President Donald Trump in the back of a car in a motorcade outside of Walter Reed Medical Center, where he’s getting treatment for Covid-19. | Alex Edelman/AFP via Getty Images
Trump’s drive-by motorcade photo-op is out of the same coronavirus playbook that got America into this mess.
If President Donald Trump has learned anything from getting sick with Covid-19, he’s not showing it.
Since Trump’s diagnosis last Thursday, he and his administration have worked diligently to cover up the president’s disease. They’ve downplayed his symptoms. They’ve suggested he needed to be hospitalized not due to his apparently high fever and low oxygen levels but out of an abundance of caution. They’ve posted videos and photos of the president doing normal things. Even the president’s own doctors have taken to politicized spin, arguing that they were trying to be “upbeat” as they refused to fully and truthfully answer questions about Trump’s health.
On Sunday, it culminated in a photo-op in which Trump was driven outside Walter Reed hospital as he waved at supporters — exposing at least a driver and passenger in Trump’s car to his infection. As James Phillips, attending physician at Walter Reed, tweeted, “That Presidential SUV is not only bulletproof, but hermetically sealed against chemical attack. The risk of COVID19 transmission inside is as high as it gets outside of medical procedures. The irresponsibility is astounding. My thoughts are with the Secret Service forced to play.”
This is all out of the same playbook Trump has used for Covid-19 from day one. It’s an attempt to make everything seem normal, as if the coronavirus isn’t wrecking lives, in a desperate attempt to go back to a better world that could help ensure Trump’s reelection. As Trump told journalist Bob Woodward, “I wanted to always play [the coronavirus] down.”
Trump has stuck to this even as it’s put people in danger again and again, now even after he’s gotten sick himself. He’s called for states to reopen — to “LIBERATE” them — even as experts warned that opening too soon would lead to new cases (and, sure enough, cases spiked over the summer as states opened prematurely). He’s pushed for less testing, arguing more tests pick up more cases and therefore make the US look bad, even as experts said more testing, along with contact tracing, is still needed to slow the outbreak. He’s mocked masks and frequently refused to wear one himself, even as experts and a growing body of research show masks are key to stopping Covid-19.
This obsession with creating a false sense of normalcy seemingly extended to the moment that Trump received a positive coronavirus test. As the Washington Post initially reported, and White House staff confirmed, Trump attended campaign events on Thursday even after he and his staff learned one of Trump’s closest aides, Hope Hicks, was showing symptoms. That continued, based on recent reports, as some staff noticed Trump seemed fatigued and likely sick himself. In doing this, Trump likely exposed his own staff and supporters to Covid-19.
A potential silver lining to Trump getting sick was that maybe this would show him how serious this virus is — that it’s real, that it can make people very ill and kill them. Trump alluded to that in a video on Sunday, claiming, “I learned a lot about Covid. I learned it by really going to school. This is the real school.” Despite that, Trump was back out Sunday for the drive-by photo-op that potentially exposed his staff, at least, to the coronavirus.
This is all ridiculous, of course, because we already know Trump is sick and hospitalized. This is obviously not normal.
And we know the consequences of this act. It’s how the US ended with nearly 210,000 Covid-19 deaths so far — more than any other country in the world. It’s how the US ended up, after accounting for population, at the top 20 percent among developed countries for Covid-19 deaths. (If the US had the same Covid-19 death rate as Canada, more than 125,000 more Americans would likely be alive today.) It’s why America can’t go back to normal, even as countries like Germany, New Zealand, and South Korea open up more, as it faces far too many coronavirus cases — almost 100,000 new cases just since Trump tested positive.
It’s why Trump himself got sick. As he lived his denial, going to ill-advised campaign rallies and events, frequently refusing to wear a mask, Trump exposed himself to the coronavirus again and again.
And it’s all set to continue — as Trump and his staff’s barrage of mistruths and political spin over the weekend proved.