Editorial: In Donald Trump’s World, Truth Has Consequences

Since Donald Trump’s handling (or non-handling) of the COVID-19 threat in the U.S. has gone so terribly wrong, he would like to just make it all go away so that it doesn’t threaten his reelection. It’s not that he cares so much about making the virus itself disappear—let’s  face it, he clearly doesn’t care who out here dies from it, just as long as there are still enough voters left to reelect him—it’s that he wants his bad ratings to go away.

But truth won’t cooperate with what Donald Trump needs it to be, so Trump has taken to creating his own narrative— one that depends on altering or denying facts, and on eliminating or squelching truth-tellers.

There’s Trump’s gaslighting about the facts surrounding the pandemic in the U.S. (and his “that’s not what I said” gaslighting tactics to gaslight his gaslighting, when necessary). Although Americans can easily fact-check Trump’s claims, Trump knows that his base will take as fact what comes out of his mouth, and will consider his backing by right-wing news pundits as all the “fact-checking” they need.

Trump has claimed multiple times that the U.S. has conducted more tests than “every other country combined.” Trump knows that this is a lie, but he also knows that it doesn’t matter, because, to his supporters, presenting them with his version of reality—makes it their reality.

Though by count, we’ve conducted more tests than some countries combined, we are nowhere near the number that would make us the coronavirus testing world record-holder. As of late April, statistics from several sources, including Worldometer and Our World in Data, estimate that the U.S. has conducted between 5.59 and 5.7 million tests. According to Worldometer, the number of tests run in Russia, Germany, and Italy alone totals around 6.72 million— so, more than what the U.S. has run.

And then there was the praise from Trump’s son-in-law and senior advisor, Jared Kushner, about the administration’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, calling it a “great success story.” Trump himself has called it a “spectacular job.” As if simply saying it makes it so. As if repeating it erases the fact that in two months’ time, the number of coronavirus cases in the U.S. has climbed to greater than one million—more than one-third of the number of cases in the entire world; the number of U.S.deaths has reached well over 60,000; and health care providers are still waiting for needed testing, equipment, and supplies.

Since Donald Trump knows that not everyone will let him get away with gaslighting alone to change the facts, however, he has also taken to eliminating key officials who pose a problem for the Trump coronavirus narrative. Woe are science, data, and public officials when they don’t support Donald Trump’s required version of the truth.

As Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a key member of the White House Coronavirus response team has presented the reality of COVID-19 to Americans, he has appeared less and less frequently during the task force’s daily press briefings. By the end of April, Fauci, who had previously appeared and spoken daily, had only been present once out of seven briefings.

The White House has also blocked Fauci from testifying before the Labor-HHS-Education Subcommittee hearing on the COVID-19 response. Though Trump had hinted via Twitter that he might fire Fauci, he hasn’t done so up to this point.

Trump has, however, fired other officials whom he has deemed disloyal to him in their response to the coronavirus pandemic.

There was Glenn Fine, who had been leading the office of the inspector general for the Pentagon. Fine was to become the chairman of a new Pandemic Response Accountability Committee set up to oversee the federal government’s spending of coronavirus relief funds (to ensure that Trump didn’t divert funds to his family or political interests). Fine, respected by his peers and known as an independent watchdog, was abruptly demoted without explanation from his Pentagon role, and this disqualified him from serving on the oversight panel.

As a result of Fine’s reassignment, no one is currently heading up the oversight of coronavirus spending, and this allows Trump greater freedom to ignore the explicit anti-corruption provisions in the spending bill.

Then there was Dr. Rick Bright, who was abruptly fired from his role as director of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA); removed as deputy secretary for preparedness and response; and given a narrower role at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

He was unequivocal about the reason for his dismissal, citing his doubts about the Trump-touted drug hydroxychloroquine as a “game changer” in treating COVID-19. Bright said that he was pressured to direct funds toward the drug, which he said was one of several  “potentially dangerous drugs promoted by those with political connections.”

“I believe this transfer was in response to my insistence that the government invest the billions of dollars allocated by Congress to address the Covid-19 pandemic into safe and scientifically vetted solutions, and not in drugs, vaccines and other technologies that lack scientific merit,” said Bright. “I am speaking out because to combat this deadly virus, science — not politics or cronyism — has to lead the way.”

This past week, Health and Human Services Inspector General Christi Grimm, a career official in the Inspector General’s office since 1999, joined the list of dismissals. Trump began to deride Grimm around the time he fired Inspector General Fine, publicly attacking Grimm for publishing a report that criticized the federal response to the coronavirus.

The report was based on extensive interviews with hospitals around the U.S., and exposed the fact that facilities were facing critical shortages of supplies, and were struggling to obtain test kits, ventilators, and protective gear for staff members. Already receiving criticism for his slow response to the developing pandemic, Trump was embarrassed, and deemed Grimm’s findings “wrong.” As if that would make it so.

“Why didn’t the I.G., who spent 8 years with the Obama Administration (Did she Report on the failed H1N1 Swine Flu debacle where 17,000 people died?), want to talk to the Admirals, Generals, V.P. & others in charge, before doing her report,” Trump tweeted. “Another Fake Dossier!”

Three weeks later, after business hours on May 1, Trump announced that he would be replacing Grimm.

Washington Senator Patty Murray, ranking Democrat on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said, “We all know the President hasn’t told people the truth about this virus or his Administration’s response, and late last night, he moved to silence an independent government official who did.”

Science and sound data, if they contradict Trump’s reality, are not viewed as science and sound data, but as “disloyalty.” Telling the truth makes one a traitor.

“I cannot see how any inspector general will feel in any way safe to do a good job,” said Danielle Brian, the executive director of the Project on Government Oversight, a nonprofit group. “They are all at the mercy at what the president feels.”

In Trumpworld, loyalty is measured not by facts, but by how one ignores or twists them to support the president’s will. As Trump tells his supporters how he’s making America great again, he is dictating to them what to accept as reality, curating the “facts” he wills them to accept. How long before a six-foot portrait of Donald Trump is hung in the square?

Kushner and Trump Call Coronavirus Response “Success Story” and “Great Job”: A Closer Look | Late Night with Seth Meyers. [2020-04-30]

Rep. Says Trump Is Gaslighting The Nation Over Coronavirus | NowThis
[2020-0421]

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