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 TrumpNorth Korea conducts potential 6th missile test in a month Kemp leading Perdue in Georgia gubernatorial primary: poll US ranked 27th least corrupt country in the world MORE — and hopes for his rapid and complete recovery — seem appropriate. As does the decision of Vice President BidenJoe BidenNorth Korea conducts potential 6th missile test in a month Clyburn predicts Supreme Court contender J. Michelle Childs would get GOP votes Overnight Defense & National Security — US delivers written response to Russia 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.” 


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. 

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 TrumpThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden clarifies his remarks on Russia Raskin: Grisham told Jan. 6 panel about 'names that I had not heard before' Grisham says former Trump officials meeting next week 'to try and stop him' MORE, Chris Christie, Kellyanne ConwayKellyanne ConwayPennsylvania Republican David McCormick launches Senate campaign McCormick drawing support from Trump alumni ahead of Pennsylvania Senate bid Christie says Trump, Meadows should have warned him of positive COVID-19 test MORE, Senator Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeSenate Republicans press federal authorities for information on Texas synagogue hostage-taker Put partisan politics aside — The Child Tax Credit must be renewed immediately These Senate seats are up for election in 2022 MORE, Senator Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisSenate Republicans press federal authorities for information on Texas synagogue hostage-taker Bipartisan Senate group discusses changes to election law There is a bipartisan path forward on election and voter protections 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 HicksPennsylvania Republican David McCormick launches Senate campaign McCormick drawing support from Trump alumni ahead of Pennsylvania Senate bid Fauci on Fox's Jesse Watters: He 'should be fired on the spot' MORE, Stephen MillerStephen MillerAre the legal walls closing in on Donald Trump? On immigration, President Biden needs a re-set The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden talks, Senate balks MORE, Ronna McDanielRonna Romney McDanielBiden's strategy for midterm elections comes into focus DNC hits GOP for having 'no agenda,' echoing Biden Romney says it 'would be nuts' for the RNC to block candidates from commission debates 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.”


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."