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Corona – An epidemic of vicious politics

By Neera Kuckreja Sohoni

Since the China virus (and I hesitate not one bit in calling it that!) entered our shores, President Trump himself and his administration have been relentlessly attacked for no other reason than that he alone by virtue of his office along with his team of public health advisors is authorized to deal with it. Not the opposing party, or its leader Nancy Pelosi, or its presumptive nominee for President Joe Biden.

The Presidency is not an autarchy, which is fortunate for all of us who admire and breathe the privilege of living in a democracy where rule of law reigns supreme or at least is expected. The constitutionally devised separation of powers – a feature generally hailed for being a bulwark against autarchy – in the Trump era has turned out to be disastrous. Not surprisingly his efforts to tackle the virus or the economy or immigration or law and order or public schooling or public conduct – all remain unsupported. As his fans and he have often remarked, he could invent a cure for cancer or Corona but it would still not assuage his critics or convince his opponents to applaud him!

Trump’s tackling of the Corona pandemic has lit so many fires against whatever he does, that it leaves many of us exhausted and incredulous. This virus is so mysterious, its spread so high speed, and its impact so lethal that it has made its tackling difficult if not impossible. No matter how wise the CDC, NIH, and their leadership, no matter how popular Dr. Anthony Fauci, they are still in the dark about precisely settling the why, when, what and how and many more questions about the virus. In the absence of definitive diagnostic, therapeutic, ameliorative, and preventive knowledge, one is not wrong to rely on hope, and in that sense, err on the side of optimism. Like most of us, Trump is sincere, even desperate, in hoping ways will be found soonest to overcome this treacherous virus. If that hope seems unrealistic and at times ahead of scientific caution, that too, is understandable and deserves not to be characterized as vicious, malicious or unlawful.

Enthusiasts committed to run down Trump have a dearth of hard data but not of hasty colorful interpretations of Trump’s tackling of the virus. “For many months now” a Washington Post Columnist (Greg Sargent, July 30, 2020) pompously declares, “it has been absolutely clear that President Trump has simply never had it in him — or worse, has been maliciously unwilling — to make the decision to marshal the full force of the federal government to defeat the coronavirus. Instead, he has sought to fill that vacuum with illusions — first with the illusion that it wasn’t a threat, then with the illusion that he’d resolved to act as a “wartime president” against it and then finally with the illusion that it is again largely behind us and is on track to ‘disappear’.”

Since when is illusion a novelty in politics or for that matter in the world of business? Politicians and political parties, like their peers in the corporate world, thrive on illusion. Pharmaceutical companies make millions on the sales of a drug which even after being stringently tested and approved by FDA is recalled years later for serious harm caused to users through side effects. Fancily equipped and tested cars are sold only to be withdrawn because the safety they promised did not materialize. These examples are cited not to justify deception but to suggest that discovery is not always definitive and fool-proof, just as promises politicians make are not always kept or delivered. In all facets of human life, hope is what keeps us going. Clearly hope can be illusionary, but that is no reason for one to prefer to live in despair, or to blame and resent Trump for being an illusionist and a Myth-Maker.

Living for months now in the brutally isolating pod of social distancing and facial masking caused by Corona, with many crying out for Trump to be our “Consoler-in-Chief” and not only our “Commander- in-Chief”, it is hard to understand why reporters and critics now feel enraged at his recent revised projection of himself as caring, low-key, communicative, responsive and responsible. They may secretly appreciate the new version of Trump but cannot applaud it precisely because it is Trump. For the same reason it was folly to expect any commendation for the new strategy he recently announced to deal with outbreaks wherever they emerge. Aptly titled ‘Embers Strategy’, its approach is simple. Identify the hot spots and provide them a concentrated infusion of medical supplies, personnel and resources. The other component of the strategy is to wholly prioritize vaccine and therapeutics’ invention, testing, manufacturing and distribution.

Trump’s ‘claim’ to have something soon that can tackle and defeat the ‘enemy’ is hardly one to scoff at or be deemed  treacherous. But the opposing party and media have their agenda to play out. So anything vaguely attempted by or ascribed to Trump is to be boycotted and choked by giving it either no press at all or only negative press.

The use of hydroxychloroquine and its sister drug chloroquine typifies this anti-Trump epidemic of hysteria. Both these drugs are long-standing, widely used, and deployed for decades all over the world to treat malaria, rheumatoid arthritis, and lupus. While the jury is still out on how well or if at all these drugs given in combination with azithromycin and zinc work in respect of Corona, it is hard to overlook their one intrinsic advantage. Familiarity with a cocktail of existing drugs gives people more confidence and courage to try them than for entirely new drugs.

Trump understands this popular comfort level with the drug, and his zeal to find anything that can work, even if it does not cure or prevent Corona but can ameliorate the impact and intensity of the virus, is likely the reason for his advocacy of it. That began fairly early in the Corona briefings when he spoke of the possible benefits of the drug, but he was hushed down by the combined roar of CDC, NIH, Medicos, and the Media. Unduly enraged, many obliquely or openly suggested Trump’s financial stake in touting the drug, which inference remained unsubstantiated. A lull followed during which Trump let this drug alone until some weeks later he suddenly announced he was taking the drug as a prophylactic. That set everyone’s hair on fire leading them to further snuff out any talk of the drug’s credibility or its effectiveness against Corona.

Even as the media and medicos went dark, alas, they underestimated the innate resurgence power of Trump. Towards the end of July, he was handed a gift when a video surfaced of a group of medicos pleading for Congress and the Health regulators to unshackle the infamous drug – hydroxychloroquine – for use in tackling Corona. He happily re-tweeted the video which went viral. Within hours the zealous social police took over and Twitter withdrew the video on grounds the company does not support circulating misinformation about Corona. Twitter‘s arrogance in making itself arbiter of what stays or goes on its platform is hardly unique. It is endemic in the social and print media world where self-appointed cancel culture and cancel speech goons guard the gateway to information. To see the suspended video now, you have to jump through so many fiery hoops that you cannot but give up.

But the fight to keep testing out strategies to tackle Corona must go on. Science is, has been, and must continue to be open-minded. Fauci can no more call the shots than can Trump. Clearly, it is not a home run till a vaccine or a therapy is fully tested, meets Fauci’s proclaimed “gold standard” of “randomized double-blind placebo controlled clinical trial”, and has certification of efficacy from the powers that be. Until that moment of truth occurs, the field is and must remain open to all hypotheses, experiments, and tentative inferences. Just because it is not yet a holy grail or just because CDC, Fauci and that school of doctors may disregard and disrespect hydroxychloroquine as voodoo science, that is not reason enough for the entire medical, media and social world to come down against it. Dozens of countries including Australia, China, India, Russia, UK etcetera have tried or are trying to test the benefit of this and various other drugs. In the meantime, science, scientists and their megaphones in the media have to take a back seat and let the chips fall where they may.

Ms. Sohoni is a freelance writer and published author.

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