By Larry Levine –

I’m wondering with increasing frequency where the line is between paranoia and intuition. I’m wondering because with disturbing frequency I realize things I once would have dismissed as conspiratorial paranoia had they come from others I now think of as possible when I think of it myself.

For instance if I said I believe Donald Trump is falsely inflating the projections of fatalities from the coronavirus so he can claim a personal victory if the number ends up being lower, is that paranoia, or might it be a frighteningly intuitive reading of the cynical lengths to which he will go to self-congratulate himself and boost his chance to win re-election?

I know. It’s sick. It’s demented. But what if I could point to facts that indicate it could be true. Not a subjective reading of the personality of Trump as he struggles to extract himself from the product of his own incompetence. But facts.

I first suspected this last week when he said 100,000 deaths would represent a job well done on his part. The next day’s so-called briefing upped the number. The scientists spoke up and said it would be between 100,000 and 200,000. Then, a day later, the top of the range was raised to 240,000. Finally, Dr. Deborah Birx, coordinator of Trump’s coronavirus task force, told us it could have been as high as 2.5 million if we had done nothing to fight it. Two days earlier, she praised Trump for reading and understanding all the science and reports on the subject, which brought a collective guffaw from across the world of science and politics. Then, at a late-in-the-week briefing, she referred to new virus tests becoming available as “the President’s tests.”

Through it all, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, maintained there are too many variables to make any of the models upon which the projections were based reliable. “I’ve looked at all the models. I’ve spent a lot of time on the models. They don’t tell you anything. You can’t really rely on the models.”

So, from whence cometh the numbers – 100,000, 200,000, 240,000, 2.5 million? It smacks of the hucksterism typical of a huckster. And nothing defines Donald Trump more clearly than the word huckster.

Among others who have questioned the White House numbers and/or the methodology that produced them are Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Columbia University epidemiologist Jeffry Sharman; and Marc Lipsitch, director of the Harvard University Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics.

Further clouding the picture is the refusal by the White House to explain how they came up with the numbers they project.

We are left then to wonder if, when Trump gave out the number 100,000, was that an actual projection and all the others higher so when we actually came in at 100,000 the boss would look brilliant? Or was this just the latest case of Trump making it up on the fly, figuring he could always say later that he never said it?

Until six months ago, I don’t think I ever said, “I’m not given to paranoia but …” Now I find myself saying it with regularity as I try to imagine what craziness might come next from Donald Trump and those who surround him. Could any other President in history have viewed 100,000 dead Americans as a victory? Did any other President in history have a following so loyal and blind that they would accept and defend this? Would any other President in history have tried to play this kind of shell game with the American public?