Opinions Live with Eugene Robinson: Follow the hydroxychloroquine money

Apr 07, 2020

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Hi, everyone, and welcome to our weekly virtual encounter, which is the only kind of encounter that's permitted these days. The world is still turned upside down and inside out by the covid-19 pandemic. Early, far-from-definitive signs that we may be bending that horrific curve are just that -- early and far from definitive. In Spain, where things were looking up, they saw a sudden jump in cases and deaths. In New York, where hospitalizations are thankfully down, daily deaths reached a new high. From where I sit -- on my couch -- it looks like we're still very much in the middle of the fight. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson remains in intensive care with covid-19. Japanese officials worry that Tokyo could become the next hot spot. And meanwhile, in Wisconsin, they're actually trying to hold an election -- one that Democrats tried to postpone but Republicans insisted on going through with. There are all of five -- I said five -- voting locations in all of Milwaukee, a city of 300,000. Sheer madness, but hopefully it will focus attention on the need to design ways to hold a safe and legitimate general election in November. Today we witness how NOT to do it.

Let's get started.

So now Trump's unpaid personal attorney is promoting sketchy possible treatments for Covid-19. Is anyone checking to see whether Giuliani or any of his clients would profit from such ventures being adopted?  

There are stories today in the Post and the Times looking at the question of who profits from the president's promotion of hydroxychloroquine. As Deep Throat said (only in the movie, not in real life), "Follow the money."

May I suggest that in addition to everything you said, it's important for people to realize that hydroychoroquine is used for other illnesses including lupus and that Trump's approach puts lupus and other patients at risk? (Not a disease I have thankfully but drugs need to be used appropriately). Moving on, given what the Supreme Court did about the Wisconsin primary, how do you see the fall playing out? Wisconsin voters appear to be out and voting and I can only commend their courage but how do we protect us as a nation so that we can safely go out and vote and a point where they think a second stage caused by cold weather will be occuring?

That's the big question, and vote-by-mail has to be a big part of the answer. President Trump fired a preemptive salvo against voting by mail, claiming -- with absolutely no evidence -- that it is somehow riddled with fraud. (It's not.) That's the basic conflict: Democrats want to find ways for more people to vote, Republicans want to keep turnout down to a minimum. Trump even speculated that universal vote-by-mail would mean no Republican would ever be elected anywhere in the country. In the end, it's going to be up to the 50 states and the District of Columbia to design functional voting systems for the Covid Age.

I have a neighbor who swears that Trump, in his entire life, has never been wrong about anything. He's taking hydroxychloroquine prophylacticly without a doctor's prescription (he ordered the drugs online). These are the Always-Trumpers who will vote for him no matter what and will believe him no matter what he says. How are Democrats supposed to defeat a cult?

By outvoting it. But I'm worried about your neighbor. Unless he's a physician, I doubt he has any idea of what a safe dose of the drug might be. And I doubt he is aware of the side-effects. Hydroxychloroquine can cause heart problems, can affect your vision... And on top of it all, there is no solid evidence that the drug has any beneficial effect on covid-19. Your neighbor is taking very big risks for little or no gain.

Gene, How concerned are you over the idea that the November election could be "messed with" in the same manner as today's election in Wisconsin? I know it's hypothetical, but if COVID-19 came back in the fall, and we needed to practice social distancing, what reassurance do we have that voting would not be tampered with, whether that is by restricting vote-by-mail, or absentee ballots, or just making voters expose themselves to exercise their voting rights. I mean if the rest of the GOP is like the Wisconsin GOP, won't the election results be potentially invalid? Frankly, I am more scared of this than I am of the idea that the election would be cancelled or postponed.

Like I said, I think this is a battle that is going to have to be fought in every single state. That's where the election rules get written.

I won't lie--I don't agree with Boris Johnson's politics, but the sudden spike in his condition has me very alarmed. I guess because it shows how COVID-19 can strike anyone, no matter who you are and what your position is. And while I don't agree with his politics, I do hope for his recovery--I guess as a matter of simple human decency.

I agree wholeheartedly, and I wish him a speedy and complete recovery. I wouldn't wish covid-19 on anyone. It is a good sign that Prime Minister Johnson has not been put on a ventilator, but a worrisome sign that he remains in the ICU and is still being given oxygen. This is a brutal disease.

Hi Gene -- thanks for taking questions today and for your recent column. I've long since given up watching the daily train wreck which the WH tries to pass off as a briefing because my alternating rage and despair levels reached capacity long ago. It seems to me, though, that the press corp is in a no win situation. Don't show up and Trump "fake news" argument prevails; show up and continue to be stonewalled and abused. And when Trump starts prescribing medicine that can have serious and life threatening side effects (I've been on hydroxychloroquine for arthritis so I know the risks), I really don't know how Dr. Fauci can keep from exploding. From your point of view as a journalist, what's your take? Is there anything the press corp should be doing differently? Does it make a difference if, when one reporter, gets cut off, another picks up and asks the same question, and so on? Reading Trump's statements back to him to make the lying as clear as it can be?

It is indeed a no-win situation for the press corps. When they confront Trump with his lies, he responds with another lie and a theatrical snarl. Now that Trump's approval ratings have begun to regress to the mean, I wonder if he'll continue to think it's politically helpful to go out there every day and take credit for a slow, shambolic federal government response.

Literally any other modern Presidency would be stung by the changes in WH COS and Press Secretary in the midst of a crisis like this, no? There would be questions about wheels coming off the cart, etc. Now we seem to recognize but don’t articulate that it really doesn’t matter much. Trump is his own COS and PressSec. And he owns this crisis more than any modern President has owned a crisis, including Nixon.

This cart lost its wheels a couple of years ago. What does it matter that a press secretary who never gave a briefing is leaving her job? What does it matter who has the chief-of-staff title in an administration that functions through nepotism and palace intrigue?

The governors of Ohio and Maryland postponed their scheduled primaries, but the governor of Wisconsin didn’t use an executive order to postpone today’s Wisconsin primary. Do you know why he didn’t?

He wanted to postpone the vote but did not believe he had the power to do so. The Republican-led state legislature insisted the election proceed as scheduled, and the state supreme court agreed. The U.S. Supreme Court rejected the governor's attempt to extend the deadline for absentee voting. A total mess. 

Will the American media ever get smart about not letting Trump pontificate on topics he knows nothing about, and to offer lies that boost his re-theft of the White House? The first time in one of these press conference/rants that he lies, the media should just get up and leave.

Look, the fundamental problem is that we have a pathological liar as president, right? It's easy to say that reporters should walk out of the briefings or not cover them at all, but necessary and useful information is given by the scientists and sometimes even by Vice President Pence. It can't be our job to refuse to cover the president of the United States. Next time, let's elect a president who doesn't lie all the time.

The Court was able to have an emergency ruling on the Wisconsin polls issue, issuing the amazingly hypocritical decision that the current situation is no different from any other voting situation, overturning the lower district court and appeals court rulings, but can't rule on the various Trump cases now before it, which also were approved by the district and appeals courts, and arguably should not have been granted cert. in the first place. So clearly the Court has become completely a political entity removed from its Constitutional mandate to be an impartial court. Is this not the clearest indication that our government is broken beyond repair?

Broken, yes. I hope not beyond repair, though.

After all the crazy, dangerous and misguided idiotic things Trump has done over the last three years, how many times have we asked, "Where is the Republican with a spine that will stand up to him? Where is Romney? Where is anybody who finally, finally, finally say enough. People are dying and people have died who otherwise might not have because of his atrocious (and maybe criminal) handling of this pandemic. If not now, then when?

At this point, we should get the message: Republican officeholders are afraid of Trump and will not stand up to him, period. Stop imploring them. Vote them out of office instead.

As a former newspaper reporter/editor, I have some suggestions for the media members at Trump’s daily propaganda rally: 1. Stop broadcasting these lie fests. Record them and, if there is something newsworthy, report it. These are just his MAGA rallies in disguise. 2. Don't ask him any questions. He’ll lie, mislead and then lie some more. Only ask questions of the experts, bit not his appointed sycophants. 3. The next time he attacks a reporter for asking a question, get up and walk out. After all, he’s even attacking a FOX NEWS reporter for asking a legitimate question so he’s not there to lead, he’s there to burnish his image with his base. All you're doing is making him look good to them. Have some dignity. 4. If you won’t walk out or boycott, then keep asking him the same question over and over and over until he answers. And the next time he prevents Dr. Fauci from answering, keep asking Dr. Fauci to respond. What do you think?

I like number 2: Don't ask him any questions. You know he's not going to be truthful. You know he doesn't have any expertise in epidemiology or viruses. Save the questions for the experts who can actually provide useful information.

Good afternoon, Gene. Anything that can knock the presidential campaign completely out of the news during an election year is indeed formidable. Joe Biden is the democratic front runner and the news networks are completely ignoring him. This means he can't hammer Trump on his poor response to the pandemic. Despite Trump's terrible handling of this crisis, is it actually helping him by basically taking all news coverage away from Biden?

Biden's poll numbers against Trump arte either holding stead or improving, depending on what pollster you believe, so I don't think you can say Trump's doing himself any good. He got a rally-round-the-flag bump in approval but that seems to be fading, and in any event it never affected the head-to-head polls that consistently favor Biden.

I missed the chat last week, and came back to read it later. I was struck by the number of truly thoughtful questions and comments---which included a couple of good ideas. It occurred to me that this quarantine and social distance thing may be good for our over-worked brains.

An occasional time-out is good. But I do prefer mine to be voluntary and not caused by a deadly pandemic...

I am in the midwest, I know, not yet a hotspot for the virus. I live in the greater metropolitan area of the city. Since early March, questionable symptoms (low grade fever, deep cold sore) I have been maintaining social distancing as much as possible. But now I think I might have the dreaded COVID-19 but cannot get tested because I don't have a history with anyone infected (not quite true, but it was mid-March) Do you think the administration will ever conduct a responsible testing/advising and tracing practice? I remain in quarantine, but I don't know where to seek answers. The state health department recording advises me to stay home unless I become severely ill.

You're in the same boat with many other Americans, I'm afraid. At some point we'll have quick, widely available testing. We'll be able to tell who is currently suffering from covid-19 and also who had the disease, recovered, and is now immune. But I fear this all is months away, and you'll long have been out of quarantine. But please take care of yourself, and do contact your health care provider if your condition worsens.

Hi Mr. Robinson. Do you think it's possible that Trump will try to postpone the November election?

No. Only Congress can determine when Election Day is. But if Trump loses, and I believe he will, I think it's quite possible that he will try to claim the result is somehow tainted or illegitimate. 

What are your thoughts about whether to even try to break through to his extreme loyalists? I recently spoke to a Trump supporter here in Texas who exclaimed "Thank God that we have Trump in office to manage this!". I understand that it's virtually impossible to sway her on policy, but she seemed unable to understand facts related to his COVID 19 response. It was almost scary to hear that perception, and judging from Facebook posts, she's got a lot of company. Is it worth trying?

What method do you suggest that hasn't already been tried? If people want to believe Trump is, as he claimed, the "chosen one," I don't know what anyone can do about that. Except outvote them, by a landslide. Trump's base is big but it constitutes a minority of the electorate. If you want him gone, vote him out.

To turn around who is being questioned, was Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modley "naive or stupid" as he critiqued a fired aircraft carrier commander in front of his former crew? What Is your take on this matter?

I think Modly fired Capt. Crozier because he believed that was what Trump wanted him to do. I think the firing was bad, Modly's self-justifying speech to the crew was worse, and the only person who comes out of this looking like a strong, honorable, compassionate leader is poor Crozier, who lost him command and now reportedly tests positive for covid-19.

Is this group in the executive branch the absolute worst possible group you would want directing the effort to combat this pandemic?

Donald Trump, Jared Kushner, Rudy Giuliani... yeah, pretty much the worst I could imagine.

Do you think it might have been so slow because he wanted to get the virus to the United States and then act like a hero by "saving" as many of us as possible?

No. I think he believed the idiots on Fox News who told him it was nothing but a bad flu. I think he clung to this belief until a couple of weeks ago as the body count rose.

Worrisome is that the SCOTUS was quick to back up the WI court by refusing to allow the deadline for mail in ballots to be extended. And the decision was by the usual 5-4 partisan court vote.

Very worrisome. This should not have been an ideological question. It was a practical question. No reason for the court to split along partisan lines. 

Any guesses on when he gets promoted to become the IG for the Trump slush fund, i.e, the stimulus oversight? I cannot believe that Nancy Pelosi, as smart as she is, didn't have them insert language as to who could be appointed. But then again, maybe she tried. Any insight?

She did try. But of course this administration will try to resist any congressional oversight. Grifters gonna grift...

That's it for today, folks. Our time is up. We had a record number of questions today, and I apologize but there were no way I could get to all of them. Please join me again next week!

In This Chat
Eugene Robinson
Eugene Robinson is an Associate Editor and twice-weekly columnist for The Washington Post. His column appears on Tuesdays and Fridays. In a 25-year career at The Post, Robinson has been city hall reporter, city editor, foreign correspondent in Buenos Aires and London, foreign editor, and assistant managing editor in charge of the paper's award-winning Style section. In 2009, he received the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary for his columns on the 2008 presidential campaign that focus on the election of the first African-American president. In 2005, he started writing a column for the Op-Ed page. He is the author of "Disintegration: The Splintering of Black America" (2010), "Coal to Cream: A Black Man's Journey Beyond Color to an Affirmation of Race" (1999) and "Last Dance in Havana" (2004). Robinson lives with his wife and two sons in Arlington.
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