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 John TrumpStephen Miller: Trump to further crackdown on illegal immigration if he wins US records 97,000 new COVID-19 cases, shattering daily record Biden leads Trump by 8 points nationally: poll MORE — and hopes for his rapid and complete recovery — seem appropriate. As does the decision of Vice President Biden 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 TrumpSchumer calls Trump 'a moron' over coronavirus response Melania Trump gives rally remarks in rare joint appearance with the president The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Election night could be a bit messy MORE, Chris Christie, Kellyanne ConwayKellyanne Elizabeth ConwayMelania Trump gives rally remarks in rare joint appearance with the president Melania Trump focuses on coronavirus in return to campaign trail McEnany appears on Fox in 'personal capacity' as Trump campaign adviser MORE, Senator Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeGeorgia Republican Drew Ferguson tests positive for COVID-19 Trump says ex-staffer who penned 'Anonymous' op-ed should be 'prosecuted' White House to host swearing-in event for Barrett on Monday night MORE, Senator Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisThe Hill's Campaign Report: Trump, Biden barnstorm the Midwest | Texas sets statewide turnout record | Trump, Tillis trail in NC North Carolina Democrat Cunningham leads Tillis by 10 points in new poll Georgia Republican Drew Ferguson tests positive for COVID-19 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 Charlotte HicksTrump says ex-staffer who penned 'Anonymous' op-ed should be 'prosecuted' Documents show Trump campaign ignored coronavirus guidelines at Duluth rally: report Trump aide won't get into whether Trump has done debate prep MORE, Stephen MillerStephen MillerStephen Miller: Trump to further crackdown on illegal immigration if he wins McEnany appears on Fox in 'personal capacity' as Trump campaign adviser Documents show Trump campaign ignored coronavirus guidelines at Duluth rally: report MORE, Ronna McDanielRonna Romney McDanielSunday shows - Spotlight shifts to positive tests among Pence aides Republican National Committee chair warns of 'most progressive, radical takeover of our country' if Biden wins Sunday shows preview: Trump, Biden gear up for final sprint to Election Day 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."