Donald Dossier: Do Not Try This at Home
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because the commentator in chief is shrinking in crisis.
Does Donald Trump want you to inject Lysol into your veins? No. But the fact that we’re even asking the question is a sign of how off the rails we’ve gone. Throughout this crisis, the spitballing president has presented an overly optimistic view, embracing untested remedies — usually with the “consult your doctor” fine print appended — in the hopes that the society-smashing virus can be curtailed. And so we come to Thursday, in which his daily news conference/rally/bull session included a presentation by Bill Bryan, a senior Department of Homeland Security official, about studies showing how bleach, disinfectant and ultraviolet rays can hinder the virus in lab settings. Then Trump stepped to the podium. His riff is worth presenting in full:
“So I asked Bill a question some of you are thinking of if you’re totally into that world, which I find to be very interesting. So, supposing we hit the body with a tremendous, whether it’s ultraviolet or just very powerful light, and I think you said, that hasn’t been checked, but you’re gonna test it. And then I said, supposing you brought the light inside the body, which you can either do either through the skin or in some other way, and I think you said you’re gonna test that too, sounds interesting. And then I see the disinfectant, where it knocks it out in a minute, 1 minute, and is there a way you 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 you’re going to have to use medical doctors, but it sounds interesting to me, so we’ll see. But the whole concept of the light, the way it goes in 1 minute, that’s pretty powerful.”
Medically, this is nonsense. It prompted Lysol to issue a statement telling people “under no circumstances” should its products be ingested or injected — not to mention endless posts on social media about Clorox tablets and similar mock products. On Friday the Maryland state government said it had received more than 100 calls about consuming disinfectant as a possible COVID-19 treatment.
Now that his favorite drug hydroxychloroquine looks like a dud, Trump has moved on to new hopes. But as before, there’s enough hemming, hawing and shoulder-shrugging to avoid a full endorsement. Take his exchange with coronavirus task force head Dr. Deborah Birx — whose look of muffled horror about Trump’s initial statement will be long remembered — about the effectiveness of sunlight. “I say maybe you can, maybe you can’t. I’m not a doctor. But I’m a person that has a good [points to his head] you know what. Deborah, have you ever heard of that? The heat and the light relative to certain viruses, yes, but relative to this virus?” Birx jumps in: “Not as a treatment. I mean, certainly fever is a good thing. When you have a fever, it helps your body respond. But I’ve not seen heat or light as a — ” Trump interrupts: “I think that’s a great thing to look at. OK?”
On Friday, after a predictable mass hyperventilation, Trump said he was just being sarcastic and trying to rile up the media. He often does this intentionally to stir up a controversy and distract from something more problematic. Witness last week his executive order on immigration, trumpeted as a giant shutdown, but merely a codification of an existing visa freeze, dotted with loopholes.
The disinfectant riff, though, was something else entirely: Trump seizing on a piece of possible good news and wildly inflating its value like a piece of real estate.
Improvisation and instinct have served Trump well, playing rally crowds and the media for years. But in an actual crisis it makes him look small — eclipsed by Dr. Anthony Fauci or the nation’s governors, for people looking for credible virus-related information. His treasury secretary negotiates a series of economic rescues with Congress topping $3 trillion, with limited presidential involvement. Trump remains visible and omnipresent, but in the way of a commentator more than a decider. And an inconsistent one at that: After he stoked the flames of “liberating” the states, Trump whacked Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp for allowing businesses like beauty parlors and gyms to reopen on Friday.
His ability to appear on all sides of any issue is a remarkable political talent, one Trump is putting to use as he tries to bridge a perilous divide. But even the president seems to be recognizing his limits. By the weekend, he was musing that it might be time to end his daily briefings, highly rated though they may be.
Given the maelstroms these appearances cause, it would likely please Trump’s political advisers to ditch them. Not to mention the nation’s poison control operators.