This column had in the past focused on the abysmal mismanagement of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in the United States of America by President Donald Trump. This mishandling of the virus unfortunately made the US to be recording the highest number of COVID-19 cases as well as deaths in the world. As of 6 October 2020 for example, the US had 7,467,186 cases of infection with 210,464 deaths. The US which other nations looked up to for leadership on how to stop the spread of the virus and deaths caused by it, is the one that has such an unenviable record. How are the mighty fallen? And unfortunately, at the heart of this abysmal mismanagement is the total disregard for science in preference for the politicisation of the virus by President Trump for self-serving purposes and gains.
Right from the time of the outbreak of the virus in the US and up to the present (early October, 2020) when President Trump tested positive for the virus, the president has unabashedly used lies, denial, scapegoating, buck-passing, mixed-messaging, outright misinformation, and deceit, to keep his politicisation strategy alive and apparently effective.
In his misleading behaviour, he has not hidden the fact that what is at stake is a supremacy battle between science and politics, the height of which manifested during his hospitalisation at the Walter Reed National Medical Centre in Maryland. When he left the hospital (while still on admission and treatment) to go on a show in a motorcade and waving to his supporters, President Trump was simply mocking science.
Throughout the period of this pandemic, President Trump has behaved as if there was no public health crisis in his country. For example, he moved from his state of denial of the coronavirus pandemic, to a stage of holding very dangerous indoor political rallies with large crowds many of whose members were neither observing physical distancing protocols, nor did they wear protective masks. Unfortunately, he politicised the wearing of mask and regrettably encouraged his supporters to jettison such. It was therefore not surprising that he and his wife got the virus.
Again, throughout the period of this pandemic, President Trump has failed to listen to globally respected health experts and scientific institutions in his country. He even pulled out the US from the World Health Organisation (WHO). Just few days ago, Nature one of the most authoritative, prestigious and long standing scientific journals (with over 150 years of existence) had good reasons to lament. In a piece (October 5, 2020 & Updated on October 7) tilted: ‘How Trump damaged Science – and why it could take decades to recover’, the Journal said: His administration has undermined, suppressed and censored government scientists working to study the virus and reduce its harm. And his appointees have made political tools out of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), ordering the agencies to put out inaccurate information, issue ill-advised health guidance, and tout unproven and potentially harmful treatments for COVID-19.
Trump’s behaviour of mishandling COVID-19 (which Prof. Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University, New York, described as ‘Trump’s COVID-19 recklessness’…), is even more damaging to science after being infected with the coronavirus. In fact, President Trump’s misbehaviour after COVID-19 infection has even become more disdainful of science than his pre-COVID-19 state. For example, while still undergoing treatment in the hospital, he advised Americans in a tweet (among other statements) not to be afraid of COVID-19 and not to let it dominate their lives. This wrong advice is consistent with his manner of downplaying the seriousness of the virus and perhaps inadvertently putting many more Americans at great risk. It is only a foolish or ignorant person indeed that would listen or follow his advice after seeing the deaths of over 200,000 Americans as a result of COVID-19. But even if Trump survives as a result of the preferential attention and treatment he received as Mr. President, would other lesser mortals without access to such treatment and drugs be lucky to survive?
Again, his leaving the hospital (while still on treatment) to acknowledge cheers from supporters along the streets and endangering the lives of his driver, security staff etc, is another act of recklessness and bad example. Furthermore, he continued his assaults on science by insisting that he should be discharged after staying only three days in the hospital. Indeed, he got his way. And then, after getting back to the White House he broke another protocol by removing his mask. And the worst aspect of his misbehaviour came when he insisted that he would be leaving his isolation room (from where he was being treated) to the Oval Office to continue discharging his presidential duties. He actually went into the Oval Office for duties putting his staff at great risk. One may ask: what point was Trump making by all these acts of reckless and risky behaviour?
As this column argued earlier, Trump’s misbehaviour is dangerous not only to the US, but to the rest of the world. First, he is putting a lot of people at risk. For example, Fiana Tulip (daughter of a COVID-19 victim) narrated to CNN how her mother got infected and died. According to her, the mother died because she came in contact with someone in a hospital where she worked and who refused to wear mask, and when requested to do so replied that she does not have to wear mask because the president does not wear one. Mr. Trump’s bad example is certainly sending many people to avoidable early graves. We recall that he mocked Joe Biden wearing mask during their last presidential debate. This time around, in the next debate, he has rejected taking part in a Virtual debate with Joe Biden.
Secondly, through his misbehaviour and bad example also, as many as 34 people connected to White House (more than previously known) have been infected by coronavirus as revealed by ABC News (October 8, 2020). ABC News also reported that the Trump administration has sought to downplay the spread (See https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/34-people-connected-white-house-previously-infected-coronavirus/story?id=73487381).
Thirdly, using God’s name to justify his bad behaviour and example thereby misleading some people and sending them to their early grave is condemnable and objectionable. According to Trump, COVID-19 illness is a blessing from God. Although, while it is true that COVID-19 can be a plague or scourge from God to demonstrate his wrath, it is wrong for Trump who is receiving preferential VIP treatment to tell poor folks (without such benefit) that COVID illness is a blessing from God. By the way, why did Trump go for such preferential treatment at the Walter Reed Hospital in Maryland where there were expert medical hands to take care of him? Why did he not remain in the White House any longer and refuse being flown to the hospital that particular day? By the way, would President Trump for example still say that COVID-19 is a blessing if any of his children or close family member dies as a result of it?
By Trump’s careless statements and misbehaviour (through setting COVID-19 bad examples), he poses great danger to all of us as he is creating a group of stubborn leaders like himself in many other places (such as Brazil) and their supporters who by their actions are disregarding scientific truth and evidence. Since Trump is desecrating all known and respected US scientific institutions, the best thing is to rescue science from Trump’s political machine of destruction. This can only happen when Americans reject him at the November 3, 2020 presidential polls. Indeed, science must be rescued from Trump’s repugnant style of politics.
•Prof. Obasi, a public policy expert, is of the Department of Public Administration, University of Abuja. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org