When I was growing up in the 1980s, there was much chatter from Washington D.C. about how the two most powerful federal leaders in that city, Republican President Ronald Reagan and Democratic House Speaker Tip O’Neil, maintained a healthy personal relationship despite being on opposite sides of the political spectrum.
Suffice it to say that President Donald Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will never be mistaken for Reagan and O’Neil; the modern pair relate like a long divorced couple that cannot stand to be in each other’s vicinity for too long.
(Trump and Pelosi arguing in Oval Office)
Amid that backdrop, I am far from surprised by Mr. Trump’s latest angry Tweet, this one directed not just at Speaker Pelosi, but for the first time since the Coronavirus Pandemic began, at Dr. Deborah Birx, the Global AIDS Ambassador since 2014 and since this past February, the Coordinator of Trump’s Coronavirus Task Force.
Now, the media and even Saturday Night Live have chronicled at length the palpable angst between Trump and Dr. Anthony Fauci, also a member of the Task Force, and suffice it to say that there clearly is no love lost between one man who has dedicated his entire adult life to studying infectious diseases, and another who finds his presidency in peril due to a disease that has fundamentally changed the way Americans live. For me, part of the difficulty of watching the daily Coronavirus press conferences this past spring was seeing President Trump contradict Dr. Fauci–and vice versa–all the while watching Fauci’s facial expressions that said far more about his frustrations with his boss than his words.
But Dr. Birx has never been the target of Trump’s wrath–until now! The cause? On the Sunday news circuit, Birx, speaking about the spike in cases and deaths, said: “What we are seeing today is different from March and April. It is extraordinarily widespread. It’s into the rural as equal urban areas.” Birx further acknowledged the warnings of former Federal Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb, who opined that there could be 300,000 coronavirus deaths by the end of this year.
Dr. Birx’s comments came not long after Speaker Pelosi stated on ABC’s “This Week” that she did not have confidence in Birx because her boss–President Trump–“is spreading disinformation about the virus and she is his appointee, so I don’t have confidence there, no.”
An irate Trump unleashed his wrath via Twitter, where he wrote: “So Crazy Nancy Pelosi said horrible things about Dr. Deborah Birx, going after her because she was too positive on the very good job we are doing on combatting the China Virus, including Vaccines & Therapeutics. In order to counter Nancy, Deborah took the bait & hit us. Pathetic!”
Dr. Birx, to her credit, defended herself against the lack of confidence by Speaker Pelosi and Trump’s Twitter diss by saying, “I have never been called pollyannish, or nonscientific, or non-data driven, and I will stake my 40-year career on those fundamental principles of utilizing data to really implement better programs to save more lives.”
Count me among those who believe in science–and scientists like Dr. Birx (and Dr. Fauci.) You see, having grown up suffering from asthma and as an adult, fighting hypertension and diabetes, I tend to trust that medical doctors and researchers are committed to studying and eradicating diseases or, at minimum, controlling their impact. Are doctors and medical researchers infallible? Hardly! But as Dr. Birx stated, most doctors and researchers are driven by hard data and science–not politics and swaying public opinion simply to win elections.
Like many Americans, I have found myself at times anxious about the Coronavirus and its ever increasing death toll and as a result, I have taken the advice from professionals that we practice habits like social distancing, hand washing, and mask wearing seriously. But the simple fact remains that until the past few weeks, President Trump not only refused to wear or encourage the wearing of masks–he openly diminished the increasing threat of the Coronavirus by giving no respect to what his own scientists were saying. That last part bears repeating; the presidential task Force works at the pleasure of President Trump–not for Speaker Pelosi or the Democratic Party and yet for months, neither the president or Republican governors in states now being hit hard took social distancing and mask wearing seriously. And while Mr. Trump and several governors are now urging their followers to wear masks, it very well could be too little, too late, for supporters who believe what they were told via Tweet–that the disease was a Democratic hoax designed to hurt the Trump presidency.
Yet and still, with millions of Americans unemployed, parents and teachers unsure about returning to schools, and the economy sinking faster than the Titanic post iceberg circa 1912, we find ourselves subjected to scientists being blasted for their work in the public square by public officials who not only lack the academic credentials to question their observations, but who are only focused on maintaining their elected offices, a disconcerting set of facts if ever there was one.