Before June 1, we will almost certainly have lost 100,000 Americans to the coronavirus, along with 25 million jobs. Without powerful government action, this national catastrophe, unlike anything seen here for a hundred years, will continue to ravage the United States. And there is every reason to fear that we will see yet more pandemic disease as this century unfolds.
Yet there is still no sign that the Trump administration is prepared to act with the determination, skill and urgency that the hour demands. Instead, the president consistently demonstrates his mental and moral unfitness to lead — as he did again this week when he idiotically declared that we have so many COVID-19 cases because we have done so many tests.
Which is why the world's most respected medical journal has now prescribed a first step toward restoring America's health.
Concluding a pithy editorial that indicts the decline of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the editors of The Lancet urged the administration to stop touting such "magic bullets" as hydroxychloroquine or an early vaccine — and instead empower the CDC to oversee the massive nationwide program of testing, tracing and isolation that ought to have been mounted months ago.
The Lancet editors are well aware that neither Trump nor his feckless minions can do that. They know the president will let thousands die rather than jeopardize his deceptive reelection campaign. So they offer a second prescription: "Americans must put a president in the White House come January, 2021, who will understand that public health should not be guided by partisan politics."
The degradation of public health did not begin with Trump, as The Lancet editorial acknowledges. Right-wing governments and their affiliated "thinkers" have spent decades undermining support for science, international institutions, universal health care and all the other elements of an effective response to the pandemic threat.
Campaigns to denigrate science and curtail effective policy have most often sprung from commercial interests that bankroll politicians, notably the tobacco and fossil fuel lobbies. But the trend toward public ignorance — and with it a growing hostility toward science and scientists — has accelerated sharply with the rise of Trump, who exploits paranoia and superstition every day.
Before Trump, it was unimaginable that a president of the United States would publicly cast doubt on the scientific data compiled by his own government, or publicly slur the scientists who devote their lives to protecting the public. But we have seen Trump do exactly those things, again and again, as he did this week when he attacked Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government's leading epidemiologist, and Dr. Rick Bright, its top vaccine specialist, a courageous dissenter Trump mocked as a "disgruntled" employee.
It was also unimaginable that any president — even one of the dimmer Oval Office lights — would say something as stupid as Trump's various absurd remarks about coronavirus testing. But we know that this president takes his advice from obsequious television personalities as intellectually vacuous as himself. He hears Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity say that the rise in coronavirus cases is a result of increased testing and confidently repeats that moronic theory.
(Aside from the logical fallacy, data shows that the opposite is true: New Zealand, which is one of the few places to successfully control the disease, has the highest ratio of tests performed to cases found. The Kiwis have conducted over 182 tests for every confirmed case.)
When America was truly great, as The Lancet suggests, our government rejected "America First" bluster and implemented policies that built the CDC into a truly robust and globally admired agency. Our political and religious leaders understood that we, our allies and even our adversaries shared the same interest in improving and protecting the health of the world's people. That bipartisan consensus endured even into the George W. Bush administration, which spent billions to stand up the president's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief to hold back the AIDS pandemic.
We cannot rescue ourselves from the coronavirus, or protect our children and their children from future threats, without restoring the nation's commitment to scientific truth, public health and government integrity. And we cannot restore those elements of sanity until we remove the disturbed regime responsible for this ruin.
The message of The Lancet editors is simple: This November, voting is a choice of life or death.
To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
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