I’m an enthusiast for Trump’s attacks on bad showerheads and low-flow faucets and toilets. Six months ago, he was just getting warmed up to the topic when the virus and lockdowns arrived and derailed both the US economy and his reelection prospects. He has revived these funny attacks on bad appliances in what seems like an homage to American life before Covid-19.
At the same time, one wonders about the timing of this theme. It appears almost as if he is unwilling now to talk about the terrible reality of what’s happened to this country. A bit of frankness about the last four months of hell might be in order. It can’t be wished away.
President Trump has gradually come to realize that he got very bad advice when he acquiesced to the lockdowns. It wasn’t just the governors. He permissioned the CDC to badger state health officials to push the closure of schools and businesses, even dividing the country between essential and nonessential.
It was March 15, just as the lockdown came. Trump panicked. He had already banned travel from China and Europe, shut down immigrant visas, and assumed powers not granted to him in the Constitution. Then he permissioned the CDC to enact the central plan that the bureaucracy had on the shelf since 2006.
At the time, Politico reported:
“We have an invisible enemy,” the president said at a news conference, where he released guidelines that called for people to avoid gathering in groups of more than 10 people, steer clear of eating and drinking at bars, restaurants and food courts, and work or attend school from home whenever possible. “This is a bad one. This is a very bad one.”
I get that he was under enormous pressure. Also, eight governors resisted the pressure from Washington, and good for them. Still, Trump succumbed to very bad advice, and the economy was wrecked. He was also lied to. It was supposed to be a couple of weeks. Instead, this nonsense has lasted fully four months.
When he realized in May that he might have been played, he started demanding a reopening, even as he took credit (at some point) for saving up to 4 million lives. There’s a problem here: you are either for or against lockdowns. He wanted it both ways. It didn’t compute.
His new way of dealing with this is not to speak about the issue at all but rather to change the topic. His tweets are all entirely about the election horserace and how he is going to win it, even as his poll numbers sink further and further. This approach seems to lack empathy for the many tens of millions of people who have had their businesses and lives destroyed. Pick any random town in the Northeast of the U.S. and do a quick drive through. You will see shuttered businesses, sad people, fear and masks everywhere, poor people staggering around on streets – all while data indicate that the pandemic peaked three months ago in this area of the country. It was all for naught.
He can’t continue to blame his campaign team, chopping off heads and hiring new talents. He just can’t keep living in denial of all the lives destroyed. It happened on his watch. Trump needs to take personal responsibility. Americans would appreciate a bit of honesty right now. He will be the bigger man for it, even if it means setting aside his ego for a bit.
As part of this, he could start a new commission of actual competent medical and economic professionals, instead of the lockdown hacks, modelers, and cranks who have somehow managed to winnow their way into his world. He needs fresh voices, and he needs to spend a couple of days listening to them.
Commissions rarely solve anything but perhaps this would be a step in the right direction. There needs to be an all-out effort to educate the public about viruses and what just happened to the country and the world. This team could pool their efforts and start making some sense. This will both reduce the irrational fears that have gripped the public and political establishments and set the stage of more opening and genuine economic growth.
My suggestions for this advisory commission are as follows:
David L. Katz. Dr. Katz has done his very best to talk some sense into the heads of policymakers. The last time the New York Times let him write was March 20 in a piece in which he pleaded against lockdowns, explained how immunity works, and warned about a coming calamity unless there is a dramatic new pivot. He was 100% correct. He should be rewarded for this. His credentials are over the top. As with so many others who have been reasonable on this topic, he actually has experience in practicing medicine. A lifetime of service and a proven record on this virus should be rewarded. The country needs his voice and wisdom — and Trump most certainly does.
John Ioannidis. He is one of the most cited and revered voices in the field of science statistics with a specialization in virology. He wrote a brave and devastating warning on March 17. “We don’t know how long social distancing measures and lockdowns can be maintained without major consequences to the economy, society, and mental health. Unpredictable evolutions may ensue, including financial crisis, unrest, civil strife, war, and a meltdown of the social fabric. At a minimum, we need unbiased prevalence and incidence data for the evolving infectious load to guide decision-making.” Since those days he has been a consistent voice of reason.
Knut Wittkowski. This old-school epidemiologist took on the immense burden of explaining the basics of immunology to the world during a period when everyone else was going nuts. He gave an interview that went viral in which he explained what everyone else seems to forget: immunity, not lockdowns, is the only path to beating a virus. Without a vaccine, the only way is acquired/natural immunity. Fortunately with this virus, it can be spread among the young while protecting the vulnerable. He said no more or less than what every doctor was taught in med school. At every step and in every interview he has not only been correct; he has faced a torrent of slings and arrows simply for telling basic scientific truth. His videos have been removed by YouTube, why? Because a tech company knows more about medicine than this man with a lifetime of experience and impeccable credentials?
Michael Levitt. Here we have a Nobel Laureate in chemistry who is extremely precise in his analysis and observations. A stickler for the data and the known science, he was against the lockdowns and saw early on that they were a disaster in waiting, preferring instead to let the medical community manage the disease. His interviews have focused on myth busting and clarification of essential ideas in the midst of media fog. He too has had his videos removed. The world needs his wisdom now. He would make an amazing commission member.
Jennifer Nuzzo. Like the others, Professor Nuzzo is overwhelmingly credentialed. She serves as senior scholar of Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Health Security. She co-authored a massively important paper from 2006 in which she and Donald Henderson explained that the modelers are playing a very dangerous game with their ideas of forced human separation, travel bans, and lockdowns. Indeed, she is probably the leading student of Henderson himself, and has become a proponent for reopening schools with precautions in place. Also like the others, she is not a political partisan in any way. She is in fact against politicizing disease, just as her mentor was. She would bring a great deal of wisdom and insight that the country needs right now.
Johan Giesecke. He was the lead epidemiologist in Sweden for ten years after 1995, and remains a consultant in a country that has managed to crush the virus with no social disruption and low levels of death. Sweden looks better today than most countries in the world, and they did it through spreading immunity while attempting protection for the vulnerable. Most importantly, Sweden let genuine medical professionals manage the problem through voluntary measures that were never politicized. He might be willing to lend his experience to fixing the hot mess in the United States today.
Sunetra Gupta. Professor Gupta is an epidemiologist at Oxford University, and has been unusually brave in her writings and interviews. She has taken on the Imperial College modelers by name, and deserves the moniker hero for doing so. I hope you can watch her entire interview. She has a profound understanding of disease, viruses, and immunity. Her outlook is hugely powerful. She can explain to Trump about lockdowns and how a normal, humane society handles the appearance of a new virus. He has a delightful sense of humor that masks an enormous intellect. She might be willing to fly the pond to advise Trump, provided he removes his preposterous restrictions on travel.
David Henderson. The new commission needs economists too, and I could name more than a hundred who would be qualified. I’m putting Henderson here because he is the author of an article from April 13 that called for an immediate reopening even before the Wall Street Journal got on board with the push to liberate. “We are thinking, acting, creative beings. We have the capacity to achieve remarkable things, including responding to the enormous challenges of pandemic disease, but we must be free to do so. Reopen the free society right now!”
There are any number of people who could join. Don’t forget that on March 2, 2020, 800 medical professionals signed a letter organized by Yale University that urged against lockdowns, travel restrictions, closures, and draconian measures of all kinds. Their advice just got lost in the winds of hysteria and panic, while the politicized wackos seized control of the narrative. In the end, they were correct, while the modelers and lockdowners have created nothing but chaos.
This commission would be just a beginning. Each member above could be asked for two or three recommendations and make it larger. Even so, there will be many years of investigation and recriminations. There is time for that.
The main point is that we need to pivot now with a new focus on truth.
The whole country is wallowing in myth-driven panic and confusion, and the political class is doing nothing to fix that. Media certainly isn’t helping. It’s perhaps a forlorn hope that Trump himself could get smart, show a bit of humility, and press the reset button. It’s a gargantuan task because every member of the new advisory commission will be blasted and smeared by the New York Times. Still, it needs to happen because freedom, prosperity, and the whole country and our lives are at stake.
Until something along these lines happens, all the talk about flow restrictors and nonfunctional appliances will come across as little more than a diversion tactic.