The president of the United States has contracted the coronavirus, the deadly and highly infectious contagion that has killed more than 210,000 Americans and more than 1,000,000 people worldwide.
Even when it does not kill the person it has infected, the virus can do significant damage to several organs and lead to significant impairment for weeks, or even months, after the initial, life-threatening symptoms subside. Because of this impact on a person’s health, it should be a major concern to every American that their president has been stricken. For the same reason, compassion and sympathy should be shown to anyone who comes down with the disease.
Yes, that means anyone with whom you may have enormous disagreements – not just in terms of their politics, but even when it comes to their personal behavior and comportment. That means we should all be wishing for a complete and rapid return to health for everyone afflicted by COVID-19, including those people in the White House and on Capitol Hill with whom we disagree. Yes, that means even the person who may be responsible for directly spreading the virus to so many members of the administration: the president himself.
That compassion does not require us to overlook the ineptitude with which the Trump administration has addressed the pandemic. It does not require that we pretend so many deaths – which were otherwise preventable, had there been a competent response – have not occurred. It doesn’t require us to ignore the callous and cavalier attitude that led to those deaths, nor does it necessitate a cognitive dissonance regarding the cruel irony of the person who has undermined the effectiveness of the few defenses we have against infection, himself, coming down with the disease.
It was inevitable that this would happen, given the disdain demonstrated by most people working in the White House for things like mask wearing and social distancing. While entirely avoidable, the president’s exposure to the virus was simply a matter of time because of the arrogance that is the defining trait of this president and of those in his inner circle. They ignored warnings from scientists, reports from doctors, and the obvious evidence of the seriousness of the situation that kept mounting right in front of their very own eyes. It has now caught up to them. As of this writing Monday morning, 23 people – the president included – had tested positive.
On top of it all, the propensity of the president to try to hide information does not seem to have been reduced. Americans are still wondering what the president’s true condition is. The information available is ambiguous and contradictory. And it is likely the public never would have known about the virus running rampant in the West Wing had it not been for reporters uncovering it. At the very least, it may have only become known after the president himself became so sick that he had to be taken to Walter Reed – only after the situation could no longer be denied. Americans deserve to know the health status of their president in these circumstances. That is especially true during an election.
It is possible to be simultaneously critical of the president’s failures in dealing with the threat of the pandemic and to hope that he recovers from the effects of it. A major reason why we find ourselves where we are as a nation is because of a lack of compassion and empathy in our leadership. We should not perpetuate or amplify that problem now by allowing our frustrations and justifiable anger to prevent us from preserving those qualities in ourselves. Get well, Mr. President.
Jason Nichols is District 2 Democratic Party chair, an instructor of political science at Northeastern State University, and former mayor of Tahlequah.