President Donald Trump continued to pitch himself as the anti-science candidate during the final 2020 presidential debate on Thursday, falsely claiming that America is “rounding the turn” and “learning to live with” the coronavirus pandemic, among other things.
As he’s done before, Trump attempted to paint his administration’s botched COVID-19 response as a success by pointing to one of the worst possible death projections — an early estimate by British researchers that found there could be as many as 2.2 million fatalities in the U.S. if no containment measures were taken.
“This is a worldwide problem, but I’ve been congratulated by the heads of many countries on what we’ve been able to do,” Trump said, without disclosing a single specific world leader. “It will go away, and as I say, we’re rounding the turn, we’re rounding the corner. It’s going away.”
Trump also claimed that a COVID-19 vaccine is “coming, that’s ready, that’s going to be announced within weeks.” There is nothing to indicate this is true. Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, told NPR on Tuesday that he’s “guardedly optimistic” that a vaccine could be available by the end of the year, but widespread distribution is unlikely until mid- or late-2021.
Former Vice President Joe Biden responded to Trump’s COVID-19 misinformation by pointing to the rapidly rising death toll and arguing that Trump still doesn’t have a comprehensive plan to tackle the crisis.
“Anyone who is responsible for that many deaths should not remain as president of the United States of America,” Biden said.
“He says we’re learning to live with it? People are learning to die with it.”
In the weeks ahead of the election, Trump has campaigned on an unhinged anti-science and conspiratorial platform. He has talked about the coronavirus pandemic as if it’s nearly over; attacked the nation’s top infectious disease expert; mocked his opponent, Joe Biden, for vowing to listen to scientists; nominated to the Supreme Court a judge who, like him, refuses to acknowledge the reality of the climate crisis; and declined to denounce the right-wing QAnon conspiracy theory that a group of Satan-worshiping pedophiles is out to get him.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, defended Trump during a wide-ranging interview on “60 Minutes” Sunday, insisting that “deep down, he believes in science” ― a rather stunning statement after Trump’s monthslong war on COVID-19 science.
Trump’s ongoing refusal to wear a mask even after contracting the virus is “less anti-science than it’s more a statement,” Fauci said: “a statement of strength, like, we’re strong, we don’t need a mask, that kind of thing.” (Fauci stressed that he personally thinks that makes no sense.)
Trump wasted no time proving Fauci wrong. That same day, in front of a largely maskless audience at a campaign rally in Carson City, Nevada, an unmasked Trump said a vote for Biden would be a vote for someone who would embrace science.
“He’ll listen to the scientists,” Trump said, clearly suggesting that he thinks doing so would be a bad move during the worst pandemic in a century. “If I listened totally to the scientists, we would right now have a country that would be in a massive depression, instead of, we’re like a rocket ship. Take a look at the numbers.”
The numbers, in fact, show that the Trump administration’s lethargic response to the pandemic and subsequent push to quickly reopen the economy have come with devastating impacts. A new report from Columbia University estimates that the “abject failures” of government agencies under Trump resulted in between 130,000 and 210,000 avoidable COVID-19 deaths in the U.S.
In the days since his Nevada rally, Trump has taken to lashing out at Fauci — the person many Americans have come to trust most during the public health crisis.
“People are tired of Covid,” Trump said Monday during a call with campaign staffers. “People are tired of hearing Fauci and these idiots, all these idiots who got it wrong.”
Biden has essentially sat back and let Trump campaign against himself.
His campaign issued a statement highlighting that Trump’s “closing message” ahead of the election is denying and downplaying science. And in response to a news article about Trump saying Biden would listen to scientists if elected, Biden simply tweeted: “…yes”.
“Listening to scientists is not a bad thing,” the former vice president wrote in a subsequent post on Tuesday. “I can’t believe that has to be said.”
Former President Barack Obama also used Trump’s own words against him while campaigning for Biden in Pennsylvania on Wednesday.
“Joe’s not going to screw up testing. He’s not going to call scientists idiots,” Obama said. “He’s not going to host a superspreader event at the White House. Joe will get this pandemic under control with a plan to make testing free and widely available, to get a vaccine to every American cost free and to make sure our frontline heroes never ask other countries for their equipment they need.”
Trump’s preelection war on science and facts is not limited to the pandemic. He has also continued his long history of peddling conspiracy theories, and has dug in his heels on denying the all-but-irrefutable body of scientific research that shows human carbon emissions are driving global climate change.
“It will start getting cooler,” he declared, falsely, during a Sept. 14 visit to fire-scorched California. “You just watch.”
When Wade Crowfoot, secretary of the California Natural Resources Agency, told the president that the science disagrees with him, Trump responded: “I don’t think science knows, actually.”
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