Scientific American has never endorsed a presidential candidate in its 175-year history. This year we are compelled to do so. We do not do this lightly.
The evidence and the science show that Donald Trump has badly damaged the U.S. and its people—because he rejects evidence and science. The most devastating example is his dishonest and inept response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which cost more than 190,000 Americans their lives by the middle of September. He has also attacked environmental protections, medical care, and the researchers and public science agencies that help this country prepare for its greatest challenges. That is why we urge you to vote for Joe Biden, who is offering fact-based plans to protect our health, our economy and the environment. These and other proposals he has put forth can set the country back on course for a safer, more prosperous and more equitable future.
The pandemic would strain any nation and system, but Trump’s rejection of evidence and public health measures have been catastrophic in the U.S. He was warned many times in January and February about the onrushing disease, yet he did not develop a national strategy to provide protective equipment, coronavirus testing or clear health guidelines. Testing people for the virus, and tracing those they may have infected, is how countries in Europe and Asia have gained control over their outbreaks, saved lives, and successfully reopened businesses and schools. But in the U.S., Trump claimed, falsely, that “anybody that wants a test can get a test.” That was untrue in March and remained untrue through the summer. Trump opposed $25 billion for increased testing and tracing that was in a pandemic relief bill as late as July. These lapses accelerated the spread of disease through the country—particularly in highly vulnerable communities that include people of color, where deaths climbed disproportionately to those in the rest of the population.
It wasn’t just a testing problem: if almost everyone in the U.S. wore masks in public, it could save about 66,000 lives by the beginning of December, according to projections from the University of Washington School of Medicine. Such a strategy would hurt no one. It would close no business. It would cost next to nothing. But Trump and his vice president flouted local mask rules, making it a point not to wear masks themselves in public appearances. Trump has openly supported people who ignored governors in Michigan and California and elsewhere as they tried to impose social distancing and restrict public activities to control the virus. He encouraged governors in Florida, Arizona and Texas who resisted these public health measures, saying in April—again, falsely—that “the worst days of the pandemic are behind us” and ignoring infectious disease experts who warned at the time of a dangerous rebound if safety measures were loosened.
And of course, the rebound came, with cases across the nation rising by 46 percent and deaths increasing by 21 percent in June. The states that followed Trump’s misguidance posted new daily highs and higher percentages of positive tests than those that did not. By early July several hospitals in Texas were full of COVID-19 patients. States had to close up again, at tremendous economic cost. About 31 percent of workers were laid off a second time, following the giant wave of unemployment—more than 30 million people and countless shuttered businesses—that had already decimated the country. At every stage, Trump has rejected the unmistakable lesson that controlling the disease, not downplaying it, is the path to economic reopening and recovery.
Trump repeatedly lied to the public about the deadly threat of the disease, saying it was not a serious concern and “this is like a flu” when he knew it was more lethal and highly transmissible, according to his taped statements to journalist Bob Woodward. His lies encouraged people to engage in risky behavior, spreading the virus further, and have driven wedges between Americans who take the threat seriously and those who believe Trump’s falsehoods. The White House even produced a memo attacking the expertise of the nation’s leading infectious disease physician, Anthony Fauci, in a despicable attempt to sow further distrust.
Meanwhile, Trump is accusing Joe Biden of being a pedophile:
President Trump shared a video on Tuesday of Joe Biden embracing the wife of former Defense Secretary Ash Carter during a 2015 ceremony at the White House with the hashtag #PedoBiden, marking the president’s first public entry into the categorically false conspiracy theory accusing the Democratic presidential candidate of pedophilia.
“We can beat them at their game,” the tweet said in a caption, which has since been retweeted more than six thousand times.
The clip ostensibly aims to demonstrate improper, potentially pedophilic behavior by Biden. It doesn’t—and Stephanie Carter, an adult, has written about how the encounter has been taken out of context to denigrate Biden. In reality, she notes, the former vice president had been comforting her during an “uncharacteristically nervous” moment after she had fallen on ice shortly before her husband’s swearing-in ceremony.
But Trump’s retweet comes as the twisted conspiracy theory continues QAnon’s rapid rise among the highest ranks of the Republican party. As my colleague Ali Breland has reported, the increasingly mainstream, once far-right movement—which is constantly mutating to incorporate new false, pro-Trump conspiracy theories—is centered around an unnamed federal agent within the Trump administration whose job it is to fight what they describe as Democratic-run, global pedophilia rings. While Trump has frequently used social media to promote QAnon followers, his latest retweet signals what’s all but certain to become a central theme to his reelection campaign as November nears: falsely accusing Biden and Democrats of pedophilia. Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., has repeatedly promoted the Biden conspiracy theory in recent weeks.