Trump promotes missive targeting CDC, doctors as untrustworthy

Not to put too fine a point on this, but no good can come of a presidential campaign to weaken public confidence in reality.
Image: President Donald Trump tours the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia
President Donald Trump delivers remarks beside HHS Secretary Alex Azar and Centers for Disease Control, CDC Prevention Director Dr. Robert Redfield, and Associate Director for Laboratory Science and Safety Steve Monroe during a tour of the Center for Disease Control following a COVID-19 coronavirus briefing in Atlanta, Georgia on March 6, 2020.Tom Brenner / Reuters file
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By Steve Benen

Chuck Woolery hosted a handful of syndicated gameshows in the 1980s and 1990s, and I'm reasonably sure I caught an episode or two when I was home sick as a kid.

His career was successful enough to raise Woolery's profile, which in turn gave him a platform for his weird far-right ideas about politics and current events. He also apparently has an admirer in the Oval Office.

President Donald Trump on Monday morning escalated his efforts to whitewash COVID-19 by attacking health experts and even his own Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), whose science-based evaluations of the virus continue to clash with Trump’s falsely rosy portrayal of it. Trump retweeted a deranged post by Chuck Woolery, a faithfully pro-Trump radio host, that ranted about so-called “outrageous lies” about the virus, which has seen major spikes in numerous states that have already begun reopening in recent weeks.

“Everyone is lying," Woolery wrote. "The CDC, Media, Democrats, our Doctors, not all but most, that we are told to trust. I think it’s all about the election and keeping the economy from coming back, which is about the election.”

Obviously, this is ridiculous, though it didn't stop the sitting American president from promoting Woolery's missive to his more than 83 million followers.

The broader dynamic is an unsettling one: a former gameshow host becomes a pundit, peddles baseless conspiracy theory, which is celebrated by another former gameshow host who became the leader of the free world, and who loves baseless conspiracy theories.

It's worth emphasizing that Trump didn't add any commentary of his own, so it's at least possible that he retweeted Woolery as a way of drawing attention to a missive he found ridiculous. But given everything we know about the president, that's almost certainly not what happened here: Trump promoted Woolery's conspiracy theory because he agreed with it.

And that's unsettling for a couple of reasons. Right off the bat, if the president genuinely believes that "everyone is lying" -- public-health officials, medical professionals, journalists, et al. -- as part of an elaborate political conspiracy related to his own campaign, then his views about the ongoing pandemic are even more twisted than is widely understood.

But it's just as alarming for Trump to pitch this nonsense to the public at large. Politico's Kyle Cheney explained this morning, "It’s hard to underscore how dangerous it is for the president -- amid a raging pandemic -- to use the most powerful communication megaphone in the world to say scientists and doctors are nearly all politically motivated liars."

Quite right. It's hard to say with confidence how the coronavirus crisis will continue to unfold in the coming months, but any effective response will be shaped by reliable experts whose guidance must be taken seriously by the public and those in positions of governmental authority.

If Trump believes -- and wants his followers to believe -- that the authorities are untrustworthy political operatives, conditions are likely to worsen. Indeed, all of this coincides with a bizarre White House offensive against Dr. Anthony Fauci's, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, whom Trump and his team are also eager to undermine.

Not to put too fine a point on this, but no good can come of a presidential campaign to weaken public confidence in reality.