Editorial: Injecting Disinfectant: Trump’s Comments Need a Warning Label

Donald Trump didn’t “recommend” injecting disinfectant, per se, but he didn’t need to go as far as recommending it. All he had to do was wonder out loud about its possible effectiveness against COVID-19 for some of his supporters to jump on board, and the rest to make excuses for him. Are disinfectants destined to be the new hydroxychloroquine in the eyes of Trump’s base? the rest of us wondered.

Trump had just heard a presentation by undersecretary for science and technology William Bryan, of the Department of Homeland Security. Bryan was discussing a study that found that exposure to the sun and the use of disinfectants such as bleach can weaken or kill the virus. Bryan was referring to the use of disinfectants as cleaning agents on surfaces and as aerosol sprays, not as treatments to be ingested or injected into the body.

During his April 23 coronavirus press briefing, Trump mentioned the possibility of “bringing light inside the body” as a possible way to eliminate the virus from patients. He then embarked on a riff about perhaps injecting disinfectant to treat COVID-19.

“And then I see the disinfectant, where it knocks it out in one minute. And is there a way we can do something like that, by injection inside or almost a cleaning, because you see it gets in the lungs and it does a tremendous number on the lungs, so it’d be interesting to check that, so that you’re going to have to use medical doctors with, but it sounds interesting to me.”

Understandably, many Americans were aghast. Certainly, we’ve developed a degree of numbness to Trump’s absurd statements, to his often ignorant pronouncements, and his presumption to know more than the experts on…well, just about any topic. But Trump’s conjecture about the possibility of using cleaning agents internally to fight COVID-19 likely shocked even many six-year-olds who were taught by their parents that you mustn’t ever, ever, ever drink such things.

With each of Donald Trump’s increasingly preposterous and unhinged statements or actions, many Americans have said, time after time, “This one is it. Surely, this time is the last straw. No one can possibly believe/support/excuse this.” This was another one of those times.

And yet, as the story spread through the news outlets, Donald Trump’s supporters rushed to clarify, defend, or deny Trump’s words.

Those of Trump’s base who didn’t interpret Trump’s words as a recommendation rallied around him to defend what he said as “not what he said.”

Many of Trump’s defenders immediately took to social media, spending the weekend posting articles and comments “pointing out” that those who vaccinate “already inject disinfectants,” and touting all manner of related unproven and fringe treatments. As if this somehow meant that it might actually be ok to try injecting a home cleaning agent. As if this somehow made it ok for Trump to plant the idea into the malleable heads of some of his followers.

Trump apologists such as Breitbart and Fox, followed by all who only get their news from those sources, attempted to “clarify” Trump’s remarks, yet did nothing to effectively explain what he might have meant.

Joel B. Pollak of Breitbart wrote, “Trump used the word ‘inject,’ but what he meant was using a process — which he left ‘medical doctors’ to define — in which patients’ lungs might be cleared of the virus, given new knowledge about its response to light and other factors.”

Fox News’ Laura Ingraham blamed the media for misrepresenting what Trump had said. Notably, Ingraham did not replay what Trump actually said so that her audience could hear for themselves. Instead, she played clips of the shocked responses by CNN and MSNBC journalists.

“So was he telling Americans to drink Clorox? Really?” Ingraham sneered.

“Absolutely not,” responded Fox contributor Sara Carter. “These are journalists that don’t let the facts stand in the way of their lies. They hate Donald Trump, the president, so much that they will twist his words whenever they can at the expense of the American people.”

What of the Trump devotees who did listen to Trump, and who interpreted his words as a possible recommendation? And what of the manufacturers of Lysol and other disinfectants who were so alarmed by Trump’s comments that they immediately issued warnings against taking their products internally?

As for Donald Trump, himself, he claimed a day later that clearly he was being sarcastic.

“I was asking a question sarcastically to reporters like you, just to see what would happen,” he said to reporters on Friday.

Breitbart’s Pollak, who had earlier attempted to “clarify” what Trump meant, subsequently changed his position, siding with Trump that Trump was just being sarcastic.

The idea that everyone should have understood Trump’s speculation to be mere sarcasm, if it was, ignores the fact that New York City poison control centers reported an increase in calls in the 18 hours following Trump’s speculation about injecting disinfectants to treat coronavirus.

The most shocking and irresponsible defense of Trump came from infectious disease specialist Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House pandemic response coordinator. When asked by CNN’s Jake Tapper for her opinion about Trump’s remarks, she didn’t give a medical opinion, but instead defended Trump’s words as a harmless “dialogue” with health professionals, saying he was just “wondering out loud” about the possibility of using disinfectants internally.

Americans knew that they could count on Trump’s base and his loyal news outlets to defend, explain, and justify his every word and action. But when one of the medical experts we count on to keep us safe declines to acknowledge the recklessness of Trump’s words, and instead, as Birx did, blames the furor on the media for replaying them, it seems as if we’re running out of options for whom we can look to for our well-being.

If it’s true that Trump was just misunderstood, it’s also true that no leader should ever have casual “dialogue” with medical professionals in front of the public about the possibility of using harmful chemicals internally as a treatment. If the truth is that Trump was just being sarcastic, that, too, was reckless in light of the fact that some might take Trump’s “musing” as a recommendation (and some apparently did). Every possible spin by Trump and his supporters on Trump’s feckless speculation is simply a defense of the indefensible.

“When the person with the most powerful position on the planet is encouraging people to think about disinfectants, whether it was serious or not, people listen,” said Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer.

Americans poison themselves after Trump’s ‘disinfectant injection’ suggestion | City News Toronto [2020-04-26]

Trump: Disinfectant comments were ‘sarcastic’ | Associated Press

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