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COMMENTARY: Lab-leak theory won't provide vindication for Trump

by MAX BOOT THE WASHINGTON POST | June 11, 2021 at 1:00 a.m.

If you had been wrong 2,521 times, would you claim vindication if, on the 2,522nd occasion, you said something that may -- or may not -- turn out to be right?

That's what former president Donald Trump -- who, according to The Washington Post's Fact Checker, made 2,521 false or misleading statements about the coronavirus -- has done in regard to the theory that covid-19 originated not in nature but in a Chinese research lab, the Wuhan Institute of Virology. "To me it was obvious from the beginning but I was badly criticized, as usual. Now they are all saying 'He was right.' Thank you!" Trump declared recently. Naturally, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R.-S.C., offered his golf partner a hearty amen, saying, "If Trump was right about the lab leak, it would change the image the public had of President Trump regarding the coronavirus."

Actually, no it wouldn't. This is some serious malarkey, as Trump's successor would say.

It is true that the lab-leak hypothesis is now looking more plausible than it did a year ago -- so much so that President Joe Biden has ordered an intelligence community investigation.

Whatever the case turns out to be, it does not vindicate Trump's horrendous mismanagement of the virus. Trump was hardly a consistent critic of China or champion of the lab-leak theory, as he now claims. Initially, his instinct was to disingenuously play down the danger and to naively praise China's handling of the pandemic. On Jan. 24, 2020, he tweeted: "China has been working very hard to contain the Coronavirus. The United States greatly appreciates their efforts and transparency. It will all work out well. In particular, on behalf of the American People, I want to thank President Xi!"

It was only when it became obvious that things were not working out well that Trump switched to desperate, even racist, attempts to blame China for what he called the "kung flu" or "China plague." He claimed to have evidence the pandemic originated at the Wuhan Institute of Virology but refused to reveal it.

Trump's former campaign manager Stephen Bannon went further and claimed that the virus was a Chinese bioweapon despite a complete lack of evidence for such a sensational charge. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., a leading advocate of the lab-leak theory, also flirted with the idea that the virus was a bioweapon that was accidentally released.

Now the right-wing disinformation machine is suggesting Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, is responsible for unleashing covid-19 on the world, because the National Institutes of Health gave a grant to a nonprofit group that in turn provided some funding to the Wuhan Institute.

It now seems that mainstream scientists and journalists were too quick to dismiss the lab--leak theory last year. But their reluctance to embrace it was understandable, given the lack of direct evidence and given the way it became wrapped up with Trump's attempt to deflect blame for the pandemic with a fire hose of falsehoods. Having a serial liar embrace a theory hardly lends it credibility.

By downplaying the need for masks and expressing sympathy for anti--lockdown protests -- while touting quack cures such as hydroxychloroquine -- Trump helped to make the death toll far worse than it needed to be. The British medical journal the Lancet concluded that 40% of U.S. covid deaths could have been avoided with better leadership. That's about 160,000 people who died needlessly in the final year of the Trump administration.

If it is shown that the virus escaped from a Wuhan lab, China will have a lot to answer for. But whatever the origins of the pandemic, Trump has a lot to answer for, too -- and so do his many enablers on the right who are now excoriating the mainstream media and scientists for not taking the lab leak more seriously.

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