In early January 2018, Bill Clinton’s science adviser, Neal F. Lane, and I published a New York Times opinion column titled, “The President’s Disdain for Science,” which began, “Since World War II, no American president has shown greater disdain for science—or more lack of awareness of its likely costs.” That statement has proved prophetic. But when we wrote that piece, we had little idea of the horrendous human consequences of Trump’s disdain: the thousands of American lives lost and millions of livelihoods shattered.
Now the number of confirmed coronavirus cases exceeds seven million, well over two percent of the US population, and millions more have likely been infected. US deaths have passed 205,000, and total federal outlays—not including state and local costs—exceed $3 trillion, with over 14 million people out of work.
The grotesque inadequacies of the Trump administration’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic have been well and widely documented in this and other publications. Curiously, however, the deadly results of that chaotic, unscientific and constantly shifting response have drawn much less attention. There seems to be a widespread aversion to estimating how many Americans have died unnecessarily because President Trump refused to deal quickly and scientifically with the pandemic.
Such a calculation is not particularly difficult to make. An examination of relevant national statistics shows that the Trump pandemic response has led to the unnecessary deaths of more than 100,000 Americans.
Comparisons of the US pandemic performance with that of Germany are revealing. Led by Chancellor Angela Merkel—a quantum chemist by training—that nation has a robust public-health system with extensive testing and contact tracing and nearly universal medical care. By mid-January it had developed and begun distributing one of the first novel coronavirus tests in the world.
Consequently, Germany has so far experienced only 114 deaths per million citizens, compared to over five times that many in the United States. With a similar death rate, the United States would have experienced nearly 38,000 COVID-19 deaths instead of an official count that now exceeds 205,000. The 167,000-person death differential can be attributed, quite reasonably and scientifically, to the Trump administration’s omissions and failures.
A closer-to-home comparison, culturally and geographically, would be to Canada, which has so far experienced 248 COVID-19 deaths per million persons. Applied to the United States, that ratio translates to about 82,000 deaths—and 123,000 Americans who would still be alive, but for administration incompetence.
And a comparison with Japan, which has experienced only 12.2 deaths per million people, according to the Johns Hopkins database many have been using, yields an astonishing result. If the administration had responded as effectively as the Japanese government, just over 4,000 Americans would have died from COVID-19. Almost all US citizens who have died would still be alive today.
This mortality difference can legitimately be called “American carnage.” Over 1,000 Americans per day were tragically and needlessly dying from COVID-19 this summer—versus three to seven per day in Canada and Germany, and less than one per day in Japan. “They are dying, that’s true,” Trump admitted in an August 3 Axios interview. “It is what it is.”
Through his actions and inactions, this callous, self-absorbed president and his administration are responsible—by standard statistical measures—for well over half of all US coronavirus deaths. With just over four percent of the global population, the United States leads the world in confirmed COVID-19 cases and has suffered by far the most deaths due to the disease, more than 21 percent of the world’s total.
In such an advanced, technologically sophisticated country, this dismal performance represents more than just gross mismanagement. It crosses the line, in my mind, to outright malfeasance. And after Bob Woodward’s revelation that Trump recognized COVID-19’s severity in early February, some might even call it criminal negligence.
It is therefore high time to stop avoiding the obvious—President Trump’s terrible leadership has killed Americans on a vast scale—and to proclaim the evidence-averse, wannabe emperor of the United States to be without clothes. His administration is responsible for well over 100,000 unnecessary US deaths—more deaths than the United States suffered in the Korean and Vietnam Wars combined.
The traumatized American nation desperately needs an administration that shows “fidelity to facts and logic” (to quote Barack Obama), in which science returns to its former place at the policymaking table. Until that happens, the nation will continue to suffer the appalling consequences of atrocious leadership, and too many of its people will continue dying when they could instead be leading healthy, useful lives.
As the coronavirus crisis shows, we need science now more than ever.
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