Another redemption campaignDeborah L. Birx, MD
The Trump administration’s abysmal handling of America’s worst public health crisis in a century was the result of a refusal to accept the reality of that crisis — a refusal that started at the top. That’s the judgment of Dr. Deborah Birx, Trump’s former Coronavirus Response Task Force coordinator.
In a new book, Birx describes decisions being made for political rather than medical reasons, bureaucratic morass that stifled data-gathering, and a president who didn’t want to hear bad news.
These important revelations, however, come from a problematic messenger. Birx seldom if ever publicly pushed back against or corrected Trump’s myriad assaults on the truth in those early days of the pandemic. Some of Birx’s media interviews — one, for example, lauding Trump as someone who is “so attentive to the scientific literature and the details and the data” regarding the pandemic — were transparently false and cringeworthy sycophancy.
Early reporting about the book, “Silent Invasion: The Untold Story of the Trump Administration, COVID-19, and Preventing the Next Pandemic Before It’s Too Late,” indicates it does in fact offer some useful insight about what was happening behind the scenes as the pandemic unfolded starting in early 2020. She writes that dire predictions from her and other experts about just how serious the pandemic could ultimately be were met with resistance by Trump, who didn’t want to hear about anything that could ruin the strong economy.
“Any other president would have wanted to know just how bad things were going to get and what could be done to prevent the worst case,” Birx wrote. “I was standing on constantly shifting sand, among political players I didn’t know and a president who apparently liked his news served good and upbeat, or not at all.” She wrote of how she and other health officials, aware Trump might fire any one of them for giving honest advice, formed a pact to all quit in protest if that happened.
Birx’s most publicly visible moment during her time in the administration was the infamous Trump news conference in April 2020 in which he suggested (in obvious seriousness, notwithstanding his later lie that it was a joke) that perhaps chemical disinfectant could be used as a cure. Birx was sitting to one side, looking like she was in a hostage video. She acknowledges in the book feeling “paralyzed” by Trump’s ignorant and dangerous rambling.
But, notably, she didn’t dispute it in the moment. Whatever value Birx’s behind-the-scenes observations might have, her book should be seen as the same kind of cynical redemption project that former Attorney General William Barr, former press secretary Stephanie Grisham and other Trump administration refugees have felt compelled to undertake. The question, for Birx and all of them, is why they waited to warn America about Trump until after so much damage was done.