President Donald Trump has repeatedly mused that he has a knack for science and medicine – and that, had his life gone in a different direction, he might have excelled in those fields rather than in business and politics.
“I like this stuff. I really get it,” Trump said after touring the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in early March. “People are surprised that I understand it. Every one of these doctors said, ‘How do you know so much about this?’ Maybe I have a natural ability. Maybe I should have done that instead of running for President.”
Back in 2018, talking about the threat from the climate crisis, Trump said this:
“No, no. Some say that and some say differently. I mean, you have scientists on both sides of it. My uncle was a great professor at MIT for many years. Dr. John Trump. And I didn’t talk to him about this particular subject, but I have a natural instinct for science, and I will say that you have scientists on both sides of the picture.”
And on the campaign trail in 2016, Trump said that his “super genius” uncle – Dr. John Trump – had explained nuclear power to him more than three decades ago. “Look, having nuclear – my uncle was a great professor and scientist and engineer, Dr. John Trump at MIT; good genes, very good genes, OK, very smart, the Wharton School of Finance, very good, very smart,” he said of himself.
All of which brings us to Thursday night in the White House press briefing room when Trump, who, as a reminder, is not, in fact, a doctor or a scientist, mused about possible treatments for coronavirus. Here’s what he said (it’s long but you need to read every word):
“So, supposing we hit the body with a tremendous – whether it’s ultraviolet or just very powerful light – and I think you said that that hasn’t been checked, but you’re going to test it. And then I said, supposing you brought the light inside the body, which you can do either through the skin or in some other way, and I think you said you’re going to test that too. It sounds interesting…
“…Right. And then I see the disinfectant, where it knocks it out in a minute. One minute. And is there a way we can do something like that, by injection inside or almost a cleaning. Because you see it gets in the lungs and it does a tremendous number on the lungs. So it would be interesting to check that. So, that, you’re going to have to use medical doctors with. But it sounds – it sounds interesting to me.
“So we’ll see. But the whole concept of the light, the way it kills it in one minute, that’s – that’s pretty powerful.”
To be crystal clear on what the President of the United States – again, not a medical doctor – is suggesting here:
1) Ingesting – or otherwise inserting – a source of UV light into your body.
2) Injecting a disinfectant into your body in order to perform a “cleaning” on your lungs.
This would all be sorts of funny – in a who-would-ever-take-this-guy-seriously sort of way – if Donald Trump wasn’t the President of the United States, we weren’t in the midst of a pandemic where people have already shown a willingness to do all sorts of crazy things to “cure” themselves and Donald Trump wasn’t the President of the United States. (Yes, I said it twice. It’s that important.)
Because Donald Trump is the President of the United States, his ridiculous comments had to be immediately addressed by serious people – for fear that the musings of a man who is, in case you forgot, not a doctor, be taken seriously by people. The Environmental Protection Agency was forced to issue a statement about disinfectant that should be obvious to anyone with a working brain:
“Never apply the product to yourself or others. Do not ingest disinfectant products.”
The makers of Lysol did the same; “We must be clear that under no circumstance should our disinfectant products be administered into the human body (through injection, ingestion or any other route),” they said in a statement. “As with all products, our disinfectant and hygiene products should only be used as intended and in line with usage guidelines.”
Now. Take a breath. Go back and read those last paragraphs. And realize that a government agency and one of the largest makers of disinfectant products in the world were put in a position by this President to respond to his musing about ingesting or injecting disinfectants and UV rays into your body to fight the coronavirus.
The level of irresponsibility demonstrated on Thursday night by Trump is literally beyond belief. It’s all well and good to fashion yourself as a really smart guy who picks up on concepts quickly. And to even suggest that because you had an uncle who was a smart scientist that you – because of genetics, or something – also have a knack for this stuff. It’s something else entirely to get up in front of the American public – in the actual White House with real medical doctors all around you – and riff on your medical musings.
In a surprise to no one, Trump tried to pass Thursday’s musings off as just kidding around – or trying to confuse the press.
Asked about the comments Friday, the President said, “of course” he’s not encouraging Americans to inject themselves with disinfectant. “Interior-wise, it was said sarcastically. It was put in the form of a question to a group of extraordinarily hostile people, namely, the fake news media.”
Even if that was true – it’s not as if you can tell from the video that Trump’s tone on Thursday was sarcastic – it would be deeply irresponsible. Because it would mean the President purposely floated dangerous information as a sort of test to reporters.
Here’s the thing: People will take what Trump said seriously. Even though he almost certainly just thought up his injecting disinfectant idea while he was standing at the podium – and, just, again, as a reminder, isn’t an actual medical doctor. His words – as we have seen time and time again during the past three-plus years – have influence and impact, Because he is the President of the United States.
That Trump doesn’t get that – or doesn’t care – is, quite frankly, dangerous.