Terry H. Schwadron
Oct. 3. 2020
That Donald and Melania Trump should test positive for what was described as a relatively mild case of coronavirus seems both sad and avoidable, of course, the inevitable and ironic result of snubbing the presidential nose at mask-wearing and physical distancing.
It is what it is, after all.
That the White House and the Trump campaign were not forthright about learning that close adviser Hope Hicks had been found positive and went ahead with fund-raisers and lots of contacts for a day without taking precautions is reprehensible.
Amid calls for recovery were notes of open disbelief over whether the news as announced was true, questions about medical status, and a chaotic race to reach scores of people with whom Trump and Hicks had contact over the previous four days, and worry about exactly how the government is functioning as a result, to say nothing of the effects on elections.
Indeed, the White House never acknowledged the Hicks contagion for at least a full day after learning it and needlessly exposed a bevy of others to the illness should make people sit up and hold someone responsible. Opponent Joe Biden tested negative after contact with Trump at the Tuesday debate, but two senators, White House staffers and guests and three journalists at White House events are now ill.
Through the day, as Trump was moved to Walter Reed Hospital, it sounded as if Trump were more ill than acknowledged. But then again, it was hard to tell: The White House is controlling the information.
Public health enforcement
I could not help but compare these circumstances with the earlier days of HIV/AIDS, when some with that illness who continued to practice unprotected sex ended up facing criminal charges of homicide or attempted homicide and assault. Criminal transmission of HIV is now better known as HIV non-disclosure, which is the criminal punishment for not disclosing an HIV positive status.
What exactly is different here?
There are 37 states with laws that criminalize HIV exposure in cases where those testing positive intentionally infect others — or simply fail to notify contacts. Some states even extend criminality to undisclosed status in blood donation or amp up prostitution charges.
In other words, when it came to HIV/AIDS, our Law & Order administrations took it seriously.
By contrast, in the case of coronavirus, a global pandemic, the Trump administration occasionally talks about masks, and then goes out of its way to avoid mask-wearing or physical distancing in its campaign rallies, in White House gatherings, in meetings. The White House steps on its own coronavirus medical advisers when they contradict him and promote mask-wearing.
Obviously, Team Trump has actively resisted public health enforcement by either the federal government or states and localities, arguing that anything that slows down the economy will be worse for Americans. Trump and allies have made clear — and made political — the idea that church-going outscores any acknowledgement of contagion and that mask-less campaign rallies are more important than public safety.
Somehow, Team Trump succeeded in turning mask-wearing into more a political statement about standing with him and about a weird sense of independent masculinity than about public health. Hey, I may want to drive 90 miles an hour on the freeway, but I recognize that there are posted speed limits for safety reasons.
In lieu of a fully organized government effort to control the pandemic, we have an anemic, spotty approach left to states that has resulted in more than 200,000 American deaths. That it would find its way even inside the White House, where Trump has presented himself as uniquely resistant to any hint of disease, or actually, questioning of any sort, was inevitable.
This is the same Donald Trump that has ordered his people to lean on the Centers for Disease Control to water down warnings about contagion to school children and families. This is the same Trump that is now allowing cruise ships — with their long history of contagious respiratory disease — to go back to full operations. This is the same Trump that has put his faith and trust in political operators over scientists.
Theis is the same Trump who has preached the discredited use of hydroxychloroquine or injecting bleach as coronavirus treatments, and same Trump who has insisted that drug companies produce an effective vaccine in time for Election Day. This is the same Trump who knew in January that we were facing a deadly pandemic and kept that news to himself — and then delayed rolling out a full anti-disease effort. This is the same Trump who blames Democratic governors and mayors for spiraling disease numbers, and who thinks we have too much coronavirus testing.
Are we surprised that he should contract the illness? Frankly, no, however sorry it makes us feel for him.
But the news also angers, because these results were completely avoidable.
Our narcissistic president, who has declared himself the only person possible to fix what ails us, could have lived as many of us have without intentionally infecting others.
When Boris Johnson, the British prime minister, went through coronavirus, he came out of it with a renewed respect for public health and mask-wearing. We can only hope that Trump can do so as well.