I get why everyone has been so focused on Trump’s recent insanity spasm about injecting bleach. But we need to remember these riffs and fulminations are ultimately distractions from the substantive havoc he continues to wreak.
At a time when we need good government most – with over 61,000 dead and counting – the Trump virus is claiming its own body count. Often without us noticing.
Case in point: Rick Bright. If you’re wondering who that is, then I’ve made my point.
In the parlance of journalism, Bright was basically a “one-day story.”
Until last month, he was a key government scientist tasked with finding credible cures for COVID-19. As a high-ranking preparedness official at the Department of Health and Human Services, with a doctorate in immunology and a career devoted to vaccine development, Bright was the top guy at BARDA – the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority. He’d run that federal agency for the last four years.
Until April 22, when he was summarily ousted.
No need to guess why. Bright gave us the reason, in a public statement: “Specifically, and contrary to misguided directives, I limited the broad use of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, promoted by the administration as a panacea, but which clearly lack scientific merit…I also resisted efforts to fund potentially dangerous drugs promoted by those with political connections.”
Translation: He was fired because he refused to endorse the quack-in-chief’s fake miracle potion. The career scientist disagreed with Trump’s recent podium riff (“hydroxychloroquine, try it if you like…it’ll be wonderful, it’ll be so beautiful”), so therefore, it’s bye bye scientist.
The Trump regime claims that Bright was fired because he was too “confrontational.” Yeah, sure. What’s important to remember is that Bright is only the latest casualty. Trump has been warring on government scientists since the dawn of his reign – more than 1,600 reportedly exited in the first two years – and it’s only now, with Americans’ lives hanging in the balance, that these purges are beginning to get the attention they deserve.
You almost have to feel sorry for Dr. Deborah Birx, the public health expert on Trump’s coronavirus task force. She’s trying to balance fealty to science with fealty to dear leader, and it ain’t easy.
Clearly, Birx doesn’t want to wind up like Bright – or Nancy Messonnier.
It almost seems like ancient history that the director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Control was yanked from her post after stating publicly on Feb. 25 that COVID-19 was coming and that Americans should prepare for “significant disruptions” to their daily lives. Trump was furious about that – he was still living in fantasyland on Feb. 25 – so it was bye bye, Messonnier.
Last week, when Trump was asked about Bright’s firing, he played dumb: “I never heard of (Bright). You just mentioned the name, I never heard of him. When did this happen? I never heard of him. The guy says he was pushed out of a job. Maybe he was, maybe he wasn’t…I don’t know who he is.”
It’s conceivable that Trump doesn’t know who Bright is – when you spend your mornings and nights watching cable news, there’s little time left to learn the names of your key people – but did someone fire Bright without telling Mr. “I alone can fix it”? Whatever. The upside right now, if there is indeed an upside, is that Bright is not going quietly. He has hired lawyers and demanded an investigation by the Health and Human Services’ inspector general. And his candor is refreshing.
“I have spent my entire career in vaccine development,” he said in a statement. “My professional background has prepared me for a moment like this – to confront and defeat a deadly virus that threatens Americans and people around the globe…Sidelining me in the middle of this pandemic and placing politics and cronyism ahead of science puts lives at risk and stunts national efforts to safely and effectively address this urgent public health crisis…Rushing blindly towards unproven drugs can be disastrous and result in countless more deaths.”
Richard Carmona, who served as former President George W. Bush’s surgeon general, said it best over the weekend, telling NBC News: “All of the scientists in government today are having a tough time working with the president because it appears that science is not valued. They’re pretty much having to almost twist themselves into pretzels.”
And he had some advice for Trump: Leave medicine to the medical experts. “Be presidential, stay focused on the bigger issues, unite the nation.”
The miracle is that he managed to say that with a straight face.
Opinion contributor Dick Polman, a veteran national political columnist based in Philadelphia and a Writer in Residence at the University of Pennsylvania, writes at DickPolman.net. His work appears on Monday on the Capital-Star’s Commentary Page. Readers may email him at [email protected].