Alan Zendell, December 17, 2020
Several news outlets today reported that the Trump administration, with the overt approval of the president, secretly pursued a strategy of achieving herd immunity to the COVID virus by deliberately allowing it to spread among “non-vulnerable populations.” Part of that strategy was an organized attempt to discredit the views of scientists at the CDC and key members of the president’s Coronavirus Task Force, Drs. Debra Birx and Anthony Fauci.
Herd immunity occurs when a sufficiently large percentage, around two-thirds of the population is immune. When that happens, the virus essentially runs out of enough potential new hosts to allow it to spread. The concept is well known to epidemiologists.
What is radical about the approach adopted by the White House, following earlier, failed attempts in Sweden and Brazil, was to achieve herd immunity by maximizing community spread among children and healthy young adults; that is, by deliberately infecting as many people as possible who were thought to be at low risk of serious illness and death. Before the science of immunology was developed, community spread was the only way herd immunity could be achieved. But since scientists have learned to create vaccines, herd immunity has been achieved by protecting the population from infection until it can be immunized medically.
An article published in the scientific journal Nature last October, The False Promise of Herd Immunity for COVID-19, thoroughly debunked the strategy that had been secretly pursued by the Trump administration since last Spring. The article asserted that “epidemiologists have repeatedly smacked down such ideas.” It quoted Kristian Andersen, an immunologist at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California: “Such an approach would lead to a catastrophic loss of human lives without necessarily speeding up society’s return to normal. We have never successfully been able to do it before, and it will lead to unacceptable and unnecessary untold human death and suffering.”
To the surprise of no one except Trump’s mesmerized base of worshippers, that is exactly what happened. Epidemiological computer models developed by university researchers all over the country accurately predicted the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans if CDC guidelines were ignored. Medical professionals spent months wringing their hands, shocked by the administration’s continual undercutting of their proven advice that wearing masks and social distancing would prevent infection and save lives. For months, the scientific community seemed unable to grasp why Trump was behaving that way. Now we know.
The policy of forcing the virus to spread among safe populations while protecting the most vulnerable was always a false choice. Even where the elderly and immune compromised are sequestered in nursing homes and medical facilities, the government couldn’t (or wouldn’t) protect them. The fatality rate among those populations was staggering. Further, the deliberately mixed message coming from the White House which eschewed masks and repeatedly encouraged mass gatherings guaranteed that our most vulnerable citizens could not be protected.
Trump knew this. He always understood the consequences of pursuing herd immunity this way. It’s worth asking – if he knew he was signing the death warrants of at least a half million Americans, why did he continue down this road?
It’s not a mystery. We should have understood from the beginning. It’s often been suggested that a president needn’t be a subject matter expert to manage a crisis. He or she is expected to be surrounded by experts, listen to their competing advice, and be smart and objective enough to distill the best course of action for the nation. But in Trump, we have had a president who disdains experts, whose mental illness makes him believe he always knows better. And rather than immerse himself in the advice qualified medical professionals, he pushed them aside in favor of a bunch of quacks and fringe politicians.
That’s what he did, but it doesn’t explain why Trump couldn’t see what was plain to every other objective observer. The truth was that he did see it. He understood the consequences of his decisions, but the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans didn’t matter to him, because he is a sociopath who is incapable of caring the way normal people due. When his side show of incompetent advisors falsely claimed that he could save the economy and assure his re-election by allowing the virus to spread, that was all his narcissism allowed him to process.
There’s a valuable lesson in all this. Most politicians have large egos, but there must come a point at which voters say, “Enough is enough!” When a politician is as narcissistic as Trump, he becomes a danger to the nation. Fortunately, enough Americans figured that out by Election Day. Joe Biden didn’t rig the election. Trump rigged it against himself by not giving a damn about how many of us died.