Like so many of the horrors that have emerged from Donald Trump’s presidency, Trump’s most recent catastrophe — his COVID-19 infection — is largely one of his own making that could have been avoided with due care. Unfortunately, Trump’s response to this extraordinary circumstance has been to follow the tried and true directions of his presidential playbook: “How to Take a Disaster and Make it Worse.”
Trump has had more opportunity to avoid contracting COVID-19 than probably any person on the face of the planet. His aides test virtually every stranger before they come into contact with him. He has unlimited access to personal testing. And Trump does not have to wait the eight days it took me to get my test results.
Trump hasn’t had to spend months online searching Amazon, Walmart and Target for hand sanitizer, toilet paper or disinfecting wipes. And in order to feed his family, Trump hasn’t spent eight hours a day ringing up groceries, two feet away from an endless line of strangers wearing their face masks as chin straps.
Trump’s disinformation campaign
What Trump has done is falsely tell the public that: 99% of coronavirus cases are “totally harmless;” it will “disappear” like a “miracle;” and children are “virtually immune.” Trump has also: Blamed President Barack Obama for a virus that did not exist when Obama was president; refused to fully implement the Defense Production Act to produce desperately needed protective gear; and told the Center for Disease Control and Prevention to reduce testing because the “numbers” made him look bad.
It wasn’t enough for Trump to discourage the use of masks that protect against viral transmission by simply refusing to wear one himself. Trump has brutally ridiculed people who wear masks, including former Vice President Joe Biden. And when governors imposed life saving measures to stem the tide of a virus that was ravaging their citizens, Trump tweeted “LIBERATE!” — encouraging his supporters to ignore safety protocols and increasing the likelihood they would contract the virus and transmit it to others.
Most of us feel empathy for the smoker who gets lung cancer, but not for the cigarette company CEO who contracts the disease after spending decades lying to the public in an effort to convince them to ignore the dangers of smoking. Donald Trump is the Philip Morris of coronavirus. In February, when things could have been contained, Trump told Bob Woodward the virus is deadly and easily transmits through the air. Then Trump did everything in his power to undercut efforts by public health agencies to save lives. He downplayed” a lethal threat to make things appear under control, in order to boost his reelection chances.
Trump’s malfeasance is not simply historical. The events surrounding Trump’s own infection are steeped in the same reckless arrogance that has left more than 210,000 Americans dead. All signs point to the White House Rose Garden party on behalf of Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett as ground zero. The event 10 days ago was attended by Trump, Hope Hicks, Kellyanne Conway, Kayleigh McEnany and several others who have since tested positive for COVID-19. Video showed attendees packed shoulder-to-shoulder with hardly a mask in sight. But there was lots of hugging, hand-shaking, and Conway whispering in Attorney General William Barr’s ear.
The Barrett soirée took place on the Saturday before the first presidential debate. If Trump became infected there, the virus was exponentially multiplying when he arrived in Cleveland on Tuesday, too late to be COVID tested before standing maskless on a debate stage for 90 minutes shouting at Joe Biden.
Trump privilege was on full display at the debate. The first family and their guests took off their masks, in violation of the debate rules set by the hosts, and refused to put them back on when asked to do so. Instead of apologizing after the spate of positive tests, Trump adviser Steve Cortes doubled down Sunday and defended the decision to jeopardize others in the audience as a “individual choice.”
Hold him in prayer and accountable: Trump COVID-19 diagnosis reveals yet another way he has corrupted our national life
Hicks was already COVID symptomatic when she and Trump flew together to and from a campaign event in Minnesota last Wednesday. By Thursday morning Hicks tested positive for COVID-19. Instead of disclosing Hicks’ test so people could take precautions for themselves and others they had contact with, the White House hid the news until the press broke the story, according to Bloomberg News.
Trump put his donors in jeopardy
Despite knowing that he had been exposed to coronavirus by Hicks, Trump flew to New Jersey on Thursday where he met indoors, without masks, with 18 donors who each paid $250,000 for the privilege. Trump was awaiting his own test results Thursday evening, but he never disclosed to his donors that he had placed them in jeopardy.
Even after testing positive, Trump did not have the decency to reach out to the Biden camp to let them know they had likely been exposed to a deadly virus. Then, Trump and his team proceeded to hide his condition from the American public. On Saturday, a day after Trump was taken to Walter Reed Medical Center, White House physician Sean Conley downplayed Trump’s condition and amateurishly dodged questions about whether Trump had been placed on supplemental oxygen — he had, at least once.
Conley also said Trump knew he was positive for 72 hours. When a shocked press pointed out that meant Trump had knowingly exposed all he came into contact with between Wednesday and Friday, Conley walked back his statement. While Conley painted a rosy picture of Trump’s condition, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows described it as far more precarious.
Contracting Covid gave Trump a perfect opportunity to help his supporters understand the real life danger of the disease and to encourage them to follow safety rules to avoid it. Instead, before leaving the hospital Monday, he tweeted: “Feeling really good! Don’t be afraid of Covid. Don’t let it dominate your life.” Trump has alarmingly left his followers with the impression that if an overweight 74-year-old man can breeze through a course of the virus, with few symptoms, they can too.
COVID-19 and national security: We need an independent commission to monitor president’s health
To the extent anyone thought contracting COVID would change Trump for the better, they were wrong. Trump may be getting experimental coronavirus treatments not available to ordinary Americans, but Walter Reed could not supply an IV drip of the blind adulation that is his lifeblood. And so, in a quintessential act of selfishness, on Sunday Trump broke quarantine to go on an SUV cruise where he waved to his adoring fans who lined the street and cheered. But feeding Trump’s ego necessitated that two Secret Service agents accompanied him. Just the infected president and two innocent government workers hermetically sealed in a vehicle where they risked their safety for a Trump photo-op.
I’m not without compassion. But it’s reserved for: My sister’s 38-year-old best friend who disproved the president’s claim that coronavirus does not kill the young; for ordinary Americans who contracted the virus because they had to leave home to work in order to support their families; for the more than 1,700 health care workers who risked their lives to save others, and paid the ultimate price for their sacrifice; and for those who perished in an empty hospital room, where they said goodbye on an iPad, rather than in the arms of those they loved.
I know I’m going to be crucified as cold-blooded for this column. But four years of surviving Donald Trump has armored my heart. Anytime news reports of Trump’s illness prompt a twinge of feeling, I just watch the 2016 video of Trump ruthlessly mocking Hillary Clinton for stumbling, after she pushed herself to attend a 9-11 memorial ceremony while suffering from full blown pneumonia.
I can’t stomach the hypocrisy of calling Trump corrupt, racist and a threat to American democracy, and then putting on a sad face and publicly announcing I want him to quickly get back to it. And I can’t muster sympathy for someone who causes, and revels in, the pain and suffering of others. I just can’t.
Michael J. Stern, a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors, was a federal prosecutor for 25 years in Detroit and Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter: @MichaelJStern1
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Trump was arrogant and negligent on COVID. I have no compassion for him.