Trump gets Covid-19, now what?
By Lim Yun Hui, Guest Writer
When Donald Trump announced on 1st October that he and first lady Melania Trump tested positive for the coronavirus, the whole world seemed to come to a standstill. Even before the mainstream news outlets could break the news, social media users were informed of this issue firsthand from the President’s twitter account (@potus). With Trump’s infection, America has now joined the ranks of other countries, such as the United Kingdom and Brazil, whose leaders have similarly contracted the disease.
“Every time you see him, he’s got a mask”, President Trump had said to Joe Biden during the first presidential debate. Ironically, playing down the coronavirus has come at a heavy price – for both America (who has already witnessed more than 200,000 deaths) and the President. However, will this infection really change Trump’s ideology and incite a new plan of action towards fighting this pandemic?
From disinfectants to disinformation and pure denial, Trump has made exorbitant claims about the coronavirus. Refusal to impose lockdowns, delayed and inconsistent endorsements of mask-wearing and safe-distancing as well as downplaying the threat of COVID-19 in general have marked America’s response towards the pandemic. Now that he has gotten the virus, it seems unlikely that Trump’s management of the pandemic will change significantly.
If anything, it might serve to bolster his image and status. President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil tested positive for COVID-19 back in July. A mild case with few symptoms, his situation only served to reinforce his rhetoric that the virus was overly dramatized and not serious at all. Some even observed that his speedy recovery from the virus strengthened his image as a leader and ‘superhuman messiah’.
Thus, it would not be unexpected for President Trump to follow a similar trajectory, which he unsurprisingly has. Having left the hospital in just 2 days citing mild symptoms, he has since used this predicament to his advantage.
By showing up at the balcony of the White House and removing his mask, he effectively made a public statement that only serves to reinforce his previous beliefs that the disease is ‘not a big deal’. Disregarding the fact that he was still infectious and potentially signalling to the public that masks are not vital, the entire situation looked like a scene right out of political theatre.
Mask-wearing has become highly politicised in America in a way that it is not in other countries. The debate around wearing a mask or not is deeply influenced by strong sentiments of protecting personal freedoms and individual rights amongst a certain segment of the population.
It has become increasingly clear that Trump’s most fervent supporters will continue to believe in false narratives echoed by the President no matter what happens - that the virus is overblown by Democrats and will eventually fade away on its own. Hence, it is natural that they do not see the necessity of wearing masks, despite Trump’s recent diagnosis.
More worryingly, the responses following his contraction of the virus shows the dangers of echo chambers, confirmation bias and cognitive dissonance that permeate the political mainstream. Fox News reported that “If the virus can get into the Oval, into the body of the president, there’s no place where it could not possibly infect one of our fellow Americans”, calling on the country to fully open when it has recently surpassed 7 million cases, currently the highest in the world.
On the surface, Trump’s botched handling of the coronavirus pandemic puts COVID-19 as the single most important challenge to his presidency and America in general. Upon deeper analysis, COVID-19 has merely revealed and exacerbated the deep-seated problems that have long plagued the United States: a trust deficit, a partisan media and an increasingly fragmented society.
Whether or not the U.S. will be able to get through this multifaceted crisis will depend on good leadership and a strong, coordinated and coherent government response. At the end of the day, it is up to the Americans to decide what kind of president, and America, they want this coming November.
Yun Hui is a recent NUS graduate who majored in Political Science as an undergraduate. She previously served as a Commentary Editor for The Convergence. Currently working as an Associate Consultant in a strategy and management consultancy, she takes interest in understanding the diverse viewpoints presented by different writers and their thinkpieces. In another life, she hopes to be a photojournalist who is able to capture history in the making.