Sam Ben-Meir: Less transparency will worsen the pandemic
Hospital data is now going directly to the Trump administration rather than the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This will have immediate and far reaching consequences. Already valuable CDC pages that tracked changes in the number of occupied and available hospital beds in the nation for COVID-19 patients stopped working as a result of the switch. We have essentially lost this important metric for gauging the progress of the disease. The sidelining of the CDC is nothing less than a travesty and Americans should be outraged and alarmed. This loss of transparency will lead inevitably to an even worse pandemic and greater loss of life.
The redirection of information to the Trump administration increases its power to withhold information or misinform because now the public will have less visibility into what is happening. It will also hamper experts and researchers in their analyses of how the pandemic is progressing and how to advise the public. Dr. Thomas File, president of the Infectious Diseases Society of America, said that bypassing the agency would “undermine our nation’s public health experts.” The administration weakly attempts to justify the switch by arguing that the new system will be streamlined and modernized. Sidelining the CDC is not the answer to efficiency.
Does anyone really trust that the administration will present information and findings to the public in a way that is unadulterated, unvarnished, thorough and complete? The president has handled the pandemic incompetently since the beginning. We can be sure that information will be provided to the public – if it is provided at all – in such a way as to cast the administration in the most favorable light possible at the expense of accuracy and completeness.
For Trump, this crisis has only ever been a political problem to navigate with his typical bluster, arrogance and lies. He has never treated it as a public health crisis of a magnitude we have never before witnessed. Which means that this shift will very likely have a damaging effect on our battle against the pandemic going forward.
Akin to entrusting a fox to behave in a henhouse, how can this administration be entrusted with sole access to this data when the president has repeatedly downplayed the significance of the pandemic, when he pushed for the precipitous reopening of economies even when it was contrary to the recommendation of every serious expert, when he repeatedly suggests that case counts are increasing only because testing has increased? This last claim is a falsehood Trump habitually repeats — as The Atlantic reports, in states such as Arizona and Florida, “the number of new cases being reported is outpacing any increase in the states’ testing ability,” and states are reporting record daily case counts.
The American public has a right to this information, especially when we are dealing with Trump who is without exaggeration “the most mendacious president in history.” According to the Washington Post Fact Checker Trump has made over 20,000 false or misleading claims since his administration began. And Trump made 654 false claims over fourteen weeks during the coronavirus pandemic.
Yet, somehow, we must place our trust in an administration that has demonstrated time and again its disdain for the truth. This administration has undermined the very notion of objective truth by promoting absurd conspiracy theories, false accusations and empty charges against not only political rivals but impartial experts; and a general unwillingness to defer to science when its conclusions are not politically expedient.
To date there have been, in the US alone, nearly 3.5 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 and almost 140,000 deaths. UNICEF warned that as many as 6,000 children could die every day due to the impact of the coronavirus and its disruption of routine health services. In fact, this is “the biggest and most urgent global crisis children have faced since the second world war,” according to UNICEF UK’s executive director Sacha Deshmukh.
What is so sad is that this country, instead of coming together, is perhaps more deeply divided than ever – thanks in no small part to Trump’s politicization of this crisis and of US intelligence, not to speak of his disagreement with top experts from within his own administration, including Dr. Anthony Fauci. Nearly three months ago, the White House called its response to the pandemic “a great success story” – at that point more Americans had already died in this crisis than in the Vietnam War. The only thing this president seems reliably capable of is self-lauding and congratulating himself for doing “a great job” – regardless of his actual performance, which in this case has been nothing short of epically disastrous, shameful and flagrantly irresponsible.
The greater lack of transparency that we can now expect will only serve to make Americans pay a greater price for the president’s worst characteristics. Trump has failed our country, utterly and contemptibly. He has spread lies and misinformation. He has displayed a stunning lack of empathy or concern. He has put his personal interests before those of the nation and has revealed an abject lack of leadership.
And now in support of his personal interests, Trump is taking steps to ensure that the many more thousands of Americans who die of coronavirus will not be in the public view.
Sam Ben-Meir is a professor of philosophy and world religions at Mercy College in New York City.