Trump’s Covid Response Has Always Been Cruel and Unusual

He’s putting the recovery, the nation’s public health, and his own staff at risk

Donald Trump returns to White House from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on October 5. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

The day Donald Trump won the presidential election, I knew it would be bad: for women, for immigrants, for the poor and struggling, for people of color, for America’s security and its reputation around the world.

But I didn’t think we’d be hit with a plague. And I certainly didn’t think the president, a notorious germaphobe, would be so reckless with his own health that he would refuse to take basic precautionary measures against the virus, a negligence which would result in him first contracting it and then turning his own body into a bioweapon, loosing himself and his illness on friends and foes alike. But now that this all is happening, the story is a predictable one: The president, who has the best health care in the world, uses his vaunted platform to put millions of lives at risk by telling Americans there’s no need to worry about an infectious disease still sweeping the planet; the president, a man who holds no loyalties and seems to feel no sense of shame or empathy, knowingly puts his family, his staff, and dozens of members of his political party at immediate physical risk; and the president, never one to miss an opportunity, uses a devastating pandemic and economic collapse to stealthily erode civil liberties and basic American values while he utterly fails to protect Americans’ health.

His staffers enable him even as he threatens their health and their lives. His party applauds even while he undermines supposedly cherished democratic traditions and institutions.

Already, Trump has claimed he could be immune to coronavirus, even as he is still infected with it. He took to Twitter to tell his followers, “Don’t be afraid of Covid. Don’t let it dominate your life” — cold comfort to the 210,000 Americans, and more than one million people worldwide, who have lost their lives to this disease. While he enjoys round-the-clock care that his paltry $750 tax payment is not subsidizing, his administration continues to support a lawsuit now in the Supreme Court that could strip some 20 million Americans of their health insurance and make the one-quarter of Americans with preexisting conditions suddenly unable to find affordable health insurance, or wholly uninsurable. Though he’s sick, he remains employed and his health care costs remain covered, a privilege that millions of Americans don’t have. And unlike so many Americans caught up in a catastrophic economic collapse, he has not worried about being able to feed his family or keep a roof over their heads — the American taxpayer is footing that bill. And yet he has done virtually nothing to make sure that the rest of us can pay our rent, buy groceries, or even stay physically safe.

After leaving the hospital against medical advice, Trump stripped off his mask and returned, heavily medicated, to the White House, where he continues to put at risk everyone from Secret Service officers and high-level staffers to cleaners, cooks, and dishwashers (since March, more than 120 workers at the Capitol complex have reportedly tested positive or are believed to be positive). And that’s after it became clear that there is a Trump White House cluster, and that more than a dozen people in the president’s orbit are now sick, including his wife, his campaign manager, multiple aides, his press secretary, several senators, multiple religious leaders, and the chairwoman of the RNC. Typhoid Trump has nevertheless said he plans to debate Joe Biden next week, even though doctors say he could still be contagious. His White House is refusing to contact trace the event with Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett that seems to have spawned what just might be the largest Covid-19 super-spreader episode Washington, D.C. has seen.

Now that Trump has been weakened by Covid, he’s doubling down on the strong man routine.

Some members of the administration and the Republican Party are taking this as seriously as they should. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other military leaders were exposed to Covid-19 and are quarantining now, for example. But many others are not. Vice President Mike Pence, who has been in close contact with the president and many others who currently have Covid, is still planning to debate Democratic vice-presidential candidate Kamala Harris tonight. When she requested a plexiglass barrier — a very basic and very common-sense measure to decrease the risk of disease transmission — his team mocked her.

Before Trump contracted Covid-19, he was already exploiting it. He used the virus as a pretext for virtually ending asylum in the United States, a remarkable and unnecessary act of cruelty (he has also used his time on the stump to froth up hate and anger toward refugees — people fleeing conflict, crisis, and catastrophe and needing shelter in the United States). He signed an executive order that purports to ban sex- and race-based stereotyping, but just blocks many companies and organizations from holding diversity training or encouraging racial sensitivity and gender equality in the workplace — and stifles free speech to boot.

Now that he has been weakened by Covid, Trump is doubling down on the strong man routine. It’s tough to pick the most egregious decision he’s made, but one tops the list this week: On Tuesday, Trump tweeted that House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi asked for a $2.4 trillion bailout package to help the hundreds of millions of Americans who continue to struggle because of the Covid-fueled downturn, “I have instructed my representatives to stop negotiating until after the election when, immediately after I win, we will pass a major Stimulus Bill that focuses on hardworking Americans and Small Business,” went his extortionate demand. It was outrageous, if totally in character. He was trying to hold Americans hostage. Vote for him and he’ll help you out in a month. Don’t, and prepare to suffer until at least 2021.

Naturally, it backfired, and in response to widespread criticism, Trump quickly walked his blackmail back, saying he would sign a stand-alone bill to send Americans $1,200 stimulus checks. But $1,200 doesn’t cover even a month’s rent in a big city and does nothing to keep struggling businesses afloat or Americans physically safe.

Trump’s response to this public health crisis couldn’t have sent a clearer message: The president doesn’t care about his staff, his co-workers, or even his own family. And he certainly doesn’t care about you.

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