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The Trump surge


The contours of the reports of Trump’s handling of the pandemic are entirely predictable, but are still outrageous:

Throughout late summer and fall, in the heat of a re-election campaign that he would go on to lose, and in the face of mounting evidence of a surge in infections and deaths far worse than in the spring, Mr. Trump’s management of the crisisunsteady, unscientific and colored by politics all year — was in effect reduced to a single question: What would it mean for him?

The result, according to interviews with more than two dozen current and former administration officials and others in contact with the White House, was a lose-lose situation. Mr. Trump not only ended up soundly defeated by Joseph R. Biden Jr., but missed his chance to show that he could rise to the moment in the final chapter of his presidency and meet the defining challenge of his tenure.

Efforts by his aides to persuade him to promote mask wearing, among the simplest and most effective ways to curb the spread of the disease, were derailed by his conviction that his political base would rebel against anything that would smack of limiting their personal freedom. Even his own campaign’s polling data to the contrary could not sway him.

His explicit demand for a vaccine by Election Day — a push that came to a head in a contentious Oval Office meeting with top health aides in late September — became a misguided substitute for warning the nation that failure to adhere to social distancing and other mitigation efforts would contribute to a slow-rolling disaster this winter.

His concern? That the man he called “Sleepy Joe” Biden, who was leading him in the polls, would get credit for a vaccine, not him.

The government’s public health experts were all but silenced by the arrival in August of Dr. Scott W. Atlas, the Stanford professor of neuroradiology recruited after appearances on Fox News.

With Dr. Deborah L. Birx, the coordinator of the White House virus task force, losing influence and often on the road, Dr. Atlas became the sole doctor Mr. Trump listened to. His theories, some of which scientists viewed as bordering on the crackpot, were exactly what the president wanted to hear: The virus is overblown, the number of deaths is exaggerated, testing is overrated, lockdowns do more harm than good.

I hope history will remember how much blood Atlas has on his hands:

Once inside, Dr. Atlas used the perch of a West Wing office to shape the response. During a meeting in early fall, Dr. Atlas asserted that college students were at no risk from the virus. We should let them go back to school, he said. It’s not a problem.

Dr. Birx exploded. What aspect of the fact that you can be asymptomatic and still spread it do you not understand? she demanded. You might not die, but you can give it to somebody who can die from it. She was livid.

“Your strategy is literally going to cost us lives,” she yelled at Dr. Atlas. She attacked Dr. Atlas’s ideas in daily emails she sent to senior officials. And she was mindful of a pact she had made with Dr. Hahn, Dr. Fauci and Dr. Redfield even before Dr. Atlas came on board: They would stick together if one of them was fired for doing what they considered the right thing.

20 more days until somebody who actually cares about a 9/11 worth of people dying every day takes office.

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