The news that President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump contracted COVID-19 serves as a reminder: This is why having an irresponsible man-child as president is a bad thing, irrespective of everything else.
It’s not that the president tested positive; that could be any president. But just two-and-a-half days ago, at the presidential debate, this president, who went months without ever wearing a mask, said he wears them only “when I think I need it.” He then mocked Joe Biden, saying, “Every time you see him, he's got a mask. He could be speaking 200 feet away from them and he shows up with the biggest mask I've ever seen.”
We now know it’s at least possible that Trump (although they kept a safe distance and did not shake hands) could potentially have infected his opponent. Who knows how many other people he came in close contact with before discovering he was infected. What about Amy Coney Barrett, who was with Trump on Saturday? The senators who then met with Barrett?
Of course, the debate (where Trump’s family was in the hall, unmasked) was far from the only time that Trump mocked responsible prevention or downplayed the seriousness of this pandemic. It’s easy to comb through his past statements like, “It’s only one person coming in from China. We have it under control,” “This is their new hoax,” and “One day, it’s like a miracle, it will disappear,” and be reminded how wrong he was.
It goes without saying that I wish the Trumps a speedy recovery. No decent person should wish for anything else. But that doesn’t excuse his personal irresponsibility. Already, there are consequences. Stock futures have plunged. It’s also not crazy to wonder how this might affect the election. Here’s one immediate question: Will there even be any more presidential debates?
I’m old enough to remember when he held a rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, subjecting thousands of supporters to the virus. Six Trump staffers tested positive for COVID-19, even before the event took place. One attendee, Herman Cain, later died of COVID-19 (though it’s impossible to know if that’s where he contracted it). And who could forget about the time when Trump was taking the controversial drug hydroxychloroquine, while touting its effectiveness as a preventative?
Another thing we don’t know yet is how bad this will get. At the risk of sounding alarmist or macabre, Trump is 74 years old, out of shape, and overweight. Could Mike Pence replace him on the ballot? People are already voting.
Or what if Trump were merely confined for a couple of weeks? If he has an easy recovery, he could gain something he’s never had: sympathy. And he’s already dismissed and downplayed the virus, and says that he took hydroxychloroquine even before he had it; imagine how irresponsible he might be after an easy recovery.
If he is hardly fazed by this, live Tweets his way through two “quarantine” weeks, and bounces back, then it could reinforce his tough image, downplay the seriousness of COVID-19, and maybe even make him seem sort of invincible. In that case, he’s Boris Johnson, or better.
Either way, we hardly need a scary new plot twist this close to Election Day. For months now, I’ve been toying with writing an “October surprises” column. Two of my potential scenarios were 1. A Supreme Court seat opens up, and/or 2. One of the candidates contracts COVID. Neither seemed terribly unlikely, and the notion that both would happen seemed absurd.
Amazingly, it’s October, we can only hope the other October surprises on my list (except the vaccine October surprise—assuming the vaccine actually works) never materialize.
As for this surprise, the impact on the election and the second order effects are almost incalculable. If this affects the polls in key states, it could really roil the politics of everything, possibly even the Supreme Court nomination. No matter what your politics are, a chaos president is a negative.
There are few things more important or precious to the stability of a nation than a president’s health, and with this latest development, our nation’s health (mental health, at least) is stretched to the limit.
I’m left wondering how much more could happen between now and November 3. More importantly, I’m left wondering this: How much more could we take?