A Litmus Test for TDS

Michael Dilger
Last Updated 2020 Apr 26th

Trump isn’t too bright. He’s incredibly narcissistic. He lacks nuance. He’s not terribly precise or eloquant. And I wish for a better American president.

But I also recognize his good qualities: he’s a successful businessman; he’s a good negotiator; he’s good at strategically manipulating public opinion. The media has very often mischaracterized these and other aspects of Trump and I’m not here to argue the particulars. My point herein is only that I consider myself neither a Trump hater nor a Trump devotee.

That being said, I think that how you interpret and react to Trump’s comments about ’light’ and ’disinfectant’ seems to be a rather accurate litmus test for Trump Derangement Syndrome (TDS).

Full video. Trump’s comments start at about 26:18.

The necessary context is that Bill Bryan had just given a presentation about how powerful an effect light has at readily killing the virus, and also mentioned as well how disinfectants readily kill the virus.

Here’s my transcript of his comments (I have found other transcripts online to be inaccurate):

“So I asked Bill a question that probably some of you are thinking of if you’re totally into that world, which I find to be very interesting. So, supposing we hit the body with a tremendous, whether its ultraviolet or just very powerful light, and I think you said, that hasn’t been checked but you’re gonna test it. And then I said, supposing you brought the light inside the body, which you can do either through the skin or in some other way, and I think you said you’re gonna test that too. Sounds interesting. Right. And then I see the disinfectant, where it knocks it out in a minute, one minute, and is there a way we can do something like that by injection inside, or almost a cleaning. Because you see it gets in the lungs, and it does a tremendous number on the lungs. So it’d be interesting to check that. So you’re going to have to use medical doctors, but it sounds interesting to me, so we’ll see. But the whole concept of the light, the way it kills it in one minute, that’s pretty powerful.”

Trump, being mainly concerned about helping the sick people rather than killing the virus on surfaces, asks some questions as to whether or not these virus killing techniques could somehow be repurposed to cure people in vivo. It’s a form of spit balling, thinking-outside-the-box kind of question. It was not a claim, it was a question. And it was further qualified with "you’re going to have to use medical doctors." And he didn’t even ask if we could inject disinfectant as a cure, he asked if we could do something like that. Spit balling. Thinking outside the box. Grasping at straws for any additional way to fight the virus based on the presentation he just heard.

Now it’s rather dumb and quite conceited for Trump to believe that he might be the one to solve this Coronavirus problem by suggesting an idea that nobody ever thought of before. Both of the ideas he suggested have been tried and used to varying degrees of success over the last hundred years.

Ultraviolet light has been used to treat blood which was then put back inside of the body. This procedure was used prior to antibiotics.

And disinfectants such as antibiotics and antifungals have been used in vivo ever since they were discovered.

So these are not brilliant new ideas, they are brilliant old ideas. And there’s no story here.

The Reaction

The reaction has been ludicrous. Lysol went on to issue a warning against injecting their product. While the warning can’t hurt, it seems hardly necessary. And the media has been incorrectly reporting this as "Lysol Had to Issue a Warning..." They didn’t have to. Someone at Lysol has TDS and was making an anti-Trump political statement with that warning.

The media has also been falsely characterising Trump’s comments as a suggestion that people should inject themselves with Lysol. They've use phrases like "made the dangerous claims" (no claims were made), "bizarre" (it wasn't bizarre), "outburst" (could not reasonably be considered an outburst), "suggested people should inject themselves with disinfectant" (never suggested anyone inject themselves; suggested medical doctors consider something like injection or cleaning).

Walking it Back

There was something that the media got right. Some very unintelligent people at the margins might interpret his comments in a lethal way. I think Trump recognized that because he has walked back his comments.

Trump has now said he was being sarcastic. That is clearly not true. Perhaps he decided it was too hard to explain, and that nuance would not be useful in this suation. Perhaps he considered that the easiest way to make sure none of his devotees go off and inject lysol was to walk back the statements rather than to dive into the nuance. That was probably the right move. Politically it was the wrong move, because no one who watches the video will believe that it was sarcasm, but it was the right way to make sure people don’t poison themselves, which is the more important issue.

The TDS Litmus Test

If you thought that Trump was suggesting to citizens that they should inject themselves with Lysol, rather than the more direct, more reasonable and more charitable interpretation that he was suggesting a possible line of research, then you’re the idiot. You’re the patsy who has been fooled by the media yet again.

If you thought the research suggestion was obviously dangerous and dumb then you are not the creative kind of thinker who makes breakthroughs. Chemotherapy is dangerous. Using a virus to deliver a drug is dangerous. Those ideas turned out to be golden. It is this kind of outside-the-box spit balling that has lead to pretty much every breakthrough that humans ever made.

If you have a negative emotional reaction to Donald Trump, that emotional reaction will drive your thinking. It will affect your interpretation of his statements. You’ll search for faults, and ignore contrary evidence. Once you find an interpretation that fits your emotional needs, you’ll stop digging.

These unfair and uncharitable interpretations of Trump add up over time. We currently have about half of the population believing they have seen a mountain of evidence showing Trump to be a very bad man, and the other half of the population seeing only a molehill. Scott Adams says it’s like we are watching two different movies... we’re both looking at the same screen, but based on how our own brains interpret events over time, we are seeing completely different movies.

Some like to claim the problem is on the other foot, repurposing TDS to mean "Trump Defender Syndrome." I can’t think of an objective test to prove who is right and who is wrong. We are all subjective beings. But I thought it was only fair to point out that this problem isn’t all on one side of the political divide. Certainly many Trump devotees defend him against unreasonble statements and actions. I don’t consider myself a Trump devotee, and I hope my treatments have been less biased.

In these times of political upheaval, might I suggest that we all attempt to be a bit more devoid of emotion, to think logically and to try to simply determine the facts. We should all strive to steel man our political opponents, rather than straw man them. By that I mean that we should give people the benefit of the doubt. We should interpret people’s comments in the way that is most favorable to their argument. And we should acknowledge what is right about what they have said. Hopefully in time society can become a bit less divisive.


Bonus News

Subsequent stories have tried to link calls to poison control to Trump’s comments using framing devices: NYC Poison Control Calls for Bleach, Lysol Double After Trump Disinfectant Comment.

But unfortunately for proponents of that theory, on the 23rd of May, the same day that Trump made his comments, this effect was already known: Accidental Poisoning Is on The Rise in The US as People Try to Sanitise Their Homes and the cause is that people now have a lot more exposure to cleaning products, rather than anything to do with Trump’s subsequent comments.

Nice try.


What TDS really is

Hate is an emotion that blocks empathy. If you hate someone, you cannot have empathy for them at the same time.

Empathy is required in order to interpret what someone is saying. You have to put yourself into their position, consider the context, and interpret their words in that fashion. Without empathy for the person, you cannot (or will not) put yourself into their shoes. The best you can do at that point is to take every word literally. But people don't speak literally and aren't to be understood literally, except perhaps in legal contracts. So the misunderstandings are certain to follow.

TDS is just a symptom of the real affliction: hate


Updated Understanding

After watching other people’s videos on this topic I’ve come to a new understanding. Trump’s use of the word "disinfectant" is construed by people on the right to be in realtion to the UV light that they had been discussing, and while his use of the word "inject" seems odd, he had apparently been recently briefed about a new technology using UV light developed with Cedars-Sinai that actually uses that word when describing the delivery mechanism.

But a reporter asked a question at 30:40 to get clarification:

The president mentioned the idea of a cleaner... bleach and isopropyl alcohol... there’s no scenario that that could be injected into a person, is there?

Bill Bryan answered:

No, I’m here to talk about the findings that we have in the study. We don’t do that within that lab our labs.

Trump then added:

That wouldn’t be a true injection. We’re talking about almost a cleaning, sterilization of an area. Maybe it works maybe it doesn’t work, but it certainly has a big effect if it’s on a stationary object.

I don't really know what substance (or phenomenon) Trump was imagining cleaning an area with, or whether he was talking about an area like a countertop, the palms of your hands, or the insides of your lungs. He didn't immediately object to the reporter using the words bleach and isopropyl alcohol. Trump never used the words bleach and/or isopropyl alcohol, those words were casually tossed by this reporter like hand grenades.