Repressing the CDC's Expert Opinion on Reopening



So what's really bothering me today? It's the story about how the Trump administration not only ignored but also suppressed a comprehensive plan created by the CDC for sensibly and safely reopening the US economy in the context of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Of course, this ill-advised action is just a continuation of the "know-nothing" approach of Donald Trump and the hand-picked group of idiots that surrounds him. So why should I be surprised or annoyed or upset?


A Middle Way The first reason that this should bother me is that there are many lives at stake. Opening the U.S. economy without a plan to deal with the inevitable increase in COVID-19 cases is ridiculous. It's also dangerous because it's almost guaranteed to lead to an acceleration of cases and deaths. That's because there will be little-to-no compliance with measures such as social distancing, wearing masks, etc., under "business as usual" conditions. The counter-argument is that if we don't open the economy soon, we will have an equal catastrophe on our hands. If people aren't working, then they're not making money and they're not spending. With severely reduced sales of products and services, businesses will not make enough revenue to cover their expenses and will be forced to close, laying off their employees. This results in more unemployed people with rapidly depleting resources on which to live. Even though there are new programs like enhanced unemployment benefits, the Payroll Protection Plan, etc., the government won't be able to support the unemployed forever because businesses are closing and, therefore, not paying taxes; the government sees decreasing tax revenues as a result. Meanwhile, GDP craters, the stock market collapses, and the United States finds itself in a second Great Depression. This scenario is more likely to occur the longer that stay-at-home measures remain in place. Still, returning people to work without a plan to test widely, detect and isolate new cases, and trace the contacts of these patients is a prescription for both economic and public health calamity. Robust testing and tracking is a middle way between those who believe we should act as if there is no pandemic and those who think we should just remain hunkered down in our homes until there are no more new cases and deaths. It would allow us to both slowly but confidently reopen the economy and maintain vigilance over a clear and present public health threat. To paraphrase a recent statement by a former director of the CDC, if we can control the virus, we can also control the economy.

A Prejudice Against Experts Due to American Anti-Intellectualism

The second reason that Trump's suppression of the CDC's plan bothers me is that it is clearly due to a prejudice against experts. More precisely, it is due to a bias against expert advice when it runs contrary to political expediency. Even more alarming is the fact that President Trump's narcissism requires that he be seen as the source of all ideas and plans. So when he doesn't agree with his advisors, Trump riffs on his uninformed ideas, leading to such ingenious suggestions as "putting disinfectants inside" to fight infections by the novel coronavirus. This has led to an increase in the number of calls to Poison Control hotlines due to Americans ingesting things like bleach. Wonder if this has anything to do with what the President said? Moreover, Trump must get all the glory and none of the blame. So when a concept or program doesn't work, Trump disavows that he ever had anything to do with it while throwing a hand-picked expert (or two) under the bus. Usually, this expert is someone who has recently fallen out of favor due to contradicting the great leader or one of his favored lieutenants. I could go on and on in this vein. So I think I'll end by noting that all of the above has everything to do with a long-standing anti-intellectualism in American culture. Building upon this disdain for critical thinking, Trump and his Republican enablers have taught their "base" to be paranoid about any professional with advanced education and training in a particular field. They tell them that these "so-called experts" will attempt to dupe them with their supposed knowledge. Moreover, they say, experts don't know anything; they just spout bullish*t. This seems to me to be a way to control the people through demagoguery and use them as "useful idiots." While I am opposed to intellectual elitism and technocracy, I also believe that it is worth seriously considering the opinions of experts in fields applicable to the problem at hand. Then the democratically-elected representatives of the people can make informed decisions. Heck, they might even want to appoint some of their experts to help manage the plans that result from these decisions.

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