OP-ED: What Dr. Phil and Dr. Oz are really saying

Dahleen Glanton
Chicago Tribune (TNS)

Dr. Phil and Dr. Oz couldn’t resist weighing in on the coronavirus crisis. That’s not surprising. They are entertainers who thrive on being in the spotlight.

Anyone who takes advice seriously from these television personalities is an idiot. But that doesn’t mean we should entirely dismiss what they have to say — especially during this deadly pandemic.

These pseudo doctors didn’t become household names by being stupid. They’ve figured out how to tap into the psyche of the American public and use our expectations, fears and prejudices to their advantage.

They appeared on Fox News last week with an agenda, designed to rally the troops around President Donald Trump’s efforts to undermine Democratic governors who are defying his call to reopen the country before it is time.

The controversial remarks were a reflection of where many Trump supporters stand on the issue. They don’t want to be locked inside, and small groups of them are starting to rebel.

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With COVID-19 still taking a deadly toll on America, their actions could mean only one thing. These people have selfishly decided that the personal freedoms they enjoy are more important than protecting the health and safety of those who are most vulnerable to the virus.

Across the country, officials have struggled to get people to stay at home, despite evidence that it would save lives. Last week, small groups of pro-Trump protesters in Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, Kentucky, Minnesota, North Carolina and Utah took to the streets denounce the shelter-in-place orders. Over the weekend, people flocked to reopened beaches in Florida. On Monday, thousands rallied in Harrirsburg.

Thousands rally to reopen Pennsylvania in front of the Capitol Building in Harrisburg, Monday, April 20,2020.
John A. Pavoncello photo

As far as these folks are concerned, the country isn’t in this crisis together. Every man, woman and child is on their own.

Many of us were rightfully outraged by the blatant disregard for human life demonstrated by Dr. Phil and Dr. Oz. We saw through their thinly veiled message that a virus that kills mostly old people and African Americans isn’t important enough to jeopardize the freedoms of the majority.

Phil McGraw, an unlicensed psychologist, suggested that the fallout from shutting down the country because of COVID-19 would be more devastating in the long term than the death toll. He questioned why we’re so concerned about the coronavirus when more people die each year from car crashes, smoking and drowning.

Many Americans have been quietly wondering the same thing.

“Two hundred fifty people a year die from poverty, and the poverty line is getting such that more and more people are going to fall below that because the economy is crashing around us, and they’re doing that because people are dying from the coronavirus. I get that,” McGraw said.

“The fact of the matter is we have people dying, 45,000 people a year die from automobile accidents, 480,000 from cigarettes, 360,000 a year from swimming pools, but we don’t shut the country down for that, but yet we’re doing it for this? And the fallout is going to last for years because people’s lives are being destroyed.”

Forget that the number of drownings is wrong and that none of those causes of death is contagious and could have been prevented by a vaccine. Dr. Phil was telling Americans to get their priorities straight.

Of course, lots more people will die if the restrictions are lifted too soon. Dr. Phil was prompting us to remember whose lives are essential to America’s future and whose are expendable.

He challenged us to consider these questions:

What’s the big deal about impoverished people dying? Poor people always have had a shorter life span than those who could afford better lifestyles.

Why should everyone in America be punished because nearly 40,000 people have died from COVID-19? People lose loved ones all the time and the rest of us don’t have to suffer.

Why should people who are healthy because they’ve taken care of themselves be treated the same as those who haven’t? The majority of Americans aren’t going to contract the virus anyway. Even if they do, they’ll recover because the important people in America have access to excellent health care.

Dr. Mehmet Oz, a former heart surgeon, told Fox News’ Sean Hannity that reopening schools was an “appetizing opportunity,” given that it may “only cost us 2 to 3% in terms of total mortality.”

Let’s not kid ourselves. He’s talking about black and Hispanic children. They comprise the overwhelming majority of public school students in urban areas where the virus is most prevalent, and are most likely to suffer from chronic lung diseases such as asthma.

In other words, he seemed to say, let’s sacrifice poor minority kids in order to “get our mojo back.”

“Let’s start with things that are really critical to the nation where we think we might be able to open without getting into a lot of trouble,” he said. “I tell you, schools are a very appetizing opportunity.”

Such an idea shouldn’t be all that shocking. America’s education system abandoned black children a long time ago. Schools in predominantly minority neighborhoods always have been substandard compared with suburban schools, where students are mostly white and affluent.

Society has never cared whether black children received a quality education. Let’s not act as if we didn’t know that without a good education, black teenage boys are likely to turn to violence and kill each other off.

Dr. Phil and Dr. Oz were reminding us that it’s ridiculous to suddenly start worrying about these throwaway populations when the future of the entire country is at stake. It’s time, instead, to focus on the greater good.

These men built successful careers by making a mockery of the things that most affect people’s lives — infidelity, family dysfunction, weight, drug addiction and raising children. They allow viewers to escape their own dire circumstances by peering into the lives of others who seem much worse off.

It’s an escapism that some segments of our society find appealing. Dr. Phil and Dr. Oz know these folks better than some of them know themselves.

So when these Trump surrogates say there’s nothing wrong with looking out for No. 1 during the pandemic, some idiots will listen because it’s exactly what they want to hear.

— Dahleen Glanton is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune.