Editorial: Trump’s “Knowledge” about COVID-19 Endangers Us All

When a world leader like Donald Trump postures as an expert on a topic he knows nothing about, it can be problematic. When he or she does so around medical information in the midst of a pandemic, it is deadly. Many Americans have died as a result of Donald Trump’s presumption to know more than the experts about infectious disease and the COVID-19 pandemic.

With his “musings” about questionable treatments during press briefings, his many unsupported predictions and recommendations about the spread, and his deliberate contradictions of scientific evidence, Donald Trump has put not just the United States, but the world, in deadly danger.

Donald Trump, the anti-science president, never went to medical school a day in his life, and apparently thinks he didn’t need to. He has often claimed to know more about science and medicine than the medical and scientific experts who are working day and night to help stop the rapid spread of COVID-19.

In Mid-March, Trump said this about his “knowledge” of infectious disease and epidemiology while visiting the headquarters of the Centers for Disease Control: “I like this stuff. I really get it. People are surprised that I understand it. Every one of these doctors said, ‘How do you know so much about this?’ Maybe I have a natural ability. Maybe I should have done that instead of running for president.”

A well-known ancient proverb says, “He who knows not, and knows not that he knows not, is a fool; shun him.”

A modern variation of this might be, “He who knows not, and knows not that he knows not, suffers from the Dunning-Kruger effect. Elect him not for president.”

In psychology, the Dunning–Kruger effect is “a cognitive bias in which people with low ability at a task overestimate their ability. It is related to the cognitive bias of illusory superiority and comes from the inability of people to recognize their lack of ability,” according to the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

And sometimes, it is, as Salon’s Chauncey DeVega less kindly puts it, “a psychological phenomenon in which stupid people do not know that they are in fact stupid.”

Though Trump’s affliction with Dunning-Kruger started long before we had even heard of COVID-19, his latest flare-up began when reports of the deadly virus reached the U.S.

As COVID-19 ravaged China and was beginning to spread to other countries, there was his early prediction on February 10 that the virus would “go away in April. We’re in great shape.” At that time, there were 11 known cases in the U.S.

On February 26, with 57 documented cases in the U.S., Trump, ignoring the predictions and advice of experts, including those at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said, “Within a couple of days, we’ll be close to zero.”

Trump’s base believed him. They continued to believe him when, like the public health expert he thinks himself to be, he downplayed the coronavirus by comparing it the the seasonal flu: “So last year 37,000 Americans died from the common Flu. It averages between 27,000 and 70,000 per year. Nothing is shut down, life & the economy go on. At this moment there are 546 confirmed cases of CoronaVirus, with 22 deaths. Think about that!”

Think about that, indeed. Since the time of Trump’s baseless prediction that the virus would just disappear, there were now more than 50 times the number of confirmed cases.

Two days later, Dr. Anthony Fauci, a member of Trump’s coronavirus task force and head of infectious diseases at the National Institutes of Health said that the coronavirus was far more deadly than the flu.

“This is 10 times more lethal than the seasonal flu,” said Fauci, when he was asked for data by a House of Representatives committee regarding how we should gauge the danger.

“He who knows not, and knows that he knows not, is a student; Teach him,” continues the ancient proverb.

Trump knows not, but seems to think he doesn’t need experts like Fauci to teach him anything.

Whether Trump’s mischaracterization of COVID-19’s deadliness influenced the way pundits like Rush Limbaugh were also playing it down is not certain, but as a result of these cavalier attitudes, Trump supporters, too, did not take it seriously. Trump, his base, and his loyal pundits stepped up their games of presenting faulty “statistics” and false equivalencies (such as comparing the number of COVID-19 deaths to the number of annual auto accident-related deaths). They “lived their lives,” helping to spread the virus, and more people got sick and died.

When Trump finally began to realize that “the numbers” were increasing—that is, the number of confirmed cases and COVID-19 deaths was growing exponentially in the U.S., he began touting the antimalarial drug, hydroxychloroquine for treatment of the virus, based on a small study in France that was later found to be faulty.

“What do you have to lose?” Trump said, encouraging the use of the unproven drug. “It’s been out there for a long time. What do you have to lose? I hope they use it.”

Despite the fact that Anthony Fauci and numerous other medical experts cautioned that hydroxychloroquine had not been proven as a treatment, and that it may in fact be dangerous to some patients, Trump continued to promote it as a “possible game changer.”

“What do I know? I’m not a doctor, but I have common sense,” said Trump. “The FDA feels good about it, as you know, they approved it.”

Trump loyalists quickly began imitating their leader, waxing poetic about the miracle drug hydroxychlorquine, a drug they knew almost nothing about, as if they were experts themselves. (Hydroxychloroquine was approved years ago, but only to treat malaria, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis…not COVID-19.) Hydroxychloroquine has been found to cause cardiac issues in some patients, and researchers have now cautioned against its use for treating COVID-19).

Trump continues to disagree with scientific evidence, contradicting experts such as Dr. Fauci, Dr. Deborah Birx (White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator), researchers and specialists from the CDC, and others. His supporters unfailingly choose to listen to him, dismissing scientific evidence, and disputing data and facts as if they were merely a matter of opinion or political persuasion.

Today, May 1, 2020, the United States has over one million confirmed cases of COVID-19, and has seen over 62,000 deaths. Trump continues to act as if he were the public health expert in the room, contradicting the physicians and scientists, downplaying the seriousness of the situation, and doling out irresponsible recommendations. Red states, having taken their cues from what Trump had “expertly” told them early on, are disregarding the recommendations of public health experts about social distancing and taking precautions, and are now “opening up” their states—as they no doubt are opening up to more deadly disease in the near future.

They who know not, and know not that they know not, are fools—and even if we shun them, as the ancient proverb recommends, they will likely kill many of the rest of us.

Trump contradicts Fauci, slams reporter over drug | 
Associated Press [2020-03-20]

Experts Awkwardly Correct Trump On Coronavirus | HuffPost
[2020-03-03]

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