Can’t wish it away

“Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”  –President John Adams

For the current White House administration, facts are an elusive thing.

The past week in Washington, D.C., has been another inexcusable assault on the truth, much of it dealing with President Donald Trump’s COVID-19 diagnosis — what did he know and when did he know it? And in the process, who was put at risk by his and his campaign’s careless disregard?

In a column in the Washington Post Friday, Margaret Sullivan wrote, “Once upon a time, when a president or his press secretary made a statement on a crucially important matter, it was simply considered news. And reported as such.

“The time for that is long past. The stakes are higher than ever, and the demand for proof should be, too.

“Otherwise, Americans will reasonably come to an unavoidable conclusion: If the statement is from the president’s tweet, or from the press secretary’s mouth, there’s no reason to think it’s true.”

And that was before the president’s physician at Walter Reed Medical Center, Dr. Sean Conley, admitted he was attempting to be “upbeat” on the president’s health by refusing to give straightforward answers about providing the president supplemental oxygen. On Sunday, he wouldn’t reveal whether x-rays showed inflammation in the president’s lungs, which would be an indication of pneumonia. And Dr. Conley won’t say when Trump last tested negative for the coronavirus.

That’s what happens in places like North Korea and Russia. We expect and deserve transparency in the U.S.

On Monday, before Trump was released from the hospital, Dr. Conley said the president’s health has continued to improve. “He’s met or exceeded all standard hospital discharge criteria,” Dr. Conley said.

Are we supposed to believe him? Or is he just trying to reflect the “upbeat” attitude of his patient?

Unfortunately, this type of obfuscation is not surprising. Trump and his administration have downplayed COVID-19 since February. The coronavirus was a “hoax” that would be miraculously gone by “beautiful April.” 

There was the president’s “injecting bleach” comment, which he now says was sarcasm, and his nearly constant incorrect information about the efficacy of wearing masks and face coverings. During last week’s presidential debate (remember that fiasco?), he mocked Joe Biden for wearing a mask, and claimed that Dr. Anthony Fauci has changed his stance on mask wearing.

“Dr. Fauci said the opposite, he very strongly said masks aren’t good, and then he changed his mind, he said masks are good,” Trump said during the debate.

Dr. Fauci later told ABC News his comment was taken out of context. He did advise against mask wearing early on, out of fear that the public would hoard medical masks so crucial for frontline healthcare workers. He and other medical experts have since made it abundantly clear that wearing masks or face coverings is the best way to slow the spread of the virus, along with good hygiene and social distancing.

“We are not defenseless against COVID-19,” Centers for Disease Control Director Dr. Robert R. Redfield said in a press release published on the CDC website. “Cloth face coverings are one of the most powerful weapons we have to slow and stop the spread of the virus — particularly when used universally within a community setting. All Americans have a responsibility to protect themselves, their families, and their communities.”

And as if to prove that, the president’s Rose Garden gathering to introduce Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, where mask wearing was minimal and social distancing nonexistent, is now being labeled by some as a super-spreader event, with as many as 18 people connected to the White House testing positive for coronavirus.

We are fortunate to have a Republican governor who gets it. On Tuesday, taking aim at President Trump, an emotional Gov. Charlie Baker took aim at the president’s apparent nonchalance to the disease. “There are 210,000 people who died from this thing, and many others who didn’t die because they were saved by the healthcare system,” Baker said, his voice rising after telling a story about a 50-year-old friend who nearly died from COVID-19. “It is a brutal, vicious disease for those it negatively impacts, and it is horribly contagious. Those are the facts.”

Now, more than ever, we need to rely on science and data. Facts are stubborn things.