Anna Moneymaker / The New York Times
Tuesday, April 28, 2020 | 2 a.m.
As the bubonic plague swept through Europe and Asia in the 1300s, one so-called cure was to cut up snakes or pigeons and rub them on an infected person’s body. Others included putting the ill in sewers, which somehow was supposed to drive the disease away, or feeding them mercury or arsenic.
Fast forward to the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, and the marketplace was flooded with snake-oil remedies like Dr. Pierce’s Pleasant Pellets, which were sold as relaxants on the premise that “the more you fear the disease, the surer you are to get it.” What Dr. Pierce didn’t mention was that the main active ingredient of his happy pills was jimsonweed, a poisonous intoxicant that can produce hallucinations and delirium.
Throughout history, disease outbreaks and dangerously fake cures have gone hand in hand. But thanks to breakthroughs in medical science, the public became better enlightened on such quackery and better informed about how to protect themselves from it.
Now, however, comes Donald Trump, a president who would turn back the clock to the Dark Ages. With his insane ramblings last week about curing COVID-19 by ingesting or injecting disinfectant or by zapping the body with ultraviolet light, Trump revealed his nonexistent knowledge of medicine and health. And showed beyond a doubt that he’s incapable of leading the fight against the coronavirus.
Not surprisingly, Trump’s latest bout of lunacy prompted the White House to quietly reveal that the ignoramus president was being redirected to discuss the reopening of the economy instead of medical issues during his coronavirus briefings.
We’ll see how that works out — aides have tried and failed to put Trump in a straitjacket before — but the idea is just as nuts as any other because Trump’s understanding of the economy is as infantile as his understanding of medicine.
It’s time to child-proof the White House.
Although the disinfectant “cure” prompted waves of ridicule, it caused real harm for some unfortunate and uninformed Americans who followed the president’s lead. Poison control officials in several states reported getting spikes in calls from people who had sickened themselves with disinfectants. These were individuals who believed the president of the United States wouldn’t provide medical advice that ran completely counter to science — certainly not an outrageous notion in normal times — and they paid a price. Perhaps the “poison” labels on the bottles weren’t enough warning.
Meanwhile, Trump offers apparent support of “open now” protesters, whose gatherings are putting public health at risk wherever they occur. In disregarding social distancing practices and not wearing masks, these protesters are creating ideal environments for the virus to spread among the crowd and then to everyone they encounter when they leave.
They’re also bringing back regressive thinking: In the 1918 outbreak, there were groups protesting against orders to wear masks and take other steps to stop the spread of the disease. Deaths spiked as a result.
That’s not to mention extremist Alex Jones and those like him who are hawking fake cures — the 21st century equivalents of Dr. Pierce’s patent medicine — in an effort to turn a profit on the nation’s misery.
In the dank corners of the internet, where there is a psychotic theory for any event, inane “cures” and wild accusations about the pandemic flow like sewage. Weak minds get sucked into this sludge. Because his mind is among the weakest of all, it’s plausible that Trump got his Lysol-and-light cure from these maniacs.
Another remedy he’s promoted, a combination of the anti-malaria drugs hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin, prompted a strong warning last week from the Food and Drug Administration. The FDA said the drug combo, which Trump had touted as potentially being “one of the biggest game changers in the history of medicine,” could cause fatal heart problems if administered improperly.
Trump should stop talking. Any remotely responsible president would leave medical advice to the experts. But instead, Americans are stuck with one who thinks he’s the smartest person in any room, when in reality he’s not only dim but lacks the intellectual curiosity to become better informed.
For that matter, any responsible parent knows that you lock up the bleach around the toddlers because it’s poisonous. It takes a mind collapsing in unique ways to think it’s OK to drink bleach.
An item from the satirical website The Onion illustrates how badly Trump has diminished the office of the presidency. Published in February, it’s the fictional story of a Wyoming man who stocks up on disinfectant cleaning items “in case President Donald Trump announces it is a coronavirus cure.”
And there you have it: Trump has sunk to the level of satire. Only now there’s a body count.