The wildest presidential campaign in modern US history just got even wilder with the news that Trump and his wife Melania have tested positive for covid-19 and are showing symptoms. Given that he constantly downplayed the dangers of the pandemic, mocked taking safety precautions like wearing masks, while at the same time boasting about how well he had dealt with the pandemic, this development has to come as a serious blow to that strategy. The news followed close Trump aide Hope Hicks testing positive yesterday after showing symptoms on Tuesday when she was part of the entourage that went with Trump to Cleveland for the debate. Trump’s chief of staff Mark Meadows said that the Trumps’ symptoms are mild but given the low credibility of Trump spokespeople, one can be forgiven for not taking those words at face value. Trump is very overweight and is 74 years of age, two big risk factors when it comes to the severity of the disease.
There is now a scramble to see who else was in contact with Trump in recent days.
Over the past five days the president has behaved with the same reckless disregard for public health rules that has characterised his response since January to the global coronavirus pandemic.
Viewed with hindsight, his meetings during the last week look ill-judged, to say the least. On Monday, Trump appeared in the White House’s Rose Garden.
His audience was made up of members of Congress and state officials. Few wore masks. Neither did Trump or the vice-president Mike Pence, who followed the president to the podium. Other administration officials who were present included the health secretary, Alex M Azar, and the education secretary, Betsy DeVos. Earlier, Trump inspected a truck on the south lawn and met manufacturers from Ohio.
On Tuesday, Trump boarded Air Force One en route to the debate in Ohio. With him was a large entourage. It included members of the Trump family: his wife Melania, adult children and senior staff. Also there was his trusted aide, 31-year-old Hope Hicks. Since joining his campaign in early 2015, Hicks was often at Trump’s side. She returned to his administration in spring, following an earlier spell as press secretary.
Trump’s family watched the debate from the audience. None wore masks. This show of support for the president was – it seemed – transgressive. And in clear breach of host rules, which called for blue surgical masks to be worn. A Cleveland clinic doctor in a white lab coat had even tried to approach Trump family guests, offering a mask. She was unsuccessful. Someone shook their head at her as she came close, according to a press pool report.
The chair of the Republican National Committee Ronna McDaniel has also tested positive.
Trump has repeatedly mocked Biden for wearing a mask and keeping a distance from people and did so again in Tuesday’s debate. Here he is doing so multiple times in just the last week. Taking his lead, White House staff did not wear masks at work, even if they were working in close proximity to one another. Even though Hicks tested positive on Thursday, Trump still went on a campaign fundraising trip after that news and did not wear a mask, further endangering others. There were reports that Trump looked tired and fell asleep on the plane returning from Cleveland and at the New Jersey fundraiser he appeared lethargic, suggesting that he was showing symptoms even before his own positive test. To go ahead with the fundraiser and not practice simple safety precautions such as wearing a mask and socially distance was sheer recklessness and shows a callous disregard for the safety of others. The people at the fundraiser are reportedly freaking out at the news.
Joe and Jill Biden have tested negative but the virus can lie low for a couple of days before showing up in tests and so you will have to see the results of re-testing in a couple of days before others can be reassured. The Bidens have wished the Trumps a speedy recovery. Given that Trump is an awful human being, you can only imagine how Trump would have reacted if the roles had been reversed and it was Biden who had tested positive. Trump and his supporters would jumped up and down in glee and possibly suggested that Biden was faking it to use as an excuse to avoid the next debate because he was scared because, in the fever swamp of their minds, Trump had done so well in the first one.
Actually, you don’t need to imagine how Trump would have reacted. Here is Trump’s disgusting reaction back in October 2016 when Hillary Clinton was laid low with pneumonia.
Donald Trump mocks Hillary Clinton over her pneumonia outbreak pic.twitter.com/feHjV6cLDa
— The Telegraph (@Telegraph) October 2, 2016
Trump’s recklessness in dealing with the pandemic and his mocking of scientific expertise and the taking of simple, commonsense precautions is well documented. What Trump and his supporters refuse to accept is that science deals largely with probabilities, not certainties. By taking some actions, you can reduce the chances of getting the virus, by flouting them you increase the chances. By refusing to take the steps recommended by scientists, Trump was, out of sheer ignorance and bravado, needlessly stacking the odds against himself and encouraging his followers to do the same. It was all so unnecessary.
It is telling that when Trump tweeted that he had tested positive, he referred to the disease by its proper name COVID-19, in contrast to when he is talking about it at other times or when other people get it. Then he refers to it as the ‘Democrat hoax’ or the ‘kung flu’ or the ‘China virus’. I wonder if any reporter will ask White House spokespeople about Trump’s condition using one of those alternative labels. Probably not. Most people are decent human beings.