On Sunday night, during his 928,365th televised coronavirus briefing, Donald Trump made an extremely hard sell for the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine, whose effectiveness against COVID-19 is still virtually unknown. “What do you have to lose?” the president asked of taking a drug for which there is very little data, as though he was talking about trying a new flavor of Laffy Taffy or experimenting with two-ply versus four-ply toilet paper. “I really think they should take it,” he said of ill patients. “But it’s their choice. And it’s their doctor’s choice or the doctors in the hospital. But hydroxychloroquine. Try it, if you’d like.”
In fact, as health experts and actual doctors have stressed, there is a lot patients could lose by trying hydroxychloroquine just for yucks, given that the drug can cause a heart arrhythmia that could lead to cardiac arrest, for starters. “It causes psychiatric symptoms, cardiac problems and a host of other bad side effects,” Megan Ranney, an emergency physician at Brown University told the New York Times, noting that she had never seen an elected official hype a drug as a miracle cure the way Trump has. “There may be a role for it for some people,” she said, “but to tell Americans ‘you don’t have anything to lose,’ that’s not true.” So why, then, has Trump been pushing hydroxychloroquine like he stands to make a cut of the drug’s sales, or maybe license his name to the brand when this is all over? The first answer, which is the same for most questions asked about Donald Trump, is that he’s a glorified carnival barker immune to facts, who prefers the idea of quick—untested!—fixes over having to act responsibly for whole months at a time, and who, as a businessman with numerous failures under his belt, is used to simply walking away from the messes he makes, or being bailed out by his dad. Also, he has a thing for listening to advice from the worst people dispensing it if it suits his worldview, a tick he has not adjusted in light of the whole deadly pandemic thing.
In the case of hydroxychloroquine, the president has latched onto the counsel of a group of individuals who are no more qualified to opine on the matter than Melania “The tennis pavilion must go on!” Trump. One of those individuals is White House economic adviser Peter Navarro, who you might remember from such hits as sending emails under a fake name in support of his tariff policies; the claim that an impaired manufacturing sector leads to “an increase in abortion, spousal abuse, divorce, and infertility”; and being hired by Jared Kushner after the first son-in-law found him on Amazon. Despite the fact that the drug has not been shown to work against the COVID-19 in any significant clinical trials, and that previous reports from China and France did not include control groups, Navarro loooooves himself some hydroxychloroquine, a position he made clear by flipping out on Dr. Anthony Fauci over the weekend for having the temerity to suggest the medicine was not ready for primetime.
According to Axios, in a meeting over the weekend, Navarro—who, to be clear, has zero public health experience—dropped a stack of folders in front of the group and started talking about studies he’s seen showing the “clear therapeutic efficacy” of the drug that, in the real world, don’t actually exist. Fauci, who did go to medical school, reportedly pointed this out, saying that at this point there is only anecdotal evidence that the drug works. He then added that much more data is needed, which Navarro seemingly heard as, “Your mother’s a whore, Pete.”