Trump failed to protect us, and himself
"We have it totally under control ... It's going to be just fine."
— President Donald Trump, Jan. 22
The president of the United States, the most powerful man in the world, has COVID-19. He failed to protect the country and then failed to protect himself.
The consequences of Donald Trump's hubris and apathy, for him and about 7.3 million other Americans who've been infected, have been dire. Lives have been upended and 208,000 of them were lost. A nation sitting atop what appeared to be a sophisticated public health apparatus and economic juggernaut has been unspooled. Social and political divisions have come to a boil. Racism's stranglehold on the American experiment has become more overt. And the man who most embodies the conflicts and otherworldliness of 2020 now watches his political future, his personal well-being and his monarchical sense of entitlement, circumscribed by a virus wearing a crown.
"It's going to disappear one day. It's like a miracle − it will disappear," Trump, Feb. 27.
One of the many ironies of Trump's tenure in the coronavirus era is that he's a self-described germaphobe. He avoids shaking hands and is easily alarmed — and often disgusted — by anyone showing the slightest symptoms of common colds. Hope Hicks, a White House aide, was often in charge of Trump's Purell bottle when they traveled together.
"This is a very contagious virus. It's incredible. But it's something that we have tremendous control over," Trump, March 15.
On Thursday evening, Bloomberg News disclosed that Hicks had tested positive for COVID. She had traveled with Trump to his Tuesday debate with Joe Biden in Cleveland and joined him for a rally in Minnesota the following day. Team Trump paraded into the debate forum without masks and refused offers from a local doctor to give them face coverings.
"I wore one (a mask) in the back area. I didn't want to give the press the pleasure of seeing it," Trump, May 21.
As the pandemic gained momentum, Trump began bullying federal health and research institutes such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institutes of Health and the Food and Drug Administration. Battered and bruised, they offered inconsistent or incorrect advice to the public and became part of a larger push by Trump to dismiss the severity of the pandemic, which severely hobbled the federal response to the crisis.
With public health experts pushed back on their heels, Trump also waged war against the most commonsense tools the public could use to combat the virus, such as masks. In short order, refusing to wear thin strips of cloth became, for broad swaths of the country, a don't-tread-on-me symbol of resistance to an overweening federal government intent on pickpocketing people's liberty.
"This thing's going away. It will go away like things go away," Trump, Aug. 5.
When Trump hosted the Republican National Convention on the White House lawn in August, neither he nor most of those in attendance wore masks. Attendees were packed together in lawn chairs, including senior members of Trump's cabinet, mask-less, cheering and not socially distanced.
"We do them outside, we have tremendous crowds, as you see … We had no negative, no negative effect. We've had no negative effect, and we've had, 35, 40,000, people at some of these rallies,” Trump, at debate, Sept. 29.
Trump is older and obese, two factors that make him more vulnerable to COVID-19.
"Tonight, @FLOTUS and I tested positive for COVID-19. We will begin our quarantine and recovery process immediately. We will get through this TOGETHER!" Trump tweet, Oct. 2.
Overseas financial markets were rattled by the news that Trump and his wife Melania were infected, and U.S. stock futures plunged. Hearings for a new Supreme Court justice may be delayed, and there are new uncertainties about negotiations for a federal virus relief package.
Vice President Mike Pence, who has tested negative, would take the reins if Trump is unable to function.
Trump's White House doctor told reporters that he expects the president to continue doing his duties, albeit while being quarantined at home with his wife. Trump is a survivor and has been able to power over hurdles before. But for now, reality has caught up with the reality-TV star.
Timothy L. O’Brien is a senior columnist for Bloomberg Opinion.