Gaslighter-in-Chief

Why roll with the facts when you can confuse your supporters with conspiracy theories?

President Donald J. Trump boards Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews, Md. Friday, July 10, 2020, en route to Miami International Airport in Miami
Official White House Photo by Tia Dufour

Via CNN: Twitter removes QAnon supporter’s false claim about coronavirus death statistics that Trump had retweeted

Twitter on Sunday took down a tweet containing a false claim about coronavirus death statistics that was made by a supporter of the baseless QAnon conspiracy theory — a post that President Donald Trump had retweeted earlier in the day.

The tweet — which has been replaced with a message saying, “This Tweet is no longer available because it violated the Twitter Rules — from “Mel Q,” copied from someone else’s Facebook post, claimed that the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had “quietly” updated its numbers “to admit that only 6%” of people listed as coronavirus deaths “actually died from Covid,” since “the other 94% had 2-3 other serious illnesses.”

That’s not what the CDC said.

Rather,

The CDC’s latest regular update to a public statistics page on the pandemic — there was nothing especially “quiet” about it — said that for 6% of the deaths included in its statistics, “Covid-19 was the only cause mentioned” on the deceased person’s death certificate.

That is not at all the same thing as saying only 6% of reported Covid-19 deaths “actually died” from Covid-19. It simply means that the other 94% were listed as having at least one additional factor contributing to their death

[…]

There is no secret about the fact that pre-existing health conditions can cause people to experience more severe problems from Covid-19. The CDC has long said that older adults and people with other underlying health conditions are more likely to become seriously ill.

Indeed, the issue of co-morbidity has been part of the national conversation on this topic since the beginning. It is also true that when we talk about flu deaths, to pick another example, those are also are linked to additional causes.

The fact that relatively few people die solely from Covid-19 doesn’t change the fact without Covid-19 most of the ~180,000 dead would likely still be alive today. Sure, diabetes or COPD plus Covid-19 killed them, but they could have lived on with their diabetes and COPD had they not contracted Covid-19.

The QAnon sources of this situation, aided and abetted by Trump, are well detailed via Forbes: Twitter Removes Claim About CDC And Covid-19 Coronavirus Deaths That Trump Retweeted.

There is too much in that piece to excerpt effectively, but I will note that what it all represents is misrepresentation of facts and data in a way that confuses the public.

And the President of the United States retweeted it to his almost 86 million followers.

Did he asked the CDC to brief him? Did he seek to understand the numbers? No, he carelessly (yet also calculatedly) shared bogus analysis that could make him look good because he wants nothing more than for all of this to go away.

It is beyond frustrating that we have a POTUS who would spread conspiracy theories and half-baked (to be kind) “analysis” rather than working to make sure the American public understands reality.

But hey, if it might help his re-election, it’s fine. It very much is what it is.

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, Campaign 2020, COVID-19, Donald Trump, US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. MarkedMan says:

    As I mentioned in another thread, Trumpers and other types of true believers don’t really care whether information is reality based or not. In fact, “real” is not even something that registers with them. They look for information that reinforces what they want to believe. Oddly, Trump himself appears to be a Trumper in this regard.

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  2. CSK says:

    The Gateway Pundit is shrieking that CNN and Twitter are trying to censor them and President Trump as part of a foul conspiracy to keep the truth about Covid-19 from the American people.

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  3. @MarkedMan:

    Trump himself appears to be a Trumper in this regard.

    I think this is exactly correct. He is the type of person who really doesn’t care about truth or facts, but is extremely happy to glom onto, and repeat, anything that he thinks bolsters his own position. It is a very dangerous trait in a person of responsibility.

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  4. Scott says:

    Tangentially, and thinking ahead to the debates, I think the Biden camp needs to seriously think about Trump’s constant lying and BSing. I don’t think it is a winning proposition for Biden to always be in the position to correct the facts and record. He shouldn’t even try. To me, the only winning position is to ignore everything Trump says and make sure your message is heard loud and clear. Just pretend he is not there.

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  5. mattbernius says:

    Along these lines, one of the other Twitter “personalities” to circulate that report was Herman Caine’s Zombie Twitter account:

    I died of covid but here’s why it’s not as bad as you’re hearing pic.twitter.com/W0dJpYjBLG— kilgore trout, non ass-talker (@KT_So_It_Goes) August 31, 2020

    Nothing feels more on brand for 2020 that the Zombie Account of a man who died from C19 tweeting out that the disease is not as deadly as people say.

    (Note that the above tweet contains a screenshot of the original Caine account tweet).

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  6. Joe says:

    Yet another facet of why Trump is so exhausting. In a public health situation that is by it’s nature confusing, he just piles on the confusion.

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  7. Jen says:

    This “underlying health condition” thing has been a way that many conservatives have been downplaying the seriousness of the crisis.

    When you consider that obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes are health conditions that nearly half our population has in some form or another, it means many, many more people are at risk than conservatives wish to acknowledge.

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  8. MarkedMan says:

    @Scott:

    To me, the only winning position is to ignore everything Trump says and make sure your message is heard loud and clear.

    Didn’t work so well for Al Gore and John Kerry….

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  9. Blue Galangal says:

    @Jen: When you consider that obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes are health conditions

    I would take issue only with lumping obesity in with other health conditions. There is already some evidence showing that the link between high BMI and poor outcomes may be a result of practitioner bias – assuming people with high BMI are unhealthy and either under- or over-treating them as a result of that assumption – and some evidence showing it’s the underlying conditions that can accompany obesity (especially cardiovascular conditions) that are the real risk. Obesity can increase the risk but as a blanket rule, if you don’t know someone’s health status, it’s discriminatory to assume that they are unhealthy because they are overweight. This bias is a focus in medical school training right now, as it happens: BMI should not substitute for actual physical data. Since reading about these trainings and this unconscious/implicit bias, I have become more aware of how often “obesity” – just being fat – is used as shorthand for “unhealthy.”

    The fact that researchers have been pointing to body size as a risk factor for weeks now, even in the absence of much evidence, is a clear example of how weight stigma gets enacted in science. “Consider the questions of whether high-BMI folks are at increased risk for contracting Covid-19—and if they do contract it, whether they have poorer outcomes,” says Lindo Bacon, a weight-science researcher and author of the books Health at Every Size and Body Respect. “First, notice the bias built into the questions. There is some indication that opposing hypotheses are better supported by current research—whether they are at lower risk, and have better outcomes—but I haven’t seen anyone frame their questions that way yet.”

    Indeed, multiple studies have found that simply reading a news article about the so-called “obesity epidemic” induces weight stigma and increases the expression of anti-fat attitudes among participants. Reports about the pandemic that name body size as a risk factor likely do the same. “I suspect that this news coverage constantly linking weight to Covid-19 risk is also heightening anti-fat bias,” says Jeffrey Hunger, a researcher who studies the effects of weight stigma and other forms of discrimination at Miami University of Ohio. “This constant barrage of media coverage linking weight to Covid-19 might lead to blaming individuals for actually contracting it.”

    https://www.wired.com/story/covid-19-does-not-discriminate-by-body-weight/

  10. Jen says:

    @Blue Galangal: That’s interesting. I’d read a week or two ago roughly the opposite–that people with a BMI of over 30 were at risk for worse outcomes if they contract covid-19, even if they had no other health conditions. This included people with high muscle mass who were otherwise healthy.

    This disease is so new we’ll likely be learning for a long time.

    ETA: here’s the piece I read: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/aug/26/obesity-increases-risk-of-covid-19-death-by-48-study-finds

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  11. Michael Reynolds says:

    He gaslights because his followers are stupid, credulous people raised from infancy to believe nonsense.

    By the time an adult American starts buying Trump’s bullshit he has very likely already been taught to believe that God made the world in a long week, that a snake gave Eve an apple, that Lot’s wife was turned into a pillar of salt, that Noah built a huge boat and gathered up mating pairs of all the animals on earth, that Jonah rode around inside of a whale for a bit, that God threatens you with eternal torture out of love, that a loving God demanded a blood sacrifice from his son who died and popped right back up out of the ground, and that angels watch you jerking off and write it down for God to consider at a later time.

    If you’ll swallow a gallon of bullshit why wouldn’t you swallow additional tankards of the stuff?

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  12. KM says:

    @MarkedMan:
    The phrase for this is “moral certitude” and is defined as “the state of mind, which excludes all other reasonable probabilities.” In other words, logic, reality or consistency has nothing to do with it, only that one is Right. You would think that arriving at this state would involve those three but for a Trumper, it involves their feels. They BELIEVE and therefore they are Right – what is Right is what they BELIEVE. Orwell used the term bellyfeel to describe the blind, enthusiastic acceptance of an idea and the implication of it’s fluidity. What matters is the heartfelt, full-throated “YES!!” they experience and the high it provides.

    You cannot argue with these people because you are telling them to ignore their bellyfeel that Trump’s giving them. He’s tickling their Id and telling them things that make sense to them a deep level. They don’t want to believe there’s a plague running around unchecked, killing hundreds of thousands of Americans and their selfish behavior may very well have killed an innocent person. That makes them Bad People and they’re not! They don’t want to believe the police and right-wing militias are running around killing citizens for the same reasons they believe in. That makes them Bad People and they’re not! Trump tells them they’re Good and so it is! Hallelujah, all is well in their world…. until it isn’t and they need another MAGA hit.

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  13. Lounsbury says:

    @Blue Galangal: It is so amusing to see obese Americans finding excuses as to why the broad data on obesity not being great for health are some how a ‘stigma’ or a bias.

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  14. KM says:

    @Jen:

    When you consider that obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes are health conditions that nearly half our population has in some form or another, it means many, many more people are at risk than conservatives wish to acknowledge.

    THIS. Illness does not exist in a vacuum and there has *never* been a requirement in nature that you only get one illness at a time. Damn near every person on this planet is co-morbid with *something*. Hell, if you are a teenager, acne is a co-morbidity!

    People indulge in magical thinking way too much when it comes to health. I cannot tell you how many clients I’ve had that have been in shock that their terminal illness is terminal because of their own actions. No, there isn’t a miracle cure to save you if you smoked 3 packs a day for 20 years and ignored your cancer till you were puking blood. No, there’s no treatment if you have a family history of high blood pressure and blood clots, mainline salt and fats for a lifetime and ruin your body so badly we can’t even do a transplant. They get mad because they essentially gambled on a medical deathbed confession – living their lives dangerously but a last-second save would make it all OK in the end.

    Acknowledging a modern day plague we currently have no treatment for is *terrifying* to them. At least with AIDS they could tell themselves they won’t catch it if they weren’t “pervs” or druggies but COVID comes for everyone. They say “oh, only the *weak* will die” and define weak as anyone with a pre-existing condition….. blissfully ignoring that’s all of us since we don’t know what that really means for this disease. Better to tell themselves lies and live in ignorance then admit they might die soon because someone didn’t feel like wearing a mask. Trump’s more than happy to provide that lie (for a fee, of course!)

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  15. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Lounsbury:
    People would be so much happier if they just accepted reality. I’m overweight but not obese, sedentary, smoke 1-2 cigars a day (properly, not inhaling), smoke a joint (properly, inhaling deeply), drink about 6 ounces of whiskey or equivalent, and eat whatever the hell I want. I’m 66. The actuarial tables estimate I’ll die at age 83. Or, I could lose weight, exercise, stop the cigars and the whiskey and the weed and become a Vegan and quite possibly die at 80 instead.

    Worth it, in my estimation.

    You make choices in life. You should make them honestly.

    4
  16. Gustopher says:

    @Lounsbury: When we know that doctors treat patients very differently based on race (the darker the skin, the less likely you are to get painkillers, or a variety of other tests and treatments), why would you assume that doctors are somehow immune from bias over weight, or that any such bias would not affect the patient’s care?

    The article quoted isn’t saying that there are no health risks related to obesity, but that doctor’s bias in treatment adds to that.

    4
  17. Scott says:

    @Jen: This was done in April but Kaiser estimated 37.6% of adults 18 and older were at risk.

    How Many Adults Are at Risk of Serious Illness If Infected with Coronavirus? Updated Data

    Key Findings

    About four in ten adults (37.6%) ages 18 and older in the U.S. (92.6 million people) have a higher risk of developing serious illness if they become infected with coronavirus, due to their older age (65 and older) or health condition (Figure 1; Table 1).

    Just over half of those at higher risk of developing a serious illness are ages 65 and older (55.2% or 51.1 million adults); however, the remaining 41.4 million adults ages 18-64 are at risk due to an underlying medical condition.

    The share of adults ages 18 and older who have a higher risk of developing a more serious illness varies across the country, ranging from 49.3 percent (West Virginia) to 30 percent (Utah).

    In some of the states with the highest number of reported coronavirus cases thus far, the share of adults at high risk of serious illness if infected is relatively high: Louisiana and Florida (at 42.1 percent, each) and Michigan (41.2 percent).

    An estimated 5.1 million adults who are at higher risk of getting a serious illness if they become infected with coronavirus are uninsured.

    1
  18. Kathy says:

    COVID-19 is a new disease we’ve known about only for a few months. of course there is a lot of uncertainty about it. More so since the press tends to misreport in many ways, like highlighting some outlier study or statistic, or regarding speculation as fact, etc.

    Just yesterday I read a piece which stated the number of cycles on a PRC test may be responsible for positive results in people who are not infected with SARS-CoV-2.

    Well, maybe so, but that’s speculative. Sure. A 40 cycle test may be detecting RNA traces from dead viruses that a 37 cycle test would miss. It may also be detecting a lower viral load on its way to causing full-blown COVID-19, or it may be detecting an ever-diminishing viral load almost cleared entirely by the immune system, or a lower load being dealt with, etc.

    IMO, with a deadly disease we should assume the worst case and dial down from there, rather than the best case and dial up from there.

    1
  19. Scott F. says:

    @Jen: Of course, what goes unmentioned is that Republicans have NO interest in improving any of the “underlying health conditions” leading to death by COVID either.

    If we can split up the numbers between other health dysfunctions people have resigned to our crappy health care system, then the dead people become statistics. Statistics can be ignored easier than victims.

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  20. CSK says:

    I have an acquaintance who’s at least 75 pounds overweight, yet who insists her doctor finds her perfectly healthy: textbook blood pressure of 120/60, low blood sugar, and low cholesterol. No cardiac or pulmonary issues. Perfect renal function. No age-related problems (she’s 71).

    This is, I suppose possible, but it seems unlikely.

    1
  21. Jen says:

    @Scott: As that was done in April, it’s likely that predates the subsequent studies that show higher risk for anyone with clotting disorders/stroke risk (April was when the blood clot issues became apparent), and the obesity study that was covered in The Guardian piece I linked to. It’s likely a lot more people are at risk than is realized.

    As Kathy points out, this is a new disease and we’re still learning. The good news is that in addition to learning the problems, we’re learning more about how to treat–anti-clotting treatments are now being administered much earlier and it’s affecting outcomes in a positive way.

    3
  22. Kylopod says:

    @mattbernius: I wonder if the Caine Gang are now going to argue that he died from cancer (or whatever preexisting health conditions he may have had), not Covid-19. That’s more or less the logical implication of their argument–that if most Covid-19 deaths are from people who had a preexisting condition, then they aren’t “really” deaths from Covid-19.

    Additionally, one thing that doesn’t get nearly enough attention (partly because it isn’t fully understood yet) is long-term health problems caused by Covid-19, which may ultimately lead to death down the line but which are not likely to be counted as Covid-19 deaths.

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  23. Michael Reynolds says:

    More often than not people with Alzheimers die of pneumonia. Which is why Alzheimers is a hoax.

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  24. Jen says:

    @Kylopod:

    Additionally, one thing that doesn’t get nearly enough attention (partly because it isn’t fully understood yet) is long-term health problems caused by Covid-19, which may ultimately lead to death down the line but which are not likely to be counted as Covid-19 deaths.

    The long-term health ramifications are definitely not getting enough attention.

    First, we have the issue of so-called “covid long-haulers,” who are still experiencing health problems months after recovering. Of a number of friends who have had covid, I know of two who fall in this category. One is on the “mild” side–she still is short of breath frequently. Her doctors just don’t know if her diminished lung capacity is permanent or if it’ll go away eventually. The other friend, who has been technically recovered from covid for months (she had an early case in March), has more serious issues. She’s on supplemental oxygen, and has some pretty serious GI issues that have lingered.

    Next, since it’s a virus, we don’t know yet what years down the road holds for those who have recovered. You can get chicken pox as a kid, recover, and then come down with incredibly painful shingles decades later. Will covid be more like a flu that clears and done, or will it be like chicken pox, and reemerge as some other affliction years later? We just don’t know.

    Finally, even in people with mild or asymptomatic cases, heart and lung damage has been observed. We have no idea how permanent this damage is, or if it could cause problems down the line for people.

    It’s very short-sighted for anyone to view this as a nothingburger, including the President. Not that he cares.

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  25. Monala says:

    @Kylopod: His cancer occurred in 2006, I believe. In 2012, maybe to allay any concerns about his health when he was running for president, Cain proudly announced that he was 100% cancer free.

    1
  26. Monala says:

    @Kylopod: BTW, how are you doing? I recall that you shared about having lingering symptoms a few weeks ago. Have any of them resolved? (If you feel comfortable sharing).

  27. Kathy says:

    @Jen:

    I don’t have a good link, but there have been reports of long-term sequelae from patients who recovered from SARS, caused by a related coronavirus, SARS-CoV (or SaRS-CoV-1 nowadays).

    So it doesn’t look good.

    Let’s not forget post-polio syndrome, which strikes even decades after recovery from polio.

    1
  28. DrDaveT says:

    That’s more or less the logical implication of their argument–that if most Covid-19 deaths are from people who had a preexisting condition, then they aren’t “really” deaths from Covid-19.

    If I put a bag over your head, and you die because you had emphysema and couldn’t get enough oxygen, it turns out I didn’t kill you after all? Wow.

    2
  29. MarkedMan says:

    I used to work with scientists investigating obesity/diabetes. I write those two together because these scientists saw them as a continuum. To paraphrase one of the them, “Diabetes is a horrible illness and a terrible way to die. If we lived long enough, all of us would get it, but the more overweight you are the more likely you are to get it sooner”. “Fat shaming” is despicable, but pretending that obesity does not cause health problems because it hurts peoples feelings is just as despicable in a different way.

  30. MarkedMan says:

    @CSK: There are people who smoke a pack a day and die a relatively peaceful death at 90. Just as there is the occasional deer that dashes madly across the highway during rush hour and makes it.

  31. Liberal Capitalist says:

    No one else caught this?

    The Chicks (formerly the Dixie Chicks) just released an album titled “Gaslighter”.

    Coincidence?

    1
  32. @Liberal Capitalist:

    Coincidence?

    Nope.

    2
  33. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @CSK: She must be the long lost sister of a friend of mine who makes similar claims. The fact that he’s been hospitalized 4 times this year is simply a happenstance.

  34. Jen says:

    @MarkedMan: Just clarifying that is Type 2 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease and has nothing to do with being overweight. In fact, rapid weight loss is one of the symptoms of Type 1 onset.

  35. CSK says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:
    I don’t get it. It would seem to me to be virtually impossible to be that overweight and still perfectly healthy.

  36. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @CSK: Even more so if you’ve been hospitalized 4 times. And yet…

    [insert old Egypt/denial/river joke here, w/eyeroll emoji if desired]

  37. CSK says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:
    Yes, denial is exactly what it is, even though she’s careful to observe the masking/distancing/handwashing protocols. Bonus point: She’s the daughter of a medical doctor.

  38. steve says:

    I had seen the 6% conspiracy theory floating around. Sad that so many people bought into it. The other current one that I know is circulating (having conservative family means you get to keep up on this stuff) is that 90% of the tests that are positive are done when the viral load is so low that the person is not infectious, thereby proving the tests are useless. In fact, if we were designing a test we would like for it to catch the disease before the person is infectious, at low viral loads. We would then know whom to isolate. We would also like for the test to be accurate, fast and cheap. The PCR test is not fast or cheap but is accurate and catches Covid early.

    We would also like for a test to show us which pts who have Covid will go on to become infectious? Sure, but now we are talking magic. Not happening. Transmitting the disease also depends upon the person being exposed.

    Finally, if you do see this going around remember that it was originally taken from an article talking about the new cheap, fast tests. It was just cherry picking a paragraph that was not intended to talk about testing and viral loads. For those who care the new fast tests have a lot of potential if they pan out.

    Steve

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  39. @steve: I have seen people simply posting “6%” in various places. It is disturbing.

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