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writing for godot

Has Trump Created a Death Cult?

Written by   
Wednesday, 21 October 2020 03:35

The president has found a theory that justifies his doing nothing further to combat the pandemic. How many lives will be lost?

Trump airport rally

President Trump has given up combating the pandemic. The days when he decided it best to take an active role, holding late afternoon televised briefings with Drs. Fauci and Birx alongside, are long gone. Even then, tormented by the nation's economic health suffering from the demands of public health, he was tweeting "LIBERATE MINNESOTA", and Michigan and Virginia, rushing to re-open the lockdown to restore the booming economy on which he was counting for re-election.

The rally he held in Tulsa on June 20 — an indoor event with spacing guides ripped off seats and few masks in view — serves as good as any the turning point when Trump discarded the standard "mitigation" protocols urged by his task force of experts led by Vice President Mike Pence. The president had never set the example of wearing a mask ("Somehow, I don't see it for myself") and thereafter switched emphasis to "Warp speed" of vaccine development, ready just before the election according to him.

More public events followed: five rallies in August, his celebration of his re-nomination August 27th before a closely-seated, mask-free assemblage at night on the South Lawn of the White House, 15 rallies in September, the gathering in the White House Rose Garden September 26th to announce Judge Barrett's Supreme Court nomination with guests packed tightly in folding chairs and again barely a mask in sight, and daily rallies in October beginning on the 12th once the president had recovered from his own bout with COVID-19.

By one count 27 cases of the disease had engulfed the White House, a dozen of them having attended the Rose Garden event. Summed up by book author Anand Giridharadas better than we can:

"He hosted a super-spreader event to honor a justice who would have the government control your body but refuse the duty to care for it, and when the virus he helped go around came around, he availed of the healthcare he would deny others, financed by the taxes he refuses to pay".


In mid-October, The Washington Post and The New York Times simultaneously broke stories that a new medical theory has come along to be embraced by the Trump White House. It had been mentioned as news shortly after the appointment of Dr. Scott Atlas as Trump's science adviser in August, but the articles reported that authors of a document promoting this radical strategy had been brought to the White House. The idea is just what the doctor didn't order, but it handily rationalizes the caution thrown to the winds policy that Trump and his retinue have been following for months. The manifesto published online by three epidemiologists advises that, while older members of the population should be protected, COVID-19 should be allowed to roam freely among the younger generations who are less seriously affected by the illness.

The objective is to reach what is colloquially referred to as "herd immunity", a status that would inhibit the virus from spreading and allow restoration of the vibrant economy that the pandemic has so damaged. In a briefing for reporters, a senior administration official said about the strategy, “We’re not endorsing a plan. The plan is endorsing what the president’s policy has been for months." The trio of scientists who met with Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar certainly have the requisite credentials — Martin Kulldorff, an epidemiologist at Harvard University; Sunetra Gupta, an epidemiologist at the University of Oxford; Jay Bhattacharya a physician and epidemiologist at Stanford Medical School. Azar subsequently tweeted, "We heard strong reinforcement of the Trump Administration’s strategy of aggressively protecting the vulnerable while opening schools and the workplace.” Dr. Atlas, although a neuroradiologist wioth no experience with respiratory diseases, seems to have won the day.

The document, which argues against lockdowns and for reopening businesses and schools, is called "The Great Barrington Declaration" after a town in western Massachusetts where it was presented under the auspices of the American Institute for Economic Research, a libertarian-leaning research organization located there. It makes no mention of wearing masks, distancing, crowd avoidance, nor any other of the preventives urged for months by scientists and medical professionals. It offers no footnotes nor data traditional to scientific documents. Yet, the website, where the document is posted in 29 languages, asks for your endorsement and posts a running count of over 500,000 (using their terms) concerned citizens, over 10,000 medical and public health scientists, and over 28,000 medical practitioners who have signed on.

The declaration claims that herd immunity can be achieved when as little as 10% to 20% percent of a population has been infected and carries antibodies, a proposition which the mainstream community finds preposterous. Francis Collins, who heads the National Institutes of Health, calls the theory called “fringe” and “dangerous”. Dr. Anthony Fauci, who needs no introduction, called it "ridiculous". Others interviewed in the Times and Post stories used similar words. The head of the World Health Organization called it "unethical". It "is just nonsense,” said Dr. Christopher Murray, director of the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, which produces the widely-cited epidemic model that the White House itself has used in its briefings. A recipe for “carnage” tweeted Gregg Gonsalves , an epidemiologist at the Yale School of Public Health.

Think of vaccines. The standard threshold for herd immunity is at least 60% and more usually 70% of the population having had a disease. At that level of vaccine immunization a disease does not spread. The point is that there must be a high enough proportion of persons in any cluster, gathering, crowd that a virus has difficulty finding someone with no antibody defenses. It is thwarted from finding a host in people who have developed antibody attackers in their immune systems from having experienced and overcoming the disease.

But with only 10% to 20% having been infected, a virus can easily find targets. In the U.S., the over 8 million who have tested positive for COVID-19 are only 2 1/2% of the population. The number of untested carriers is assumed to be much higher because of shortfalls in testing, but any adjusted percentage is far below consideration of herd immunity as a prospect.

The Washington Post did an analysis that showed in the United States, with a population of 328 million, reaching a 65% threshold for herd immunity could lead to 2.13 million deaths. This was the pandemic approach in Sweden, which did not turn out well, and it appears now to be the avoidist policy of the Trump White House.

The theory has many other faults. How would we allow the young to freely contract the disease without their coming into contact with the vulnerable older generations, starting with parents and co-workers? Further, we do not know how long immunity lasts; it is likely to vary depending on how strong a dose of the virus an individual has experienced. There are already cases of persons becoming re-infected: a A 25-year-old man in Nevada, an 89-year-old woman in the Netherlands who contracted COVID-19 a second time and died. Several others around the world.

How could the nation's hospitals possibly deal with the onslaught of cases if the disease were allowed to run wild? Does this administration care at all for the safety — both physical and mental — of the nation's doctors, nurses, and hospital staff? Are they yet another grouping by Trump of "losers" and "suckers" expected by him to just deal with it? Not a thought seems to have been given to the chaos at hospitals across the nation that abandonment of public health measures will bring.

Ripping of his mask on a White House balcony as he returned from Water Reed Medical Center, Trump told his supporters, "Don't be afraid of it… I felt great, like better than I have in a long time… better than 20 years ago", as if to encourage them to do their part — get out there, get sick, and do your patriotic thing to create herd immunity. "Mr. Trump’s statement was meant to cast his illness as an act of courage rather than the predictable outcome of recklessness", wrote reporters who covered the moment.

Now, at the beginning of what looks to be a third wave of infection, he is saying, "We've turned the corner" when the opposite is true. At this writing, there were some 70,000 new infections for a single day count not seen since July. Cases in over half the states are surging. Eighteen states topped their records of new infections over the last week. Midwestern cities and states are reporting that their ICUs are already filled to capacity.

Trump loyalists are not told this on Fox News. Instead we have Laura Ingraham touting herd immunity and Tucker Carlson with an essay on masks: "What kind of person covers his face in public? Let's see, armed robbers do that...So do Klansmen and radical Wahhabists", etc.  He continued:

"By our nature, we want to see each other. We need to see each other. Looking at another person's face is the beginning of connection. Eliminating that connection dehumanizes us."

Take your masks off, everyone. Get with the herd.


Who are these people who go to Trump rallies, these super-spreaders? Why are they attracted to events where they are jammed together at risk of contracting a disease that can result in the horrible death undergone by now 220,000, dying helplessly, gasping for air in the final throes of asphyxiation from this disease? A disease that for its survivors can potentially mean months of debilitation called "long covid"; possibly permanent damage to lungs, heart and other organs; and a "brain fog" that brings about a mix of short term memory loss and difficulty doing even simple tasks?

Instead, they listen to Donald Trump. "Don't let it dominate you!", he intoned. "You're gonna beat it. We have the best medical equipment. We have the best medicines". He had, but his fans at the rallies must know that they won't be treated by a platoon of doctors administering one drug of limited supply and another still experimental and not available at all.

Before taking ill, Trump was not fearful of contracting COVID because he was "on stage so I'm very far away" from the crowds he draws to his rallies. For him they are expendable. During shutdown when Trump could hold no rallies, Olivia Troye, a former adviser to Pence, quoted Trump saying in a corona task force meeting that one benefit of the pandemic was “I don’t have to shake hands with these disgusting people". Troye said, "“It was clear immediately that he wanted nothing to do with them.”

What makes people follow Trump as their leader, flocking to the daily super-spreader rallies as he hopscotches the country concerned only for re-election. Whether sitting in sports arenas or standing tightly packed at airports, thousands symbolically swear fealty to him not even wearing a mask, not knowing that they are the "losers" and "suckers" he abhors. How have these Americans been led so far from this democracy by no less than the president of the United States that they chant "Lock him up" about Joe Biden, with Trump joining in? How can this be explained as other than a cult? Add to that a plan to promote herd immunity and it becomes a death cult that would die in staggering numbers if enough of them are fool enough to serve and sacrifice.

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