The first time the word “hydroxychloroquine” stumbled its way out of Donald Trump’s mouth during a daily White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing, viewers knew it was destined to become a partisan topic. Donald Trump’s continued hyping of hydroxychloroquine as a possible “miracle cure” despite the fact that the FDA has not yet approved it for treatment of COVID-19 has led his supporters, as usual, to disregard science and concrete evidence in favor of whatever Donald Trump says.
Those who challenge Trump’s promotion of the drug, also known as Plaquenil, by pointing out that we don’t have enough evidence yet, that we should tread carefully—that hydroxychloroquine is still in the trial stages for use in combatting COVID-19—are now met with hostility, labeled as partisan, and accused of wanting Trump to fail more than they want to see an effective treatment. Apparently, support or non-support of using the untested drug on coronavirus patients has become a test of one’s fealty to Donald Trump.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s top infectious disease expert, has repeatedly warned that there is no wide or definitive data to support the drug’s efficacy in treating COVID-19, but according to an April 6 report in Politico, “Behind the scenes, career health officials have raised even stronger warnings about the risk to some Americans’ heart health and other complications, but been warned not to publicly speak out and potentially contradict Trump.”
“What do you have to lose?” Trump has said, as he encourages the drug’s use. “It’s been out there for a long time. What do you have to lose? I hope they use it.”
In his characteristic manner of setting up an untruth in such a way that he can easily backpedal it later, if necessary, he has also said, “What do I know? I’m not a doctor, but I have common sense. The FDA feels good about it, as you know, they approved it.”
Donald Trump’s carefully placed “As you know, they approved it” refers to the FDA having approved hydroxychloroqine years ago as a drug for malaria, as well as for lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. Trump knows that anyone who chooses to will understand it to mean that the FDA has approved it for use against the coronavirus.
The FDA has now authorized limited emergency use of Plaquenil for trial on certain COVID-19 patients, only. Medical experts warn, however, that the reported benefits of the drug for treating COVID-19 are anecdotal, and that very little scientific evidence exists yet to confirm its effectiveness. Not only should the drug not be pushed to the general public without thorough testing, it could cost the lives of some patients.
Does it make Trump supporters at all uneasy that their president is promoting a drug against the advice of the leading medical experts and scientists? Does it frighten them, even a little, that these leading scientists and medical experts are now being cautioned against disagreeing with the president, who is not a scientist or medical expert?
Apparently, the answer is no. Trump supporters not only ignore the disturbing scene of a president who repeatedly overrides the experts, they borrow from Trump’s false narrative to speak with authority about the drug’s benefits, as well as how “safe” it is to use.
As they have done with the topic of the coronavirus itself, Donald Trump’s supporters take their cues from him regarding what they see as fact and fallacy. The virus quickly became a partisan issue, and even now, it is often possible to guess who supports Donald Trump and who doesn’t by how they’re responding socially and logistically to the virus and the prevention of its spread.
Trump supporters’ unquestioning loyalty to Donald Trump, combined perhaps with an irrational desire for a miracle, has added the hydroxychloroquine topic to the list of other now-partisan topics that, were rational thought involved, should never be partisan issues.
Right-wing pundits such as Fox News’ Laura Ingraham have begun using their pulpits to promote hydroxychloroquine to their audiences, contributing to the partisanship surrounding it. Ingraham even went so far as to mock Dr. William Haseltine, a former professor at Harvard Medical School who has done groundbreaking research on HIV/AIDS, calling him a “quack” when he doubted the drug’s efficacy.
If at some point in the future, hydroxychloroquine does prove to be a “game changer” for treating COVID-19, we all win.
If, however, hydroxychloroquine proves to be ineffective, will world-class medical experts still have to tread lightly around Donald Trump with the evidence? Will scientific proof still be viewed with hostility as nothing more than the desire to “see Trump fail”? If we become sick with COVID-19 and the ER doctor is a Trump supporter, will he or she choose hydroxychloroquine for us over other, possibly better choices?
Trump grilled over continued promotion of hydroxychloroquine to treat coronavirus | Guardian News [2020-04-06]
Trump Adviser Navarro Clashes With Fauci Over Coronavirus Treatment Endorsed By President Trump | NBC News [2020-04–6]
The co-dependent and symbiotic relationship between Donald Trump and the American Evangelical Christians seems to grow stronger with each Coronavirus Task Force update. The bond of enablement between the two factions has existed since Trump’s candidacy, but with each uninformed proclamation and every falsehood that issues from the president’s mouth, the bindings tighten.
It’s not news to most Americans that evangelicals see Donald Trump as their modern-day savior. Donald Trump has indicated that he sees himself as having in fact done more for evangelicals than even Christ himself did.
Indeed, Donald Trump has appointed two conservative Supreme Court Judges and numerous conservative federal judges who evangelicals hope will overturn Roe v. Wade for them. He has moved the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem after having earlier declared the U.S. as officially recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital—moves that evangelicals see as crucial to fulfilling their biblical “End Times” prophecy (Trump himself likely didn’t understand that at the time; he just knew that Israel, and especially Jerusalem, are important to the evangelicals). He’s done numerous photo ops with famous evangelical leaders, where he appears to have his head bowed in prayer. He mirrors the evangelicals’ disdain for science, especially when it contradicts their worldview.
Like a teenage boy who wants to date your daughter, Trump has learned to work the evangelical room, aiming to impress with words and phrases that, while not often accurate, are close enough to sound like he’s making a sincere effort.
“He gets us,” they think, willfully overlooking his gaffs.
“I get you like no one else in the history of the world ever has,” adds Donald Trump.
And what pandering scheme would be complete without promoting Bible-thumping capitalists at his Coronavirus Task Force briefings?
“God gave us grace on November 8, 2016 to change the course we were on,” said Mike Lindell, inventor and CEO of MyPillow from the podium. Lindell’s company will convert 75 percent of its pillow-making production to making masks to help combat the COVID-19 crisis.
“God had been taken out of our schools and lives, a nation had turned its back on God. I encourage you to use this time at home to get back in the Word. Read our Bibles and spend time with our families.”
To be sure, Americans are grateful that Lindell and the folks at MyPillow have stepped up. Evangelicals, however, are over the moon that Trump chose to showcase someone (Lindell) who wants America to “get back in the Word.” Their president’s gross mishandling of the coronavirus crisis, now a pandemic, is canceled out by what they see as his heroism in anointing people who are fond of quoting New Testament scripture.
The rest of us know that Donald Trump’s evangelical posturing isn’t genuine. The evangelicals know it, too, on some level, and Donald Trump almost certainly knows that they know it.
Why does it all continue to work?
For the hard-core evangelicals, if one has faith, one should not be interested in proof. One does not need science or data—in fact, they are to be scorned—if they are in conflict with what evangelicals believe to be true. Hence, in the evangelical Christians, Donald Trump has found the ideal base of supporters who will be with him as long as he vaguely refers to something biblical once in awhile, and continues to disregard science.
Though Donald Trump likely can’t consciously cite the neuroscientific phenomenon, he is instinctually aware of what neuroscientist Dr. Michael Shermer calls The Believing Brain. Shermer’s thesis is, “We form our beliefs for a variety of subjective, personal, emotional, and psychological reasons in the context of environments created by family, friends, colleagues, culture, and society at large; after forming our beliefs we then defend, justify, and rationalize them with a host of intellectual reasons, cogent arguments, and rational explanations. Beliefs come first, explanations for beliefs follow.”
Donald Trump knows that, like most human beings, the evangelicals will sooner disregard or shape facts and contrary evidence to fit their narrative than abandon their faith. He knows, too, that this applies not only to their religious faith, but also to their faith in Donald Trump.
This is a gift to Donald Trump, especially because many evangelicals go a step further by believing that God chose Donald Trump to be president. Because of this, he knows they will forgive, overlook, deny, or rationalize every corrupt, dangerous, perilous, or irrational move he makes. And in return, they will get their judges, their hoped-for reversal of Roe v. Wade, their “godly” government. Or not.
With symbiotic relationships in the plant and animal kingdoms, participants benefit mutually from each other. Donald Trump, however, knows that his symbiotic relationship with his evangelical base only requires that as long as they see him as appointed by God, it’s only important that they feel like the relationship is mutually beneficial.
MyPillow CEO Speaks at Trump’s Coronavirus Press Conference | Late Night with Seth Meyers [2020-04-01]
Christian Leaders Pray Over Trump During Launch Of Evangelicals For Trump Coalition | NBC News [2020-01-03]