Words — they’re supposed to be important. Yet this week, Americans were subjected to an unproductive and embarrassing war of words among two septuagenarians and one octogenarian, each with low national approval ratings they have worked hard to earn. And earn them they have, in spectacularly depressing fashion.
That’s about all Washington has to offer right now. Loud, empty, utterly meaningless insults that do little more than widen the red-blue tribal divide.
We don’t yet know what causes Covid-19 to infect humans, causing some to become critically ill – and some to die, including nearly 94,000 so far in the United States alone. We don’t yet know what might cure it. We also know that words alone won’t end the deepening economic crisis which this virus has caused. But we know some might make it worse.
Thanks to the Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, we know that hydroxychloroquine – an anti-malaria medication also used to treat ailments like lupus – neither prevents nor cures the disease. But that did not stop Donald Trump from announcing out of the blue this week that he’s taking it, in true showman’s form.
"I happen to be taking it. I happen to be taking it,” Trump told a group of shocked reporters at the White House during a meeting with restaurant executives. “All I can tell you is, so far, I feel okay.”
Then came a word salad — the kind that is more tossed with brown, wilting iceberg lettuce in a school cafeteria than prepared with fresh mozzarella, caprese-style, in a cafe overlooking the Mediterranean Sea.
“It seems to have an impact,” Trump continued, before committing his usual unhelpful tendency to vacillate from one assessment to another. “Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t. … You’re not going to get sick and die.”
Thanks, Dr Trump. Wait. He’s not a physician, which makes his assessment of hydroxychloroquine nothing but mere words. More vapid and confusing words from DC.
“I’ve gotten a lot of calls” from medical professionals praising the drug, the president claimed, ignoring the warnings from his own public health agencies about potentially deadly side effects and one VA study finding the drug had virtually no impact on Covid-19 patients.
“I was just waiting to see your eyes light up when I said this,” Trump informed the reporters he insists on dueling with, day in and day out. His loyal supporters are so willing to follow his lead that they flooded medical hotlines with questions about whether they should also get a prescription for hydroxychloroquine, as he suggested on 24 April. So some may seek out this unproven “treatment”, complete with its serious side effects, among them heart problems and psychosis.
More words. Only these could have a real impact on real people. No worry for the president. There were reporters to one-up. Priorities.
Trump likes words. In fact, it seems he loves them. That I-can’t-live-without-you love. Since Mark Meadows and Kayleigh McEnany joined his White House team as chief of staff and press secretary, respectively, his once-nightly coronavirus press briefings have been traded for opportunities for the talker-in-chief to spend most of his days talking.
He uttered these words at CBS White House reporter Paula Reid: “Just a rude person, you are.” She had asked about the location of his plan to safely reopen the country. (Spoiler alert: He doesn’t have one, and has no interest in putting one together.)
That prompted some words from Speaker Nancy Pelosi that, frankly, won’t stop thousands more Americans from contracting Covid-19 nor help the nearly 40 million who have lost their jobs during the national shutdown.
Pelosi said it was not a great idea for Trump to take hydroxychloroquine because he is “morbidly obese.” (Fact check: According to his last official weight — 239 pounds — federal standards put him only at “clinically obese.”) But she appeared to reveal her actual motivations the next day, boasting about her insult: “I gave him a dose of his own medicine.” On Wednesday, the speaker said something about Trump and “dog doo” in an avoidably crass metaphor I’ve given up on trying to understand.
Congratulations, Madame Speaker. Sick (pun very much intended) burn. Feel better?
This correspondent will go out on a limb and say the thousands of Americans dying right now from Covid-19 don’t. Nor does the US economy, which was further weakened on Thursday when the Labor Department announced 2.4 million more Americans filed jobless claims last week, bringing the total that have since the pandemic hit to 38 million.
And for the Washington chattering class who praised Pelosi for standing up to the bully because she’s a “Baltimore girl,” let me say this: Just stop it. You’re not helping, either.
Let’s go live to Wilmington, Delaware, where former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, has been riding out the coronavirus outbreak. “Trump is out there tweeting again this morning. I call him ‘President Tweety,'” Biden said in a video message posted online on Monday.
Great. The former VP is trying to dethrone a sometimes lewd and always uncensored commander-in-chief by comparing him to a harmless Looney Toons cartoon character. That’s just what the country needs amid worries of a second Great Depression.
Washington is addicted to words. They all seem to mean so much. But, in reality, they mean so very little. Medical experts say addiction is a sickness. So, before Washington can truly deal with another one — Covid-19 — its dependence on unsatisfying word salads, childish insults and PG-rated nicknames will have to be kicked.
But the patient seems so far gone that this correspondent doubts Washington capable of anything close to a full or even partial recovery. Absent any actual leadership, even darker days seem ahead for the country that once sold itself as a “shining light on a hill.”