On Friday, October 2, the news channels were inundated with the Breaking News of US President Donald Trump and the First Lady of the United States, Melania Trump’s COVID-19 infection. Barely three days earlier the US President taking part in the first Presidential debate between him and the candidate of the Democratic Party, Joe Biden had mockingly talked about Joe Biden’s mask: “the biggest mask I’ve ever seen.” Many members of the Trump camp at the debate, including the First family, did not bother to wear masks. Consistently, President Trump flouted COVID-19 protocols. He attended rallies and events where the same protocols were ignored. Veteran journalist Bob Woodward, in his most recent book, Rage, has disclosed that whereas the President was aware of COVID-19 as far back as February 2020, he made light of it, chose to “play it down”, because he didn’t want to spread panic and fear. More like Mr. Trump wanted to show that he is a macho man, a Superman. He encouraged denialism. He refused to listen to the scientists. At some point, he even took over the job of the scientists and began to announce prescriptions for COVID-19. His usual victim in that regard is the top US physician, Dr. Robert Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the most recent being Dr. Robert Redfield, the Director of the Centre for Disease Control.
From his promotion of Hydroxychloroquine to his dismissal of COVID-19 as a common flu, it is ironic that President Trump is now in “a mortal battle” with COVID-19. He has also put his wife at risk, in the same manner in which he put the lives of over 214, 000 persons who have died from COVID-19 related complications in the United States at risk. US COVID-19 sero-prevalence is over 7.6 million. Nine states are witnessing a second wave of the deadly disease, including the state of New York which crawled out of being the US epicentre of the disease, but has now had to impose new restrictions. President Trump’s COVID-19 infection is self-inflicted. He is paying a price for his own carelessness, and has imposed on the country that he leads uncertainty and the possibility of chaos. Trump is an old man of 74. He has underlying medical conditions. Can you imagine the President of the United States dying in an election season, less than a month to a Presidential election? Trump’s mishandling of the COVID-19 situation in the United States is a threat to US national security. It is a threat to the security of the world! Already, the Speaker of the Parliament in Taiwan, You Si-kun has expressed the view that President Trump must remain alive, and get better, so he can continue to help check-mate the excesses of China. We also want him alive, and we join others in wishing him and the First Lady of the United States, speedy recovery. Mr. Trump’s paternal grandfather, Friedrich Trump, died during the Spanish flu in 1918. We do not wish him the same fate.
But there are lessons and implications that should be stressed. President Trump is the most powerful man in the world. He is also the most protected American alive today. If he can come down with COVID-19, then the point is proven again that we are all vulnerable in the face of this contagious disease that has no cure, and respects no persons. The question right now is: how many persons in the White House and around the President are infected? The spread of a pandemic within the highest levels of government in the United States is enough to cause panic. President Trump is not the first American President to fall ill in the White House. In 1955, President Dwight Eisenhower had a heart attack. The public was told he had a stomach upset! President John F. Kennedy struggled with chronic back pain and Addison’s disease.
The natural instinct is to cover up the truth about the President’s health. In July 1893, the then President of the United States, Grover Cleveland disappeared. He had a non-malignant tumour, diagnosed as epithelioma, and was smuggled out to sea for a secret surgery. It was too risky politically to announce any form of weakness in the White House. A newspaperman, E.J. Edwards, got wind of the story and blew the whistle. He was branded a liar, and dismissed as ‘a disgrace to journalism”. It took more than a century before the truth came out. In 1919, President Woodrow Wilson came down with the Spanish Flu. The public was told the President had a cold. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt suffered polio. It was carefully managed. It should therefore not be surprising that in 2020, a certain political theatre has been built around President Trump’s COVID-19 infection. He was admitted into the Walter Reed Military Medical Centre on Friday after two sharp drops in his oxygen level, and confirmation that he had high fever. By Sunday, the Superman Trump had recovered well enough that he even made an impromptu appearance in the form of a drive-by in the course of which he waved at his fans who had besieged the Medical Centre.
Dr. James Phillips, one of his physicians has described that political stunt as an “act of insanity”. He says the “irresponsibility is astounding.” Dr. Phillips cannot be more correct. After a pattern, President Trump continues to play politics with COVID-19. He puts the lives of others at risk. He misleads the country and the world. There is a collapse of protocol and standards around him. His handlers short-change the American people by dropping the ball. They have allowed themselves to be brow-beaten by a President who is both a bully and an egoist. They are all so overwhelmed by his personality they would just allow him to get away with anything, even when national security is obviously compromised. By Monday, we were already being told that Mr. Trump will be back in the White House. I don’t envy Sean Conley, the White House Physician. He must be having a hard time. But he and his team owe Americans a duty to tell the truth about the President’s health condition, and to ensure there are no further stunts that make no sense. And if we may ask: is President Trump directing his doctors? When the President of the United States checks into the Walter Reed National Military Medical Centre, is he an infectious disease patient looking for help, or the Commander-in-Chief of the hospital?
US stock futures contracted following the announcement of President Trump’s infection. Markets in Europe and Asia posted the same response. The Democrats made heavy capital out of it. We were told the Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden had tested negative. In the polls he further jumped ahead of President Trump, with a double-digit lead. In another poll, 65% of Americans reportedly believe that Trump would not have been infected if he had been more careful. The only good news is that deadly as COVID-19 is, it is not actually a death sentence. Trump is not the first Head of State and Head of Government to contract it. Jair Bolsonaro (Brazil), Juan Orlando Hernandez (Honduras), Jeanine Anez (Bolivia), Prince Albert II (Monaco); Alexander Lukashenko (Belarus), Nikol Pashinyan (Armenia), Alejandro Giammattei (Guatemala), Boris Johnson (United Kingdom) all contracted COVID-19 and survived. Burundi’s former President, Pierre Nkurunziza wasn’t so lucky. But persons older than Mr. Trump despite the established revelation that the elderly are more vulnerable, have also managed to beat the disease: Bill Lapschies, 104, US; Ada Zanusso, 104, Spain; Geneva Wood, 90 years; US; Alma Corsini, 95, Italy; William Kelly, 95, US; Joseph Zhu Baoyu, 98, China, Italica Grondona, 102, Italy…
As President of the most powerful country in the world, there is little doubt that President Trump and his wife will get the best care possible. Every effort must be made to ensure that he gets that care and he must be restrained from any kind of reckless conduct. There have been conspiracy theories about Mr. Trump’s COVID. I have heard the view that this is all a contrivance to gain sympathy for the November 2020 Presidential election. I disagree. It will be the height of insanity for any one to play that kind of politics, and to be supported in doing so by the entire American establishment. What may happen is that Mr. Trump will survive COVID-19, and he will exploit that politically to tell every one that he is indeed a Super Man who has beaten COVID and will now also beat the rival he refers to as “sleepy Joe”. Except that Joe Biden is not sleeping. He wants Americans to vote Trump, a disruptive and divisive President, out of the White House. He is fully awake. And he showed that during the first Presidential debate when he trounced President Trump on all counts: composure, maturity, depth and decorum. Every step must be taken to restore President Trump to full health, so that he can take the sure defeat that awaits him on November 3, 2020, with his full chest, alive and well, on his feet. Another good news, though, is that when it was reported on Sunday that his health had begun to improve and that he would return to the White House on Monday, US Stock futures rose by more than 100 points. Trump Watch has become a market-moving barometer.
The year 2020 will go down in history as the year of illness and death. But the biggest test that the world has faced in every sphere is the test of character and leadership. Leaders are expected to show example, empathy, strength and support, but this has been difficult for many. There is no leader that has received any prior training in the management of COVID-19. It is an accident of our century, even if we have no idea what the future holds. Nobody is invincible, not even the President of the most powerful country in the world. What we know however is that the countries that have done better managing COVID-19 are the countries whose leaders have shown great discipline and commitment, and by the way, those leaders are mostly women: Mette Frederiksen (Denmark), Tsai Ing-wen (Taiwan), Jacinda Arden (New Zealand), Sanna Marin (Finland) Katrin Jakobsdottir (Iceland), Erna Solberg (Norway), and Angela Merkel (Germany). The ones who have not done well are mostly men: Donald Trump (United States), his protégé and imitator, “the Trump of the Tropics” - Jair Bolsonaro (Brazil), Narendra Modi (India), Viktor Orban (Hungary), Vladimir Putin (Russia), John Magufuli (Tanzania). The women leaders have something in common: empathy and love, and being pro-active and risk averse. The men also have something in common: they are arrogant, offensive, and divisive. They think they know it all and they have more than often in the course of the crisis and uncertainty that COVID-19 has brought along endangered the lives of the people they lead and their own lives as well. National leaders can make a difference. Mr. Trump’s COVID-19 infection should be a reminder of the importance of responsible leadership and conduct, and the fact that nobody, not even a President, is above the rules.