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Trump's illness doesn't absolve him of responsibility

Trump's illness doesn't absolve him of responsibility
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Public expressions of concern about President TrumpDonald TrumpBiden to hold virtual bilateral meeting with Mexican president More than 300 charged in connection to Capitol riot Trump Jr.: There are 'plenty' of GOP incumbents who should be challenged MORE — and hopes for his rapid and complete recovery — seem appropriate. As does the decision of Vice President BidenJoe BidenHouse Democrats pass sweeping .9T COVID-19 relief bill with minimum wage hike Biden to hold virtual bilateral meeting with Mexican president More than 300 charged in connection to Capitol riot MORE to suspend the dissemination of negative campaign ads. That said, as we approach the presidential election — and what is likely be a deadly fall and winter — it is also appropriate to remember the danger posed by Coronavirus super-spreaders and to acknowledge that President Trump is the super-spread-in-chief.

We now know that by early February, Trump had been briefed about the real dangers of COVID-19. National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien warned Trump at the end of January that the Coronavirus would be “the biggest national security threat you face in your presidency.” Matt Pottinger, O’Brien’s deputy, knew that asymptomatic individuals spread the disease. “You just breathe the air and that’s how it’s passed,” Trump told Bob Woodward at the beginning of February. “It’s also more deadly than even your strenuous flus. This is deadly stuff.”

Nonetheless — rather than preparing the federal government, governors, and the American people for a deadly pandemic — President Trump said to the public — again and again — that “the Coronavirus is very much under control.” 

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Within a couple of weeks, he declared — on Feb. 26 — that infections in the United States are “going to be close to zero.”

“It’s going to disappear,” he predicted on Feb. 28 as the stock market began to react to news of the virus spread, “like a miracle.”

President Trump did not push the recommendations of his own CDC for combatting the virus. He indicated on April 3 that wearing a mask was voluntary: “You don’t have to do it… I don’t think I’m going to be doing it.” On July 19, the president declared, “I don’t agree with the statement that if everybody wears a mask, everything will disappear.” Trump politicized mask-wearing, social distancing, and restrictions on indoor activities. He encouraged his followers to “liberate” states with Democratic governors. He mocked Joe Biden for wearing a mask.

According to a study completed in May, 36,000 lives could have been saved and 700,000 infections avoided if federal, state, and local governments had implemented “measures enforcing social distancing and restricting individual contact” on March 8 instead of March 15 — 54,000 lives and 1 million infections had those measures been put in place on March 1.

Near the end of a deadly summer, with total fatalities nearing 200,000, the University of Washington Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation predicted that if 95 percent (instead of 50 percent) of Americans began to wear masks, 100,000 fewer would be dead by Jan. 1. 

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It’s no mystery why the United States has one of the highest per capita Coronavirus fatality rates in the world.

Whether they contracted the virus at a rally (as Herman Cain may have done), from a gym, tattoo parlor, packed bar or restaurant, a (mask-free) social gathering, or a biker convention, President Trump’s supporters have almost certainly put their health — and the health of those around them — at risk in part because of the disdain Trump has exhibited for public health measures that have proven to be effective and because of Trump enabling and, at times, encouraging their reckless behavior.

At the presidential debate in Cleveland, Trump’s family and the guests he invited refused to wear masks, breaking the ground rules set for members of the audience.

Last week, the president may well have presided over a super-spreader event: a reception for Judge Amy Coney Barrett in which participants mingled, hugged and kissed on the cheek, few of them wearing masks. To date, Melania TrumpMelania TrumpJill Biden picks up where she left off The Hill's 12:30 Report: Biden navigates pressures from Dems Former first lady launches 'Office of Melania Trump' MORE, Chris Christie, Kellyanne ConwayKellyanne Elizabeth ConwayGeorge Conway calls for thorough Lincoln Project probe: 'The lying has to stop' Claudia Conway advances on 'American Idol,' parents Kellyanne, George appear The swift death of the media darlings known as the Lincoln Project MORE, Senator Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Key vote for Haaland's confirmation | Update on oil and gas leasing | SEC update on climate-related risk disclosure requirements Haaland on drilling lease moratorium: 'It's not going to be a permanent thing' Overnight Health Care: US surpasses half a million COVID deaths | House panel advances Biden's .9T COVID-19 aid bill | Johnson & Johnson ready to provide doses for 20M Americans by end of March MORE, Senator Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisMcConnell backs Garland for attorney general GOP senators demand probe into Cuomo's handling of nursing home deaths CNN anchor confronts GOP chairman over senator's vote to convict Trump MORE, Kayleigh McEnany, and Notre Dame President John Jenkins have contracted the Coronavirus. Others in the Trump orbit who have tested positive (but who did not attend the Rose Garden event) include his long-time aide Hope HicksHope HicksUPDATED: McEnany, Fox News talks on pause Trump selects Hicks, Bondi, Grenell and other allies for positions Trump lawyer Jenna Ellis tests positive for coronavirus MORE, Stephen MillerStephen MillerTrump reemerges to legacy being erased by Biden Pence huddles with senior members of Republican Study Committee Sunday shows preview: CDC school reopening guidance stirs debate; Texas battles winter freeze MORE, Ronna McDanielRonna Romney McDanielTrump to attend private RNC donor retreat Juan Williams: The GOP is a party without ideas RNC launches 'Committee on Election Integrity' MORE, Chair of the Republican National Committee, and Campaign Manager Bill Stepien.

Although Trump knew that Ms. Hicks, who had traveled with him to Minnesota the previous day, had tested positive and that several staff members were pulled from his plane, he went ahead last Thursday with a fund-raising event in Bedminster, New Jersey, attended by some 300 people, several of whom noticed that the president exhibited “cold-like symptoms.”

In a video tweeted from Walter Reed Medical Center on Sunday, President Trump said he had “learned a lot about the novel coronavirus,” declaring “I get it.” It’s worth noting that as Mr. Trump took a limousine ride to greet his supporters on Sunday (with Secret Service agents and the driver unable to social distance), the First Lady reportedly indicated she would not visit her husband at the hospital because she did not want to expose the agents who would drive her there to the disease. And, as he announced he was leaving the hospital on Monday, Trump opined, “Don’t be afraid of COVID. Don’t let it dominate your life.”

Makes you wonder what exactly it is that President Trump “gets” about a virus that has killed more than 210,000 Americans — more than 70 times the number killed on Sept. 11, 2001 — since March.

Imagine for a moment if George W. Bush had told us then, “I get it… but don’t let the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon dominate your life.”

Imagine.

Glenn C. Altschuler is the Thomas and Dorothy Litwin Professor of American Studies at Cornell University. He is the co-author (with Stuart Blumin) of "Rude Republic: Americans and Their Politics in the Nineteenth Century."