Most of the country woke up on Friday, Oct. 2 to the news of the President of the United States testing positive for COVID-19. The uncomfortable truth of the matter, however, is that this sudden revelation should not be a surprise or shock. Donald Trump knew, he didn’t care.
As the president, Trump has access to untold intelligence and other resources that regular people don’t have. His vast—perhaps—wealth is enough to buy him the kind of queue-jumping access to medication that most of the general public does not have. He has even been given an experimental drug to speed his recovery.
Still, his attempts at obscuring the truth of the pandemic hint at a general disregard for anyone who is not himself. Conservative journalists, noting this, attempted to spin Trump’s new diagnosis as a sign of strength or virility, in one case likening his risky exposure to the public to a general in the trenches. What general would not only risk his own troops, but also the people he’s supposed to be protecting?
The fact that even a well-protected, heavily guarded politician can get it should be a wake-up call, but this lesson seems to be lost on many of his supporters who have maintained fire on former Vice President Joe Biden. Worse still are the continuing efforts by the Republican Party to overturn protective measures implemented in states around the country.
The question is what did they expect out of this risky behavior? Had the U.S. led on the matter the death toll here would be lower, certainly, but also throughout the world in places where American visitors spread the virus or where the country’s leader is trying to emulate the 45th president here in the U.S. The death toll from the U.S.’ own poor handling is immense, both here and abroad. Negligence like this does not stop at any border.
So, what did they expect?
In some ways, Trump’s response to COVID-19 mirrors his response to his presidency in general, throwing himself eagerly into situations where people he surrounds himself with are suddenly unknown to him when they’re found to be a political liability, like his position on masks. Masks manage to be both good and bad, depending on that day’s press, but as a personal rule he seems to be against wearing masks when with allies, even when it’s clear that one of them has legitimately caught COVID-19.
This kind of meandering logic that guides Trump is no doubt a defense mechanism by the president to avoid being on the wrong side of an issue while still seeing himself as a towering, unassailable figure. This kind of God-Emperor Trump worship by some in far-right circles is clearly just a reflection of his own ego and belief in his invincibility. Yet, it’s this kind of thing that gets hundreds of thousands of people killed.
Will the same kind of follow-the-leader flocking to his side apply to sensible measures that have been proven to reduce the spread and severity of the virus throughout the world? Perhaps Trump’s mocking of Biden for wearing a mask was just a harsh barb and he’ll take the lead on wearing masks, taking basic precautions that will cause more people to do the same.
The number of people close to him that are now sick is a shock—the fact his Supreme Court nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, previously had COVID-19 is a shock. There just isn’t anywhere in the executive branch that has escaped what is now looking like a major super-spreading event.
The best thing Trump’s team can do right now is to not just model good behavior, he’s got to come out and declare what the best practices are, how to curtail this pandemic. He has the tools, he has the knowledge at hand, he simply needs to act. If his treatments prove to be effective he needs to ensure everyone has access to these.
Until he can stand in front of the American people and tell them what’s actually happening and how to stop it, he’s simply trying to buy himself time while the rest of the country faces this virus without the strong leadership it needs.