Since becoming infected with the deadly virus that has taken more than a million lives worldwide, U.S. President Donald Trump has recklessly downplayed the seriousness of the threat — to himself, to those who have come into contact with him and to his country.
Even as a serious outbreak tore through the White House ranks this past week, exposing a situation devastatingly out of control, the expert medical and public health advice took a back seat and optics dictated the President’s approach to personal and national recovery.
The U.S. President poses a clear and present threat to himself and the health and security of his country. After experiencing low oxygen levels on Friday 2 October, the COVID-infected President spent three nights in Walter Reed Military Hospital where he was administered oxygen and a cocktail of experimental drugs, including remdesivir and the powerful steroid dexamethasone.
Unlike the President, the overwhelming majority of Americans, who annually pay far more than $750 in their federal income taxes, do not have access to world-class medical care or potentially ground-breaking new treatments. The uniqueness of Donald Trump’s experience with COVID-19, however, did not stop him from dangerously downplaying the serious and imminent threat of the virus to others, even in the face of more than 210,000 lives lost in the U.S. and counting.
‘Don’t be afraid of COVID. Don’t let it dominate your life,’ the President tweeted, undermining public health messages and sending a clear and irresponsible message that his populace could simply “beat it” by being a tough guy.
‘Don’t let it dominate you,’ he repeated on Monday evening in a video that promoted his return to the unusually empty White House:
‘We have the greatest country in the world. We are going back to work.’
The President’s fiction of normalcy is what has, so far, laid waste to American lives and livelihoods.
Kristin Urquiza, whose father died earlier this year from the coronavirus, said Tuesday on MSNBC:
“This man is the most dangerous person on the planet who's essentially telling the American public that our loved ones, people like my dad, Mark, who died, are suckers and losers for not having the immune system to overcome this virus... It's an insult.”
Norma, a 46-year old domestic worker and mother of three from New Jersey, told NPR that she had the coronavirus and lost her mother to it earlier this year:
“He’s mocking us, the working poor. He can't tell us not to fear the virus — we're living it.”
Everyone is suffering from the President’s failure to comprehend the imminent and serious threat posed by COVID-19 and those most vulnerable are losing their lives, jobs, income, education, healthcare and childcare because of it. This is not just a few people impacted, we are talking about millions.
Yet, on Tuesday, the President, ‘FEELING GREAT’, brazenly demonstrated his lack of concern for the impact the virus is having on American people.
First, he compared the pandemic to the flu and encouraged people to learn ‘to live with it’. His comments were removed by Twitter and Facebook for ‘spreading misleading and potentially harmful information related to COVID-19’, but not before they had been shared widely by media outlets, critics and supporters — demonstrating the immediate and harmful consequences of the President’s misinformation.
Scientific, medical and public health experts reiterated irrefutably that the coronavirus poses a far more serious threat than common influenza (for which there is also available vaccination for at-risk groups).
Given that President Trump told Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward back in February that COVID-19 is “more deadly than… even your strenuous flus,” his latest comments raise questions about the President’s current state of mind and fitness to lead.
Whether Trump is experiencing a state of confusion, a steroid-boosted series of rants or deliberately disseminating misinformation in service of his struggling re-election campaign, his reckless behaviour denies the magnitude of what is at stake for the country and all it is on track to still lose.
Second, the President announced on Tuesday that he had directed his administration to stop stimulus negotiations until after the election. This denied the millions of people who have lost their jobs, struggling small businesses, major airlines and the U.S. economy any immediate federal government relief. Tellingly, the stock market turned negative after the President’s tweet.
Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, mere hours before the President’s announcement, called for more fiscal stimulus to help the economy recover from the recession. In Powell’s view, backing off now would increase the inequality gap and weaken economic recovery.
The Chairman warned:
“Over time, household insolvencies and business bankruptcies would rise, harming the productive capacity of the economy, and holding back wage growth. Weakness feeds on weakness.”
The President’s rationale was that House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, had asked for too much money.
In his tweet, the President said he instructed Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell:
‘...to instead focus full time on approving my outstanding nominee to the United States Supreme Court, Amy Coney Barrett.’
Prioritising a potential future Supreme Court seat over presently suffering American lives and livelihoods disgruntled representatives even within his own party.
Republican Senator for Maine Susan Collins, who faces a tight re-election race, said in a statement:
‘Waiting until after the election to reach an agreement on the next COVID-19 relief package is a huge mistake.’
The President failed to put Americans first in their time of potentially greatest need and walked away from a critical opportunity to boost the United States’ economic recovery. Perhaps, this is to be expected from the “businessman” currently facing down hundreds of millions in personal debts about to come due.
The Dean of Brown University School of Public Health, Ashish Jha, told Axios that she had no doubt:
“...the failure to pass this [relief bill] will make it much harder to contain the virus in the fall and that means we will see larger outbreaks, more people getting sick.”
Dr Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, warned that without urgent mitigation, 400,000 Americans could be dead by the end of this year. By December, COVID-19 could be killing more than 2,900 people per day in the U.S.
Thousands more people do not have to die. The American people are only confronted by this grim prediction because their leader has consistently rejected a united, intelligent, science-led response strategy.
“Clearly, the White House is in complete disarray,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in response to the President’s tweet on Tuesday.
A White House outbreak: Who is taking responsibility?
Over the past week, a growing number of White House officials, staffers and members of the press core have tested positive for COVID-19. At least 11 of these individuals attended the President’s crowded Rose Garden event on 26 September for the nomination of conservative Judge Barrett to fill the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s liberal seat on the Supreme Court bench.
Alarming questions have been raised about White House responsibility for the outbreak, including what, if any, contact tracing the Trump Administration and campaign team are doing in follow up to the multiple, potentially super spreader events the president has attended recently.
The New York Times reported that the White House has not traced those who had contact with COVID-positive people at the Rose Garden event. The outbreak in the President’s backyard has coincided with Washington D.C. reporting the highest number of COVID-19 cases since June.
The President has held at least 15 in-person rallies since 1 September. Most violated federal CDC guidance and many violated state mandates on mask-wearing, social distancing and limits on the size of gatherings.
Tom Wolf, the Governor of Pennsylvania, a key battleground state, said in a statement that the President’s ‘decision to bring thousands of people together in a tight space in the midst of a global pandemic caused by an airborne virus is flat-out wrong’.
Even after the President’s Senior Advisor, Hope Hicks, tested positive for COVID-19, the White House did not take necessary precautions and the COVID-exposed President went ahead and attended his indoor political fundraiser in New Jersey anyway.
New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said the president behaved “recklessly” and “put lives at risk”.
Growing public distrust and a White House in quarantine
The latest political polls reflect growing distrust in the Trump Administration’s response to the coronavirus less than 30 days from the Presidential Election.
CNN’s polling for last Thursday-Sunday – the period following the first presidential debate and including the President’s hospitalisation with the coronavirus – showed that Democrat candidate Joe Biden had reached an unprecedented 16-point lead nationwide. While polls are not a safe indicator of outcome, what they do show clearly is that the legitimacy of the White House and the President of the United States are in a state of genuine crisis.
Since the President tweeted that he and the First Lady had COVID-19, the White House has provided scarce and at times contradictory information, particularly with regards to his current health status, treatment plan and the timing of his infection. The White House has admitted that the President was not tested every day.
On Wednesday, White House physician Dr Sean Conley described the president as “symptom free” but offered no further details about the President’s condition or treatment. Trump claimed the Regeneron “emergency use” antibody cocktail he received was a “cure”. No cure has been approved by the FDA.
The lack of information and transparency coupled with poor and mismanaged response protocols have presented an unprepared and irresponsible Trump Administration that is a clear and present threat to public health and national security.
A culture of recklessly downplaying the threat of COVID-19 has led to a White House and even a Pentagon in unprecedented quarantine.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff, responsible for the defence of the country are in quarantine this week after exposure to Vice Commandant of the Coast Guard, Admiral Charles Ray, who attended Judge Barrett’s Rose Garden event as well as another White House event the following day and subsequently tested positive for COVID-19.
Despite the dangerous consequences of downplaying the virus, the President and his administration have continued to play politics with science and invested in optics over American lives.
While Trump’s return to the White House from Walter Reed Hospital was tastelessly choreographed to showcase the return of a victorious war hero, many people saw only a fool. It was a pose associated with many of history’s most unmemorable dictators. On the Truman terrace, flanked by American flags, the COVID-contagious president removed his mask and saluted against the setting sun. He then walked into the White House unmasked and was greeted by staffers while fumigation crews cleansed the West Wing.
The Trump Administration’s choice of grandiose photo-op contrasted gravely with the chilling images of the thousands of empty, spaced out chairs that only the day before had lined the National Mall in meaningful remembrance of all those who had lost their lives to the coronavirus.
While the future remains uncertain and with so much hanging on the outcome of 3 November, an irresponsible White House and reckless President are a clear and present threat to the country.
Trump proclaimed on Wednesday of his bout with the coronavirus:
“I think this was a blessing from God that I caught it. It was a blessing in disguise.”
Claire McMullen is a lawyer and writer who recently completed a Masters in International Legal Studies at Georgetown University Law School in Washington DC.
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