Act III, Scene II: The Myth and the Plague
For the moment I know this: there are sick people and they need curing.” –Albert Camus
The arc of Donald Trump’s business and political career finally collapsed on the 1,355th day of his administration. The COVID-19 pandemic shattered the myth and nearly killed the man.
On Oct. 6, 2020, Trump was like Mao after his swim in the Yangzi, or Hitler after the July 20 Plot. He strode out onto the White House balcony to send a message.
He was still alive and still in charge.
Trump was dressed in his presidential blue blazer, white shirt and red tie. But his pancake makeup was discolored and uneven. His right hand was visibly bandaged from intravenous tubes. His breathing was halting and raspy.
He stood at attention and pulled off his surgical mask in a dramatic gesture, another Riefenstahl moment in an administration full of them.
He could have been square with the American people. He could have told about his own fear of dying. Instead, he simply lied.
“Feeling really good!” the president tweeted.
“Don’t be afraid of Covid. Don’t let it dominate your life. We have developed, under the Trump Administration, some really great drugs & knowledge. I feel better than I did 20 years ago!”
In those early days, when the virus was just becoming known, Trump had a choice to make; level with the American people or play the angles in a bid to save his own re-election.
Like much of his life when he faced adversity, he chose the expedient way out; he lied and dissembled.
Trump and right-wing Fox News talking heads went absurdly overboard dismissing the danger of COVID-19.
It was as if President Roosevelt addressed the nation after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and wished Hawaii well in its war with Japan. After all, it wasn’t the president’s responsibility. Hawaii wasn’t even a state!
But, if by chance Hawaii won, why, he would gladly step in and take credit.
Of course, that never happened, but it is an accurate reflection of the Trump administration’s response to the COVID crisis.
Trump’s negligence as president became more-and-more glaring as the COVID-19 pandemic raged. He not only failed to act when he should have to curb the virus, he continued to mismanage the crisis.
As the pandemic grew exponentially around the globe, Trump spun an alternate reality of lies, deceptions and denials that significantly delayed the U.S. response and put tens of thousands of citizens at risk.
With confirmed cases of the coronavirus escalating rapidly, government officials almost overnight shut down large sectors of the economy in February.
“I don’t take responsibility at all,” Trump infamously said in March as the virus rampaged.
He said addressing the pandemic fell squarely on each state. The were left to scramble for scarce medical supplies without a coordinated national plan or widespread access to testing.
Trump failed to realize the pandemic and the economy were inextricably linked.
If Trump had only acted quickly, declared a national emergency, devised a nationwide plan to contain it and marshalled resources, serious economic damage could have been avoided and lives saved.
But he didn’t.
Instead, Trump saw it as a “blue state problem,” because the virus was more pronounced, at first, in states with ports of entry like New York and California.
“If you take the blue states out, we’re at a level that I don’t think anybody in the world would be at. We’re really at a very low level, but some of the states — they were blue states and blue-state management,” he said as late as September in a news conference.
What little national effort there was came in fits and starts. Trump, personally, was defiant and recalcitrant every step of the way.
He quarreled with his health experts, refused to wear a mask until he was cajoled into it, ignored social distancing and required the same from his cabinet officials.
His gullible supporters followed suit, turning masks into a political issue.
In June, Trump held his first COVID re-election rally at the BOK Center in Tulsa, Ok. Supporters tightly packed the arena with few masks and no social distancing.
It was the first Trump rally since the February shutdown. It quickly became a super-spreader event. Tulsa’s health director reported nearly 500 new cases of Covid-19,“likely tied to the event.”
Longtime Republican and former presidential candidate Herbert Cain attended and did not wear a mask. He died from a COVID-related illness four months later.
It should have been a grim warning. But Trump was undeterred. He lobbied governors to reopen their economies, despite rising cases, and continued holding rallies.
Republican governors largely complied, Soon the virus became a red state problem, surpassing New York, which had driven cases down.
Trump acted like he was immune. He wasn’t. At two White House events, participants were packed tightly together and few wore masks.
COVID-19 caught up with him and more than a dozen members of his staff.
Trump was admitted to the hospital less than 24 hours after he announced that he and first lady Melania Trump tested positive.
For 72 hours, his condition was touch-and-go. A team of doctors battled to contain the virus. Trump reportedly asked: “Am I going to be one of the diers?”
He had a high fever. His oxygen level dropped Friday morning, requiring supplemental oxygen to help him breathe.
His oxygen level fell again on Saturday. He was dosed with dexamethasone, a steroid used to treat serious lung conditions, in addition to an experimental monoclonal treatment and the anti-viral drug Remdesivir.
It was enough to get the man back on his feet. But COVID had shattered the myth.