Weight of Words 4/29/20

Political thoughts by Richard Bleil

A week or so ago, our president once again lobbed a doozy in suggesting that internalizing cleaning fluids or intense light could cure those infected by Corvid-19. His supporters rushed to his defense, while his critics lambasted him mercilessly, including myself. I thought I might write a few words as to why I personally was so critical of him for this as I think it is a different spin from other critics of the statement, because, in my view, it’s not the statement that was so dangerous per se, but the personality that made him make it in the first place.

Credit where credit is due, I understand his desire to give people hope. We are months into this scourge, and many weeks into isolation as a result. Our incomes are suffering, our economy has tanked, our hospitals are overwhelmed, our supplies are lacking, and our nerves have been frayed to the breaking point. Unfortunately, in this attempt he is grasping at straws and trying to find a simple easy fix to a very complex issue, not dissimilar to trying to fix the foundation of a house with duct tape. In so doing, and this is my greatest criticism, he seems to have lost sight of the weight his words have on his supporters, in this nation and literally around the world. This shortness of vision makes him too cavalier with this words and ideas when honest, humble truth would help so much more.

It is not clear to me if he sees himself as a medical expert or not. Frequently he has said that he is not a medical doctor in his usual manner that is dismissive of his own shortcomings (“I’m not a doctor. But I’m, like, a person that has a good you-know-what.”), but in the same breath he will provide medical advice (“And is there a way we can do something like that, by injection inside or almost a cleaning?”). Historically, he has been dismissive of the expertise in others while elevating himself above them because he sees himself as “a very smart guy”. He’s done this to generals despite no military training or experience at all, ambassadors despite no political experience in international affairs and leaders in the intelligence community in a manner that seems more like he is trying to build distrust before his own past catches up with him. With medical professionals, his words of not being an expert point to a recognition of their expertise, while at the same time his actions contradict this sentiment.

The danger is the combination of lack of respect for professionals, lack of respect for the weight of his words, and a severe lack of knowledge. To have a lack of knowledge is not a problem. Nobody, not even the president, can know everything, so I don’t fault him for that. The whole purpose of a presidential cabinet is to surround oneself with people who are experts in a variety of fields, but this president has historically undermined these experts, ignored their advice, spoken over them and fired them when they try to correct him. This is a dysfunctional cabinet and creates a highly dangerous combination.

Early in this crisis, with no supporting evidence (outside of anecdotal) he suggested hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malarial drug, as a miracle cure. He later modified this suggestion to include the antimicrobial azithromycin. This is such an off-the-wall guess that it could not have come from his own mind. Although he has ownership in a pharmaceutical company that makes hydroxychloroquine, somebody had to whisper this idea in his ear. As it turns out, a right-wing blogger was the first to suggest this drug and the president, leading rather than following, simply repeated the claim. Even as the experts in his own cabinet tried to reel him back from this claim with very sober and appropriate reminders that there have been no clinical trials he continued to push for this combination. Before clinical trials could start people started to take it, including one couple who saw it was the active ingredient in their fishbowl cleaning tablets. The reality is that people are scared, desperate, and his followers are almost fanatical about his knowledge, and they tried it. The wife was hospitalized and barely survived; the husband simply did not. In a tribute to the global impact of his words, people around the world where regulations are looser also died from this drug.

As the drug was being horded by people hanging on his very words and the purchase of quantities by medical professionals sufficient for actual clinical trials, its availability dropped significantly to the point where people with proper prescriptions needing it to stay alive began having difficulty finding it. While the South Dakota governor proudly announced that their state would be the very first in the nation to have clinical trials of this miracle touted by the president, it turns out that a clinical trial was already underway by the Veterans Association. That clinical trial was cut short when it became clear that even if it did help, many more people were dying from the treatment than it could have helped. Time and money lost on a president with no medical experience (even admitting so) insisted on the trial.

A friend of mine suggested I actually watch the video. Well, I don’t lambaste the president without watching these videos. In a later statement he claimed it was just sarcasm but watching the actual video I could see absolutely no hint of humor or sarcasm. What I saw was a man who clearly never worked with disinfectant in his life, excited to hear that it kills viruses in less than a minute and has no idea how poisonous they are. This would be fine if he simply kept the idea to himself and spoke with his cabinet members privately, but he instead had to broadcast his child mentality like extension that if it works outside of the body, it should also work in the body.

In the video clip, no, he never suggested that people try ingesting, injecting or taking cleaner or light internally. I’ll give him that much; he actually turned to the medical professionals in the room and suggested that maybe it could be tried. I took it to mean he was suggesting clinical trials, but he clearly suggested these trials be by injecting or having patience ingest cleaners, or that they be exposed to light internally or bright enough to penetrate the body. But again, it’s not what he says that’s so critical, but how seriously people listen to him.

Yes, he suggested the medical professions try these deadly ideas clinically, but he didn’t ask the question with his cabinet behind closed doors. He used a press conference to suggest it, and even though he suggested clinical trials, immediately I recognized that people would take it on themselves to try it based on his words. Sure enough, a spike has been found in calls to poison control shortly after the conference asking if it could work, but no doubt there are many people who just simply tried it. Yes, poisoning by disinfectants are undoubtedly higher because people are using the products with much greater frequency, but I also have no doubt that people will die because of his all-too-ignorant idea that he presented in an all-too-public forum.

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