Americans awaken this morning to the grave news that President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump have tested positive for the dreadful coronavirus that has killed more than 207,000 people in the U.S. and brought the U.S. economy to its knees.
The news came the way that so much of the news from the White House does: in a tweet early Friday from the president himself. Trump wrote that he and the first lady had tested positive for the coronavirus (he noticeably did not call it the “China virus”) and declared: “We will begin our quarantine and recovery process immediately. We will get through this TOGETHER!”
No matter how you feel about Trump’s performance as president — and we feel pretty strongly that it has been a disaster — this is another crisis for a nation reeling from a year that almost seems apocalyptic: Trump’s impeachment, COVID-19, a popular outcry over racial injustice, the deaths of John Lewis and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, catastrophic wildfires. And now this: A reckless president whose irresponsibility has endangered not only himself and his family but the stability of the country by throwing the executive branch into chaos. Another crisis, this one fully of Trump’s own making.
The president may not be showing COVID-19 symptoms yet. His physician later said Trump was feeling well and would continue his presidential duties. But the fact is that Trump is at particular risk of severe illness and death by virtue of his age: He is 74, and also obese. We hope he doesn’t find out how much worse COVID-19 is than flu, but it’s a real possibility for which we must be prepared.
Furthermore, how many others in the White House have been infected? We have now learned that one of Trump’s closest aides, Hope Hicks, experienced symptoms and tested positive for the coronavirus Wednesday. Astonishingly, Trump went ahead with an indoor fundraiser at his New Jersey golf club. Considering the lack of regard Trump and his aides have shown for the simple infection-control measures of social distancing and face masks, there’s no telling how many other people working in critical White House roles may have been infected.
In a way, this outcome was inevitable. From the start, Trump has downplayed the severity of the coronavirus, dismissing it as no more than the flu even when he knew full well that it was a serious threat. While other nations were launching serious and sustained testing and tracing responses to keep the spread of the virus in check, Trump dithered.
Worse still, the president politicized the pandemic, contradicting and sidelining his own health officials when they said things he didn’t want to hear. He undermined the federal agencies charged with fighting infectious diseases, including the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and urged governors to lift restrictions and reopen schools before state and local authorities deemed it safe. He packed unmasked supporters into rallies and shared so much bad information, pushing untested and questionable treatments, that a Cornell University study released Thursday pointed to Trump as the single largest driver of coronavirus misinformation. There’s no telling how many people have gotten sick or even died because of the president’s irresponsible actions. (After Trump bizarrely suggested that ingesting bleach might help, poison control centers reported a spike in calls.)
Apparently, Trump managed to even convince himself that the coronavirus was no big deal — rarely wearing a face mask in public and shamefully mocking those who do. During the first presidential debate on Tuesday, Trump derided former Vice President Joe Biden for wearing “the biggest mask I’ve ever seen.” Despicable.
Of course, we hope that the president and the first lady recover swiftly and fully — just as we hope the same for anyone unfortunate enough to be infected by a potentially deadly virus for which there is no cure or effective treatment. The odds are in his favor that they will, and not just because they will receive better healthcare than is available to most Americans. Most of those who are sickened with COVID-19 do recover, though it can take weeks for severe cases and though many people experience continuing ill effects.
Furthermore, we hope that this crisis will act as an object lesson for the nation about the dangers of pretending the coronavirus isn’t a real threat. If the most protected man in America can be infected, so can we all.