fees for each loan they make but don’t have to monitor whether the recipients use the money appropriately,” like guaranteeing “paychecks” for workers.
“For small business owners shut out of the program, watching big companies collect loans while their applications languish has been infuriating.”
After the first funds allotted to the “Paycheck Protection Program” quickly ran out, they were augmented by a subsequent bill.
Congress representative Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez was the only Democrat to vote against the bill, citing that the initial funds went to companies like the restaurant chains, “and not to ‘mom and pop’” enterprises.
Meanwhile, only one-third of workers who applied for unemployment benefits back in March have received any funds. There was another big upsurge in unemployment applications in April, so we can assume that many millions more have not yet received any support. This figure does not include the millions of people unable to even file for unemployment due to the system being swamped.
This is just one more example of the failure of the government to deal with the real victims of the economic fallout, as well as of the virus itself.