After Donald Trump acknowledged that he’d tested positive for the coronavirus, a political strategy slowly took shape in Republican circles. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), for example, made the case that the president could emerge from the crisis “humbled,” focused on policy solutions, and emphasizing “the human side” of the pandemic from a personal perspective.
Trump’s re-election team was thinking along the same lines, seeing the president’s health crisis as an opportunity for the Republican to demonstrate the kind of empathy he’s failed to show throughout his term.
Trump clearly has a very different approach in mind. On Twitter yesterday, the president not only announced his premature departure from the hospital, he also told the public not to be “afraid of” the deadly virus that’s claimed the lives of 210,000 Americans. He soon after returned to the White House, where the still-contagious president took off his mask in a performative way and re-entered the building.
The Republican then recorded a video message and released it via social media. After praising the Walter Reed Medical Center and its staff, Trump told Americans:
“I learned so much about coronavirus and one thing is certain, don’t let it dominate you. Don’t be afraid of it. You are going to beat it. We have the best medical equipment, the best medicine, all developed recently. And you are going to beat it…. Don’t let it dominate. Don’t let it take over your lives. Don’t let that happen.”
This is profoundly dangerous advice. Telling people who may very well die from the virus, as 210,000 Americans already have, that they’ll “beat” the coronavirus is, as one doctor put it, “crazy” and “utterly irresponsible.”
Note also how Trump suggested that everyone will have equal access to “the best medical equipment” and “the best medicine,” which is simply not the case.
In the same video, the president went on to suggest he might be “immune” from the virus, which is also completely bonkers, especially given the aggressiveness of the recent medical response to his ailment.
But what struck me as truly extraordinary was Trump’s suggestion that his infection is worthy of praise.
“We’re going to be out front. As your leader, I had to do that. I knew there’s danger to it, but I had to do it. I stood out front. I led. Nobody that’s a leader would not do what I did. And I know there’s a risk, there’s a danger, but that’s OK.”
In other words, the president sees his infection as evidence of his leadership. He “stood out front” and contracted the virus, as if he were taking one for the team.
By any sensible measure, this is as delusional as it is insane. As a matter of governance, Trump failed spectacularly, mishandling the pandemic in every possible, from undercutting public health authorities to misleading the public about the severity of the crisis, from spreading misinformation to failing to provide personal-protective equipment, from politicizing the science to failing to offer clear public guidelines.
But as a matter of personal responsibility, the president’s behavior was equally indefensible. He was needlessly reckless. And arrogant. And careless. And selfish. He demonstrated an indifference to the safety of those around him, and an eagerness to ignore those who knew what they were talking about.
Trump took risks with our security and the institution of the American presidency, of which he is currently a steward, but which does not belong to him.
Trump’s infection is evidence of a profound failure. The fact that he’s pretending otherwise reflects not only a dangerous amount of confusion, but an obscene eagerness to deceive.