Is President Donald Trump really responsible for more deaths than both Adolf Hitler and Mao Zedong combined? If you were fortunate enough to catch a piece of televisual gold on CNN this weekend, you have the answer. According to Dr. Allen Frances, psychiatrist and former chair of psychiatry at Duke Medical: Yes. He clarified this to Brian Stelter, who, for the record, did not actually ask for clarification, by laying it all at the feet of climate change.
When assertions like this are made, far too often they go unchallenged by a media that is happy to allow almost any exaggeration or flat-out lie that matches its own agenda. Surely a claim as bold as this deserved at least some scrutiny.
.@AllenFrancesMD, a psychiatrist, tells @Brianstelter: Trump "may be responsible for many more million deaths" than Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, and Mao Zedong.https://t.co/cBUZVQjhNU pic.twitter.com/RVARyeVnVh
— Julio Rosas (@Julio_Rosas11) August 25, 2019
Trump is responsible for more deaths than Hitler and Mao, according to Dr. Frances; let’s work off the lower estimates and call that 50 million combined. Presumably, these are future deaths because of President Trump’s stance on climate change and his refusal to take it as seriously as some in the 2020 race believe he should.
The question that should be asked is: How long have we known about climate change? Certainly, since Al Gore made An Inconvenient Truth in 2006, and most likely even before then (because Al didn’t come up with this on his own). Think of the global warming threat in the 90s, and the global cooling imminent disaster predicted in the 70s. Let’s say climate change phenomenon has been recognized for around 50 years in total.
The Murderous Math
During that half a century, how long has Trump been responsible for environmental policy in the United States? By my reckoning, that’s three years out of 50. Based on what Dr. Frances suggests, and what Mr. Stelter failed to challenge, that would, at the very most, give the president a death toll of just three million.
Let’s continue this division of responsibility. Former President Barack Obama was in the White House for eight years; does he get a murder tally of eight million? Other presidents who bear the same extent of death and destruction are George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Ronald Reagan. George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter, fortunately for them, only shoulder half the responsibility with four million fatalities each.
By this metric, Obama is responsible for two and a half times more deaths than Trump.
Could it have just been the glare of TV lights and the pressure of being on camera that encouraged an apparently respectable doctor to reach such outlandish conclusions? Sadly, no. A brief trawl through Dr. Frances’ Twitter account shows a similar level of hyperbole just one day earlier in response to the death of David Koch. Dr. Frances wrote:
“Only the blind & the greedy will mourn the death of David Koch. He was 2nd most destructive force on planet-doing all in his considerable power to destabilize world climate & democracy.
#1 is brother Charles.
Koch legacy: A much worse world for our kids.”
Surely this message implies that President Trump only makes it to third position on the list of people who have unleashed terror on our world? How many millions of dead does he lay at the door of the Koch brothers?
The Filter Problem
Dr. Frances is a much-respected man in his field. He has a resumé to be proud of and the real-world experience that comes from decades of dedicated service. So what has made this otherwise admirable fellow go so “off-reservation”?
It would be all too easy to point the finger at the ubiquitous Trump Derangement Syndrome (not included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders volume IV, which Frances himself chaired). But perhaps this is more a case of ideas – bold, crazy, or just plain bad – no longer being challenged. When a major media outlet like CNN prays earnestly for accusations of murder and mayhem against a president it despises, there is an implicit invitation to guests and sources to “let loose” and “speak their mind.”
CNN knows that Dr. Frances’ reputation could be irredeemably damaged by this encounter, but the producers and “talent” just don’t care. They want the soundbite, they want the headline, and most of all, they want to the two-minute hate of Orwell’s 1984 to become the everyday thunder to which they beat their drums.