My own dire prophecies failed to adequately predict the future and today I see him as someone far more terrifying

“¡Abajo la inteligencia! ¡Viva la muerte!” Those infamous words – “Down with intelligence! Long live death!” – were pronounced in 1936 by General Millán Astray, a fascist general who was a mentor and friend of Francisco Franco, soon to be Spain’s dictator for over four decades. They were part of a ranting speech Millán delivered at the University of Salamanca celebrating the insurrection against the Spanish Republic that heralded the dark years that were on the horizon.I recalled these barbarous words with trepidation back in October of 2017 when I began tracking down the ways in which Donald Trump, in only the first 10 endless months of what was already then his endless government, was waging a disquieting war on science and the truth. In an online essay for the New York Review of Books, I warned of the “lethal consequences” that this offensive would entail, the millions of lives that would be shortened.

At that point what worried me was his assault on environmental and labor laws, the ways in which he was draining every government department of experts, the reckless evisceration of advisory councils, the proposed budgetary cuts to scientific research, the attacks on vaccinations and the health system and medical knowhow behind it, his obtuse climate change denials.

Observers have focused on his botched actions and confusing inactions, the Niagara of misinformation that spews daily from his mouth. It has been revealed that there were more than enough warnings, memos and red flags by January of this year to warrant urgent preparations that were never put in place and, scandalously, that Trump’s oblivious and careless acolytes dismantled in early 2018 the team in charge of handling precisely this sort of disastrous disease, firing its most experienced members. The latest scene in this tragic farce of capriciousness is Trump’s insistent demand that hydroxychloroquine be used to combat Covid-19. Despite this anti-malarial remedy not having been tested with objective standards nor its side-effects sufficiently vetted, he treats it as a miracle drug, harking back, perhaps, to when he announced that “one day – it’s like a miracle – [the virus] will disappear”. Magical thinking is to be expected in religion, literature and among audiences at shows where conjurers pull rabbits out of hats, but not as a substitute for professional medicine and settled science.

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