Targeting science again, Trump ponders whether to 'use insulin'

The president hasn't just demonstrated a strange skepticism for science; he's been aggressively hostile towards it throughout his time in public life.
Image: Preparing syringe for insulin shot
Marcela Barsse / Getty Images
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By Steve Benen

By all appearances, the point of yesterday afternoon's White House event was to announce a program to cap copay costs for Medicare recipients who rely on insulin treatments. But many of those who saw the display in the Rose Garden were struck not by what the president announced, but rather by what he said about insulin.

President Donald Trump pondered on Tuesday whether he should be taking insulin, a hormone typically prescribed to diabetics, during an announcement for a plan which would aim to drastically reduce the price of insulin for people on Medicare. "I don't use insulin," Trump said. "Should I be? Huh? I never thought about it. But I know a lot of people are very badly affected, right? Unbelievable."

A variety of observers suggested Trump was kidding -- or at least trying to. That's certainly possible, though with the president, it's sometimes hard to tell.

At the same event, however, a reporter, likely picking up on Trump's comments, asked the president, "Is there any reason why someone who does not have diabetes would take insulin? Is there any sort of medical reason for that?" Trump didn't want to answer, so he passed it off to Surgeon General Jerome Adams, who reminded the president that his body already makes insulin.

"People such as you and I, we make our own insulin," Adams explained. "So, yes, we do utilize insulin, but we make it ourselves."

In other words, after the president declared, "I don't use insulin," it fell to the surgeon general to remind the president that he actually does use it.

Taken in isolation, this may appear to be little more than the latest foolish comment from a man known for making foolish comments. But let's not lose sight of the larger context.

Just over the last month or so, Trump has talked up the possible benefits of disinfectant injections. And treating COVID-19 by putting lights "inside the body."

The president has also encouraged Americans to take potentially life-threatening medications. And questioned the value of flu shots. And took issue with "the whole concept" of virus testing. And suggested that those who wear masks during a deadly pandemic are merely being "politically correct."

Remember, these are just examples since late April. If we widen the aperture, we see Trump making ridiculous declarations on everything from climate science to vaccines to hurricanes. The president hasn't just demonstrated a strange skepticism for science; he's been aggressively hostile towards it throughout his time in public life.

In early March, Trump visited the CDC offices in Atlanta, where a reporter asked the president how hospitals can best prepare for the escalating coronavirus crisis. Trump's answer rambled a bit, before he assured everyone, "I like this stuff."

The president added, in apparent reference to epidemiology, "I really get it. People are surprised that I understand it. Every one of these doctors said, 'How do you know so much about this?' Maybe I have a natural ability."

Mr. President, if you see this, please know that you may naturally have insulin, but don't naturally have an ability to understand science.