Like any showman, U.S. President Donald Trump always claims to have a few good tricks up his sleeve.
Only this isn’t a performance, it’s a pandemic that has killed nearly 200,000 Americans.
Despite having two world-leading scientific agencies at his disposal — the Centers for Disease Control and the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases — Trump has decided he’s better served by ignoring facts and science.
Instead, he has regularly embraced what could best be described as “magic thinking” — promising, or perhaps even believing the impossible, instead of dealing with reality.
First came Trump’s public claims about the virus itself, which were never rooted in anything but his own wild guesses: “One day it will just disappear,” said Trump, promising the virus would go away on its own.
He regularly claimed that the virus would probably die off during the warm summer months — “maybe this goes away with heat and light,” he said.
That never came close to happening in the U.S. – in fact, as the summer wore on, things got worse.
To be fair, many scientists kept an open mind to the idea of seasonality during the early days of the pandemic, but none of them promised the virus would simply vanish on its own.
For epidemiologists, the uncertainty of a summer slow-down always came with warnings of a second wave in the fall. The official position of the Trump White House is still that there is no second wave coming.
To this day, Trump is so outwardly confident that things will improve on their own that he proclaimed it will be “very safe” for Americans to vote in person on Nov. 3. It’s hard to see how the current situation of approximately 40,000 new cases and 1,100 deaths per day will resolve itself in just a few short weeks.
Then there’s Trump’s repeated promise of a miracle cure.
Hydroxychloroquine and zinc came first — Trump even claimed to be taking the treatments himself just as studies began to question their effectiveness. Later, Trump pushed convalescent plasma, which later turned out to be not all he had promised.
Now Trump is vowing to deliver a new miracle in the form of a vaccine, which he claims will be ready for widespread distribution to the American people, and maybe even other nations, within just a few short weeks. Several vaccines are in stage three clinical trials, and undergoing simultaneous manufacturing, but no successful candidate has yet been identified.
Trump, who is not a doctor or scientist, and who has no medical training himself, is so confident in his claims that he decided to publically humiliate Dr. Robert Redfield, the man he appointed to head the CDC.
Redfield told a congressional committee that a vaccine likely won’t be ready for widespread deployment to the American people until mid-to-late 2021.
“Under no circumstance will it be as late as the doctor said,” Trump said shortly after, claiming Redfield didn’t understand what he was saying under oath. “We’re ready to go immediately,” claimed the president, without offering any evidence.
Moments earlier, Trump’s newest coronavirus advisor Dr. Scott Atlas, who is also not an epidemiologist or a vaccine scientist, offered his own dose of reality.
“There will be 700 million doses by the end of Q1,” said Atlas, promising a timeline still far more aggressive than Redfield, but more realistic than Trump. Atlas said that “high-priority people,” such as medical workers, could receive their dose by January, adding the important caveat that “of course, it depends on when things are approved.”
In a recent interview with Global News, Dr. Anthony Fauci offered a similar timeline to Redfield.
“You can start thinking about the deployment of that vaccine at the end of the year, or the beginning of the first quarter, the first half of 2021,” said Fauci. “As we get well into 2021 there likely will be enough doses for everyone who needs it.”
In short, widespread distribution of a vaccine to every American will not happen the moment a successful vaccine is identified. There’s potentially another year of hardship and caution to get through first.
It’s not surprising that any politician might try to offer a rosy picture in the weeks leading up to an election, but Trump has never really levelled with the American people about the challenges they collectively face.
What made the revelations in Bob Woodward’s recent book so astonishing is that they showed Trump had a clear-eyed understanding of the virus, its potency, and risks, as early as February.
To this day, that message has never been uttered publically by Trump.
Instead, the president keeps telling Americans they don’t need to hope for the best because they’re going to receive it — even if the experts say otherwise.
Jackson Proskow is the Washington bureau chief for Global National.