Donald Trump was fined $10 million for money laundering, $25 million for engaging in a fake university fraud, and $2 million for misusing a fake charity. And those are just some highlights. Trump has been involved in over 3,500 lawsuits, so what he’s actually paid out for his prolific fraud isn’t clear. It’s just too bad that everyone who had to listen to him couldn’t sue Trump when he claimed he never settled … or he’d have to settle that case, as well.
Trump is a scam artist. That’s what he does. It’s who he is, right down to the core. And it shouldn’t be forgotten that he’s largely a successful scam artist; one who is able to sell people on overpriced apartments, or nonexistent condos on a sewage-strewn beach. If there was any doubt about how hard Trump would work to sell a scam, it takes nothing more than reviewing all the steps he took to undermine the election. Trump started months in advance to cast doubt on voting machines, spread rumors about votes being counted overseas, and told everyone outright that he would declare any outcome other than his victory to be false … and that was the 2016 election.
It should be a surprise to no one that Trump spent his time in the White House trying to extend his scam into the largest public health crisis to face the nation in a century. And because the entire Republican Party, and the whole of right-wing media, are now simply extensions of Trump’s scam, they’re now engaged in a full court press to sell that scam—no matter how many people it kills.
As far as the origins of COVID-19, the World Health Organization continues to maintain that the most likely origin is direct transmission from animal to human and scientific consensus remains that there is no evidence of human tampering with the virus. The supposed new evidence put forward in support of the “lab escape” theory consisted of nothing but a list of bullet points published anonymously in the last days of Trump. The one reputable researcher who had indicated what he claimed as a “smoking gun” suggesting some kind of genetic tampering with the virus, withdrew that claim when confronted with evidence that it was a common trait of coronaviruses. The most cited article supposedly backing the lab escape claim turned out to be itself a fabrication put together by a group of scam artists with no scientific or evidentiary foundation.
None of that really matters. The possibility remains that the SARS-CoV-2 virus could have escaped the Wuhan Institute of Virology. That also doesn’t matter. At least, not in the context of why Republicans are pushing the idea. They’re only pushing it because it makes Trump “right.” Because by some twisted logic they get to say it’s China’s fault, just like Trump said all along. And now demand an apology to Trump.
That it would not matter one whit whether the virus emerged from a animal encounter, a Chinese lab, or one of those Navy UFOs when it comes to Trump’s deliberate mismanagement of the pandemic, is completely off the table. You’re not supposed to ask about that. Republicans aren’t.
As far as Trump and the pandemic goes, the lab escape is a done deal. Which is fine, because it allows them to keep moving right along the road of Trump was right about everything, scientists were wrong about everything. And hey, when do we get to lock up Anthony Fauci?
Next stop along that road: Trump was right about hydroxychloroquine. The idea that hydroxychloroquine has been “proven effective” is now in 24/7 rotation on Fox, Newsmax, and a Sinclair station near you. It’s been heavily pushed on sites like Breitbart, and been front page news on right-wing papers. And all of that revival is based on this: an “observational study” published on the medical preprint server, medRxiv.
That paper comes from the founder of the Smith Center for Infectious Diseases. That center has apparently been engaged in treatment of inner-city HIV patients, which is certainly a laudatory idea, and Smith seems to have a list of accomplishments of near novel length. That includes a long list of articles on the pneumonias often sadly associated with AIDS patients. However, this particular paper doesn’t represent either a double-bind experiment, or a large-scale look at the treatment of COVID-19 patients. Instead, it looks at 255 patients in the first days of the pandemic in the United States, all of them at the point where they required mechanical ventilation. Of those patients, 200 died. Or 199 died. It’s not clear, because the paper says that 78.2% died, and that doesn’t come out to a whole number of patients out of 255.
But here’s the part that has Trump, Fox, and editorial pages everywhere flowing with “I told you so” bits: “By considering more factors and using new methods, we found that when increased doses of co-administered HCQ and AZM were associated with >100% increase in survival.” If that’s not clear, the claim here is that people were more than twice as likely to survive if they were given massive doses of hydroxychloroquine and the antibiotic azithromycin. What were the “more factors” that were considered? We don’t know. What were the “new methods” that were used? We don’t know. In fact, we don’t know anything, because even though the paper indicates that a table of data is attached, it’s not.
In short, this isn’t a peer-reviewed paper. It’s not even a preprint of a paper. It’s more of a stub announcing the intention to create a paper. And it makes an extraordinary claim—that these observations “proves” administering high doses of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin is effective based on what is, at best, a very small number of patients.
It’s extraordinary not just because it’s making an immense claim based on very little data, but because such claims have been extensively put to the test in widespread study of hydroxychloroquine both alone and in combination with other drugs. Contrast those claims with this publication in Nature from April of this year. In it, researchers from Stanford and Sweden performed a metanalysis of the various trials that have gone on around the world, including studies have not yet been published, but have provided data on servers like medRxiv. That means the paper looked over the results of 63 published trials, and 14 unpublished trials. The results of this analysis show that patients given hydroxychloroquine died at a rate that was higher than those who did not receive the drug. Those who got the related form chloroquine showed, at best, no improvement.
The results were summed up simply as: “We found that treatment with hydroxychloroquine is associated with increased mortality in COVID-19 patients, and there is no benefit of chloroquine.”
Included in these results were two studies that have been available for months: RECOVERY and SOLIDARITY. Both of these studies involved thousands of patients. Both of these studies involved levels of hydroxychloroquine that met the levels in the unpublished paper. Neither of them found any benefit.
The whole idea that hydroxychloroquine might work against COVID-19 in the first place was based on a 2005 study in Virology Journal that suggested the drug could be an effective treatment against SARS. However, those results were entirely in primate cells in dish, not any sort of results with humans—controlled or otherwise. This was followed by a French paper indicating possible improved outcomes with hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin in a very small number of patients. Those results appeared to be worth testing. So they were tested. The results were negative.
None of that has stopped Trump supporters from turning this not-yet-a-paper into supposed proof that “Trump was right.” That includes former Trump adviser Peter Navarro who, tweeted claims that Dr. Anthony Fauci “has blood on his hands” because “I had 60 million tablets of HCQ that Tony Fauci and the FCC wouldn’t allow the American public to use because of their Hydroxy Hysteria.”
How to break that down? First off, Navarro was the White House trade adviser. Second, he didn’t have any hydroxychloroquine, though there were pills in the National Strategic Reserve, which keeps it on hand because the drug is actually effective against malaria. Third, the FDA advised that hydroxychloroquine not be used, not Dr. Fauci. And fourth, Trump was in charge. Had he wanted to distribute the drug, he could have simply ignored the FDA advisory and distributed the drug. So if there’s someone Navarro wants to blame, he might want to cast his eyes toward Mar-a-Lago.
But Fauci did clash with Navarro and several others on Trump’s staff during the attempt to come up with a pandemic response. As Fauci explained in Forbes in January, it wasn’t just hydroxychloroquine. Everything that Trump came up with was just the result of anecdotal evidence. “[It] was clear that he was getting input from people who were calling him up, I don’t know, people he knew from business, saying: ‘Hey I heard about this drug, isn’t it great?’ or, ‘Boy, this convalescent plasma is really phenomenal,’” said Fauci.
Still, Navarro and the rest of the Trump crowd can’t be too upset. For months, they’ve demeaned the use of masks and driven up fears about vaccines. As a result, their followers are the least likely to be protected against COVID-19, the least likely to take precautions against the disease, and the most likely to get sick.
And buddy, they know where to get some of that sweet, sweet hydroxychloroquine.