With elections a month away, President Donald Trump said Friday he had contracted the potentially deadly, and highly contagious, coronavirus.
The president’s early morning tweet effectively ended the bare-knuckle brawl that has passed for a U.S. presidential campaign.
Scheduled debates will probably end. Between now and Nov. 3, Trump will likely cancel any fundraisers, campaign stops, and risky rallies packed with unmasked partisans.
Even as Americans pray for Trump’s recovery, they should not mourn the passing of a presidential campaign that, from the rip, generated more heat than light. In recent weeks, it degenerated into a national embarrassment, an obscene and irrelevant shouting match between two candidates that failed to inspire the nation or clarify and confront the hard-knock issues facing the American people.
Given the president’s unrestrained campaign style, it’s surprising he didn’t contract the coronavirus earlier. On numerous occasions, Trump publicly downplayed the dangers of COVID-19. His refusal, or reluctance, to practice and model safety practices, such as wearing masks and social distancing, helped spread a disease that has infected more than seven million Americans, and killed more than 200,000 of them, the world’s highest death toll.
Trump should not take all the blame for the thousands of decisions, made at all levels of government, that undermined U.S. public health efforts, including when and how to re-open local economies and schools. State and local elected leaders and, ultimately, the people themselves, made those tough choices. Often, they didn’t choose wisely; COVID-19 cases are rising again in many parts of the nation.
Now, concerns are mounting, here and abroad, about the president’s ability to handle the enormous demands of the presidency.
Trump’s age — he’s 74 — and obesity increase the president’s health risks. If Trump remains asymptomatic, however, or outwardly unaffected by the disease, he must not use his good fortune to downplay the impacts of the disease. That would show a reckless disregard for the nation’s health and welfare, given the myriad of ways the coronavirus affects people.
Among the most toxic legacies of this year’s presidential campaign is the politicizing of a grave public health issue that science, not politics, should inform. With Trump’s political future uncertain and his campaign at a standstill, the president has an unprecedented opportunity to rise above the politics of the moment and act like a true leader.
Unshackled from the campaign’s incessant demands, Trump can make an enormous difference simply by humbling himself and acknowledging that some of his public remarks on COVID-19 were wrong, misleading, or even dangerous. He can urge all Americans to practice the precautions outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and other scientists. Nations that have adopted such practices have fared far better than the United States.
Trump also should commit to full transparency in contact tracing efforts to determine how the president and his entourage were infected, and who they may have exposed. Such efforts are important in learning how to contain COVID-19.
Exercising the collective discipline needed to suppress contagion requires cooperation and mutual respect, two virtues now in short supply in this fractured nation. Trump can help heal those divisions by encouraging people to think rationally about COVID-19 — and act accordingly.
For the nation and Trump’s presidency, this is a defining moment. With the humility that comes from true strength, the president must seize it.