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writing for godot

Trump's Magical Thinking Pt. 3: 'There Shall be No National Testing Program --- and the Virus Will Magically Go Away'

Written by Steven Jonas   
Thursday, 21 May 2020 11:08

By Steven Jonas, M.D., M.P.H.


"Either this nation shall kill racism, or racism shall kill this nation." (S. Jonas, August, 2018)


"To announce that there must be no criticism of the President . . . is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public. Nothing but the truth should be spoken about him or anyone else. But it is even more important to tell the truth, pleasant or unpleasant, about him than about anyone else."

Theodore Roosevelt, Editorial in The Kansas City Star May 7, 1918



This is the third and last of my three-part series on this subject.  It begins with a review of the Six Magic Tricks that have guided Trump's life, beginning with the first in childhood, and got History's Greatest Con Man to be the President of the  United States (a position for which he is uniquely unqualified).  Then it goes on to explain why he has no trick that will work in dealing with his latest enemy, COVID-19.  Which in my view thus explains why he is so consistently dead set against developing a thoroughgoing comprehensive national testing program, of the type that has met with success for controlling the pandemic in so many other countries.


Let us begin with a review of Trump's "Magic Tricks" which have guided his life and career since childhood (discussed in some detail in the previously referenced column):

1. He has always had one or more protectors and enablers, either personal, or financial or both.

2. For decades he has had a standard operating procedure when he faces an adversary of any kind. He learned it from Roy Cohn (who learned it from Joseph McCarthy): "Always attack; Never defend." (Just watch him deal with "Die Luegen Presse" [Hitler-speak] in his daily campaign speeches.)

3. Also learned from Roy Cohn is the mantra: "when you run into a problem, just sue." [On April 29, 2020, Trump actually threatened to sue his own campaign manager, Brad Parscale, because he, Trump, didn't like the negative poll results that Parscale was reporting to him.] You may not win, and it may cost you some money. But a) you might win and b) with the endlessness with which civil litigation can be drawn out in the U.S. legal system, the other side may just get worn out.

4. In the whole of his business life, Trump has never been responsible to anyone else, either above him (except for Dad, of course) or even alongside.

5. Trump has lived his life surrounded by enemies (real or imagined --- if he doesn't have them in reality, he makes them up), whether in business, in his personal life, in his banking and financial life (except for a select few, like Deutsche Bank), certainly in politics, and not just at this time. In dealing with them his "Art of the Deal" has not been deal-making, but attempted opponent-crushing. Negotiation is just not his thing.

6. Finally, Trump is history's greatest con man (a subject to which I have devoted a whole column).

Now, this pandemic is real. It is real reality, not a "reality" TV show about some imagined "reality" like "The Apprentice." And Trump, to the detriment of the nation, is having a very hard time dealing with this reality. This is because while of course the COVID-19 virus is an enemy which Trump doesn't have to make up, it is a kind of enemy that he has never had to deal with before. That is, it is a virus, not a person. Since he knows nothing about biology or medicine or disease-in-people and could care less about any of them, this virus appears to him just as a number. And then, while in the past every enemy he has had, all people, he has been able to deal with one or more of the magic tools in his magic box, for this one he has had to invent a new magic trick: making that number as small as possible, either in his own reality or by lying about it.

This new magic trick is designed to attempt to keep the number of reported cases as low as possible, which is the only way Trump knows how to deal with an enemy that appears to him only as a number. Every country which has to a greater or lesser extent been able to bring COVID-19 under control has done it with a fairly rigorous (in some cases, like China, very rigorous) testing-contact-tracing-isolation program. (For let us not forget, this disease, at least to our knowledge so far, is spread solely by infected droplets through the air, from person-to-person.) This could have been done fairly easily in this country, if an early start, like around the time when warnings of the coming onslaught were already being flown past the President's desk, back in January. But, as we know, at that time the President was concerned, not with any possible pandemic and its potential outcomes, but with what reports of its possible occurrence could do to the stock markets and in turn to his chances for re-election.

This is the primary reason why the U.S. will never have a single national testing/tracing/isolation program: it is Trump's new magic trick to use against this new kind of enemy. If it is not counted, in his head it simply doesn't exist. And that of course is a prime example of magical thinking: the virus is not an infectious agent (about which of course Trump knows nothing); it is just a number. And if it is not counted, in people, it is just, magically, just not there. And since a) the virus knows nothing about state lines, and b) having each state go through its own approach, with private industry and various state and Federal government programs in a mish-mash, there is no way that such an approach will be able to deliver the national program that can actually work. As Gabe Sherman in Vanity Fair has said, two months of magical thinking.

Getting a workable program that can usefully inform policy-making is what such a program is for. And beyond Trump himself, representatives of the Ruling Class, for whom "national planning" are two of the dirtiest words in the English Language, have told him in no uncertain terms not to use the Defense Production Act to establish any national programs. For one thing, a very bad precedent would be set for some future Democratic President. And so Trump is oh-so-happy to continue to sabotage any meaningful national testing program.

What in fact has the U.S. been doing in testing (this link is updated daily)? At the end of April, 2020, the US had conducted 16.4 tests per every 1,000 people, below the world average and about the same as Belarus [!]. And here for comparison are some other numbers: Iceland: 136 per 1,000; Bahrain: 71; Italy: 30; Russia: 22; Belarus: 17. Yes, that's right: Belarus[!]: 17. And oh by the way, how many tests (plus follow-up) would the U.S. need to be doing if it were mounting a serious effort? About 5,000,000 per day. At one point, Trump said that the U.S. would getting there very soon. But then the next time the question came up he went into his "irritated" mode, and then denied that he had ever said such a thing. (And of course, he never would have --- meant it.)

Another major element from Trump's bag of magic tricks that have protected him for his whole life is the Blame Game. This is informed by 2. above, "Always attack; Never Defend" and 5. above, "where there is no real enemy, just invent one." Of course, in this case, there is a real enemy, the virus, but Trump needs more than a number, even if he is working as hard as he can to keep that number artificially low.

So, and they do come and go, depending upon the moment and the perceived political need, in synch with Fox"News" we have: the "Democrat Hoaxers," "Die Luegen Presse" (that is "Fake News" in Hitler-speak), the "China Virus," Nancy Pelosi and her fancy ice cream, Andrew Cuomo (sometimes yes, sometime no), Bill DiBlasio (always), [Gov.] "Dim" Whitmer, the "China Labs," all the governors who have implemented stay-at-home orders with teeth by places and time (and it just happens coincidentally that those are the states which seem, in the absence of truly massive testing, to be doing the west), Biden (!), Obama (!! the old standby), and so on and so forth.

Finally, there is the search for the "magic bullet," which comes out of the central essence of Trump's magical thinking. There have been several, but a highlight was the "bleach/UV-light" solution" (which he picked up from some [far] right-wing website). The reaction of shock and horror, both at home and abroad, had Trump by the next day claiming that he had made the statement in sarcasm, in an attempt to catch the media using it to attack him (which they of course did). Of course, a) he was caught trying to cover-up the extreme idiocy of his claim (brought to him by no doubt fearless members of his staff), and b) little noticed was the thought in his head that in the face of the pandemic affecting millions of lives and already leading to tens of thousands of U.S. deaths he would engage in sarcasm in an attempt to catch the media going out of their way to criticize him. And of course, once again having them fit into his Die Luegen Presse enemies list.

The other magic bullet for Trump is of course an effective vaccine. The likelihood of having a safe and effective one before the election (which is the only thing Trump is concerned about) is nil (and notice I don't say "virtually nil." It's nil.) And so, to make sure that he would be able to take credit from such a development (as scientifically and medically impossible it is), this person who knows nothing about either science or medicine (along with the host of other subjects he knows nothing about, has placed himself in charge of the program for its development. Of course, it's irrelevant because there will be no vaccine in time for Trump, but if there were, he would of course be shouting from the roof-tops about he should be given all the credit. And of course, if there will be even a clinical trial ready before the election (and there won't be), and it fails: "not my responsibility."

And we will leave it there.


Postscript: On p. A5 of The New York Times of May 2, 2020, there appears a full-page ad posted by CONCERNEDCITIZENBOBBY.COM (for now simply a website displaying the ad, with no other identifying features). The ad says in part: "After 13 Weeks 98% of Americans Have Not Been Tested. . . We Need a National Testing Program with the Resources and Coordination of the Federal Government. Please Do Your Job, Mr. President." Very impressive. Very correct. But indeed, the President has been "doing his job," as per usual --- for himself.  In this case, the "job" is to make sure that there will never be a national testing program, at least for as long as he is in office. Which is what this three-part series has been and is about. And so, we come to the last installment of it.


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