Donald Trump’s diagnosis, treatment, and reaction to COVID are perfect examples of why the United States, despite its vast resources and cutting-edge treatments, has not seemed to be able to handle the pandemic. First, there were the continuing rallies, with scenes like this one out of Tulsa, with no social distancing and very few masks (I count 4 mask wearers in this picture):
At these rallies, Trump kept himself socially distant from the crowd, so he may have been safe, but it would have been surprising if none of the attendees came down with the virus. And indeed, in the 30 days following the rally, Oklahoma overall reported a tripling of the number of new COVID cases per day, to 513. One of these was Trump supporter Herman Cain, who tested positive on July 2 and died of COVID-19 on July 30. Of course, there is no way to know for sure that the spike in cases was partly due to the Tulsa rally, or that Cain contracted the virus at the rally, but the sequence of events would have given most people pause. Maybe large, frequently indoor, events are not prudent during a pandemic.
Trump, however, sees these events as necessary to his appeal. After having lower than expected turnout in Tulsa (partly due to a rather silly, sink-to-his-level stunt by Trump opposers who’d flooded the campaign with ticket requests), Trump went ahead with a “Students for Trump” rally at a megachurch in Phoenix on June 23, and continued to hold events, in which he generally downplayed the virus, throughout the summer. Although he has paid some lip service since June to being “OK with masks,” in his September 30 debate with Joe Biden, the President mocked Biden for wearing masks too much:
The message is clear. Wearing a mask makes you weak. He has consistently depicted “Sleepy Joe” Biden as old (at 3 years older than Trump), feeble, and weak. Trump believes that to appeal to his base, he must appear strong, stronger than the virus. So when it was announced on Friday that he’d tested positive for the virus, it was not a particular surprise. On September 26, there was an indoor, maskless reception for the President’s Supreme Court nominee, Amy Coney Bryant. As of this morning, there were at least 13 attendees who’d contract the virus (one since the linked article), leading many experts to suggest that it was a superspreader event. It certainly had all the right ingredients. We have yet to see how many, if any, of these people end up with serious cases of the virus, but it seems reasonable to think that some of them will at least require some extra care. Former New Jersey governor and rabid Trump apologist Chris Christie, who attended the reception, has checked himself into the hospital as, he says, a “precautionary measure,” but reports only mild symptoms. It’s difficult to know if he really does have “only mild symptoms” or if he is trying to match the President in being “too tough for COVID.” He remains in the hospital as I write this. The problem is that for every Chris Christie, there are a hundred MAGA-hat wearing followers who also believe that wearing a mask is weak, or worse, some kind of un-American act. They are also the people who refuse to socially distance and who show up at Trump rallies. And generally, they don’t have the resources to take care of themselves the way Christie and Trump are able to. They also go about their lives and end up infecting more people in their communities.
Which leads me to my next point. Donald Trump almost intentionally contracted COVID-19 and still got this entire team of doctors looking after him and a luxury suite in Walter Reed Hospital:
He also has access to the latest treatments and experimental drugs. The average person who contracted COVID generally did so before the risk was even known, or because they were forced into a position of risking it to hold onto a job (which, I guess, is what Trump thinks he’s doing) or to help others. They then had to worry about copays and deductibles while the economy was getting worse. If they were on insurance through the Affordable Care Act, they were probably counting their lucky stars that they were covered, even though they’d be left with thousands in hospital bills under most of the plans. I see the army of doctors marching into the hospital, and I see the suite they’ve set up with a desk and flags so that Trump can appear “presidential,” all for what he is reporting as “mild symptoms,” and I think of all the people who couldn’t say goodbye to loved ones, all the people who were told to stay home until their symptoms got bad, and it makes me sick. His risks were not the Churchillian risks of staying in London during the Blitz to provide a role model for his people. His risks were taken for campaign purposes.
But Trump believes, and it seems he is right, that a good portion of his base likes this kind of grandstanding. They feel reassured by seeing his team of doctors. He thinks it make him appear stronger. He believes that he is more important than the average person, and he thinks his base feels that way, too. Thus the drive-around. It wasn’t enough for the President to give a speech in his makeshift Oval Office. In a highly criticized move, he decided to take a car ride outside the hospital to wave to supporters. Accompanied by members of the Secret Service, the President drove by the supporters who’d been standing vigil outside the hospital, calling them “great patriots.” As a result, everyone in his car now has to be quarantined for 14 days. But even more than the recklessness of the drive-by, what struck me, once again, was the rhetoric. People are “great patriots” because they stand outside his hospital room? Because only people who unquestioningly support him can be called patriots? Their reward is seeing the President drive by and wave? Does that sound like the ideals on which the United States was founded? Or does it continue the cultishness and non-democratic nature of his appeal?
When he left the hospital, after appearing to have suffered a rather mild version of the illness, the President again gave a speech in which he asserted he’d managed to beat COVID by being “a leader”:
In the Trumpian world, anyone who bends to the virus, who changes their behavior because of the virus, is weak. This is precisely the sort of message that has contributed to the high hospitalization and death rate in the parts of the US that are Trump country. It’s also a perfect lead-up for his tweet that he is ready for the second debate, well within the time frame in which he should be quarantining:
In the bullying style that has been a hallmark of Donald Trump’s campaigning and debating style, Trump’s spokesperson has said, “President Trump will be healthy and will be there. There’s no getting out of this one for Biden, and his protectors in the media can’t cover for him.” There’s that message again: Anyone who bows to the possibility of contracting a deadly disease is weak! Biden can’t hide!
Joe Biden has said that he is willing to debate if the President tests negative for COVID. I say don’t do it, Joe. Regardless of what Trump’s test supposedly says his status is. First, Donald Trump and the people around him have repeatedly lied about the circumstances surrounding the President’s COVID-19 diagnosis. Second, his family and friends refused to wear masks at the last debate, and no one made them do so:
How do we know these people will all follow the rules this time? Finally, Trump didn’t follow any of the rules of the debate last time, and Chris Wallace seemed helpless to make him follow them. Biden didn’t get to make a case for being President. And Trump’s case for being President seems to be asserting whatever he wants, despite the facts, and then calling names.
So far, Biden has said he won’t participate if Trump still tests positive. But throughout his short hospital stay, we were fed conflicting reports on Trump’s condition. How do we know his “test” will be accurate? If the Biden camp feels it must make an appearance, just to stop Trump from saying Biden won’t debate him, then it should be virtual. An advantage to this is that it might be easier to turn off Trump’s endless interruptions. It seems to me that anyone with sense knows that first debate was a useless train wreck. And anyone with sense knows it is not cowardly to take precautions during a pandemic. In fact, Biden should be screaming his sensible approach from the rooftops (at a safe distance): If we’d just taken a few precautions, worn masks, avoided unnecessary crowds, we probably wouldn’t have over 200,000 deaths. Biden already said that when Trump mocked him for wearing a mask. Keep hammering that home, Joe. The kinds of people who attend mass rallies during a pandemic and who stand outside a hospital to see their leader are never going to change their vote. Those of us who believe in science and reason will be disappointed in you if you appear in person. Don’t do it, Joe.