A laboratory technician at the AIDS Research Center of the Treichville hospital in Abidjan works on blood samples of people living with HIV on Sept. 13, 2013. 
Photo by Sia Kambou/AFP/Getty

Why Trump’s rhetoric about curing cancer and AIDS is unbelievable

One of the potential problems with Donald Trump’s re-election campaign is that he doesn’t have a policy agenda, per se. It’s difficult, even for the president’s most loyal followers, to point to specific proposals the Republican is prepared to run on ahead of Election Day 2020.

But once in a while, Trump will say something about the near future that stands out.

President Donald Trump made few new promises during his campaign speech Thursday night in Cincinnati. But two promises resonated with people, judging by interest on the internet: curing pediatric cancer and curing AIDS.

During the rally at U.S. Bank Arena, he said: “The things we’re doing in our country today, there’s never been anything like it. We will be ending the AIDS epidemic shortly in America, and curing childhood cancer very shortly.”

I especially liked the use of the word “shortly,” as if these historic medical breakthroughs are imminent, and AIDS and childhood cancer will soon be things of the past.

To be sure, that would be extraordinarily great news for millions of people, but let’s keep a couple of things in mind. First, there’s a difference between a president having a substantive policy agenda and a president having fanciful ideas about amazing things he’d like to see happen. Trump doesn’t have a plan for the United States to reach these aspirational goals; he has a desire to simply see them happen.

If the president is prepared to focus real energies on this – as Joe Biden, among other political leaders, has done as part of the Obama administration’s “Cancer Moonshot” endeavor – that’d be great. But hollow declarations at rallies do not a policy agenda make.

Second, as USA Today’s overnight report on this made clear, Trump’s boasts are not actually true, and breakthroughs like the ones the president described remain on the horizon.

Indeed, if Trump is serious about “ending the AIDS epidemic shortly,” he probably ought to take a closer look at elements of his administration’s agenda, which are counter-productive to the goal.