Friday, April 24, 2020


President Trump is stupid, ill-informed, morally corrupt, and perhaps the greatest living exemplar of the Dunning-Kruger effect, which causes people with low ability to believe that they have the highest possible ability levels.

But beyond all this, Trump is uniquely unsuited to be president because he's incapable of facing uncomfortable truths. As I've noted here many times, Trump grew up on Norman Vincent Peale's Power of Positive Thinking, and still practices its tenets. Let me quote Michael Kruse's 2017 Politico story on this:
Trump and his father were Peale acolytes—the minister officiated at at the first of Donald Trump's weddings—and Peale’s overarching philosophy has been a lodestar for Trump over the course of his decades of triumphs as well as the crises and chaos. “Stamp indelibly on your mind a mental picture of yourself as succeeding,” Peale urged his millions of followers. “Hold this picture tenaciously. Never permit it to fade.” ... Trump, who used this self-confidence to blow right past a series of seemingly fatal gaffes and controversies to win an election last fall that polls said he couldn’t and wouldn’t, in this respect has been a prize Peale pupil—arguably the most successful Peale disciple ever.

... Is Trump’s relentlessly optimistic insistence on his own version of reality an asset, a sign of admirable grit for a politician desperate to score some legislative victories? Or is it a sort of self-delusion that risks embarrassment, or worse, in the highest-stakes geopolitical arena?
If the answer to that wasn't obvious before yesterday, it certainly is now.

Trump's remarks yesterday about killing the coronavirus in the human body with light or injections of disinfectant were the work of a stupid man who spends most of his waking hours mindlessly watching television, and who can't absorb information in depth, through reading or by any other method.

But he made the remarks primarily because he has a compulsive need to say, Look! There's a ray of hope! Everything will be fine soon!

Here's what happened.
Trump made the remark after Bill Bryan, who leads the Department of Homeland Security's science and technology division, gave a presentation on research his team has conducted that shows that the virus doesn't live as long in warmer and more humid temperatures. Bryan said, "The virus dies quickest in sunlight," leaving Trump to wonder whether you could bring the light "inside the body."

"So supposing we hit the body with a tremendous — whether it's ultraviolet or just a very powerful light — and I think you said that hasn't been checked because of the testing," Trump said, speaking to Bryan during the briefing. "And then I said, supposing you brought the light inside the body, which you can do either through the skin or some other way, and I think you said you're going to test that, too."

He added: "I see the disinfectant that knocks it out in a minute, one minute. And is there a way we can do something like that by injection inside or almost a cleaning? As you see, it gets in the lungs, it does a tremendous number on the lungs, so it would be interesting to check that."
Trump can't bring himself to tell us the truth, which is that, yes, as Bryan had just said, transmission of the virus is impaired by sunlight, heat, and humidity, but summer and recommendations to move certain activities outdoors won't be the end of the crisis. Americans want accurate information, but Trump just wants to tell us a cheery story. He wants to be a pitchman selling the razzle-dazzle, because that's worked for him all his life and because that's what he responds to. He thinks we want happy talk, but happy talk is really what he wants.

And he'd like his entire team to sell the way he sells. I see that Mike Pence -- who hasn't appeared to be part of the problem during this crisis -- is offering false hope. In an interview with Rush Limbaugh yesterday,Pence said,
... as we track this data state by state, county by county, we’re getting there, Rush. And I truly do believe ... I truly do believe, if current trend lines hold, that by early June we could largely have this coronavirus epidemic behind us, and begin to see our nation open back up and go back to work.
No, we won't "largely have this coronavirus epidemic behind us" by early June. Our current social distancing practices will have reduced transmission. If we maintain most of that, and if we can ramp up testing and tracing (which might be possible, despite the Trump administration's failings, in a few states), and if we get an assist from the weather, and if we learn to treat COVID-19 better -- possibly with new treatments, possibly with new protocols (greater efforts to prevent blood clots? more attention to detecting "silent" oxygen deprivation?) -- then by summer the virus should be in abeyance. Not gone. And almost certainly ready to hit us full force in the fall.

By then, some people will prove to have at least partial immunity, whether or not they've been sick. But there won't be enough of them to confer herd immunity. We'll still be fighting this.

But Trump wants his people to say that happy days will be here again soon. So Pence complies.

And Trump will just keep talking that way too, because he can't help himself.


UPDATE: Carol Lee of NBC News makes clear that Trump is just sick and tired of all the Debbie Downers he's surrounded by.
“He wants to always be giving people hope and optimism. He certainly isn’t telling anyone to drink bleach or ingest disinfectant,” [an administration] official said.

... Trump’s promotion of light and disinfectant as a possible hope for curing a virus that’s killed some 50,000 Americans is part of a broader posturing that’s designed to make the country feel like the current situation is improving or soon will, officials said.

They said Thursday’s remarks are part the president's increasing irritation at his health advisers’ constant caution about possible treatments that he wants to promote and warnings about a future wave of the coronavirus. Even if Trump factors their advice into his scripted remarks, they can’t be sure he won’t ad lib to overcorrect what he sees as pessimistic guidance.
Trump simply can't tolerate pessimism, even when it's entirely justified.

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