Donald Trump already has access to some of the nation's preeminent voices on epidemiology, who are eager to provide the president with expert advice shaped by the latest and most accurate evidence.
But it was two weeks ago today when we learned Trump had something else in mind: Dr. Scott Atlas, a Fox News regular and a leading voice at a conservative think tank, had joined the White House team. There was no great mystery behind the decision: Atlas has pushed to re-open schools, downplayed the need for broader coronavirus testing, and criticized lockdowns intended to stop the pandemic's spread.
The neuroradiologist has "no expertise in public health or infectious disease mitigation," he hasn't practiced medicine in nearly a decade, and he's demonstrated a habit of echoing unscientific claims, but Atlas nevertheless had something more important: the capacity to tell the president what he wants to hear.
And now that Atlas is on Team Trump, what's he saying? The Washington Post reported today:
One of President Trump's top medical advisers is urging the White House to embrace a controversial "herd immunity" strategy to combat the pandemic, which would entail allowing the coronavirus to spread through most of the population to quickly build resistance to the virus, while taking steps to protect those in nursing homes and other vulnerable populations, according to five people familiar with the discussions. The administration has already begun to implement some policies along these lines, according to current and former officials as well as experts, particularly with regard to testing.
The chief proponent of this approach is, of course, Scott Atlas, who reportedly now speaks with Trump "almost every day" -- a benefit public-health officials do not have -- and who has "expanded his influence inside the White House by advocating policies that appeal to Trump's desire to move past the pandemic and get the economy going."
The Post added that it was earlier this summer when the president encouraged his staff "to find a new doctor who would argue an alternative point of view" that differed from Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious-disease official, and Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator.
Evidently, their reality-based advice grew tiresome, prompting Trump to turn to a more political voice he saw on cable news.
And that voice is now telling the president that if millions of additional people are infected, that would be an encouraging development. Or as Garance Franke-Ruta put it, "The new plan for America is to let everyone get sick."
Indeed, this comes just days after Trump accepted his party's presidential nomination at a White House event in which attendees largely ignored safety measures. Asked for an explanation, one senior official told CNN, "Everybody is going to catch this thing anyway."