The fact that President Donald Trump was found to have COVID-19 and became sick enough that he was sent to a Navy hospital has put the pandemic back in the centre stage of the presidential campaign.
On October 6, Trump released himself from the hospital and returned to the White House, although he remains sick and highly contagious.
His trip provided many photo opportunities, culminating in his appearance on a White House balcony, ostentatiously removing his mask, and striking a pose in profile, jutting his chin out in a Mussolini-like manner, for the photographer.
He retreated without a mask into the White House, threatening to infect more people there than have already been infected.
He tweeted about his health a few hours before he left the hospital, saying he feels better than he has for 20 years. He also again downplayed the pandemic, saying that people should not be afraid of the disease and to ignore it.
The next day he returned to this theme, emphasising it. His message boils down to telling Americans not to protect themselves from the virus, ignore the guidelines concerning mask-wearing and social distancing, and tough it out, like he is doing.
This means accepting many more cases and deaths, openly proclaiming what he has hinted at since February.
He does not do this out of ignorance. We know from the interview he gave to Bob Woodward that Chinese President Xi Jinping had told him in February how dangerous the disease was, and that it is transmitted through the air.
Trump’s hospitalisation was compounded by the news that the White House has become a centre of transmission of the disease. People close to Trump have come down with it.
As of October 6, these include more than a dozen people. Among those testing positive are his wife, three Republican senators, a key aide, his press secretary, a former adviser, the Republican National Committee chairperson, his campaign manager, personal assistants, and the president of Notre Dame university.
Discredited former Republican governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie, helped Trump prepare for his September 26 debate with Joe Biden. Christie tested positive and had to be hospitalised.
The White House has now prohibited any contact tracing of those who came into contact with these infected persons and others in Trump’s inner circle, since that would cut across his message.
Trump has also vetoed guidelines set by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) concerning when a vaccine could be safely approved. He did this because those guidelines would preclude starting to inoculate people before the election, which Trump hopes could burnish his battered image and win more votes.
This will only raise already-widespread scepticism of anything the FDA says. The agency previously kowtowed to Trump’s denial of the pandemic science.
About 40% of the population said, even before Trump came down with the disease, that they would not get vaccinated. Unless enough people are convinced that any COVID-19 vaccine is effective and safe enough to get, the pandemic won’t stop.
Trump has vetted what his doctors are allowed to say about his condition. What they have said paints a rosy picture and is so contradictory that we don’t have a true picture of Trump’s health.
We don’t even know when Trump got the disease and how long he was contagious before his hospitalisation. This information is necessary to trace whom he may have infected, but he does not want it known.
We did learn that he had a fever, but not how high it was. We were told he received oxygen, but not when. We don’t know why he is on a steroid that has been given only to the worst cases to reduce the immune system’s dangerous over-response to the virus.
In reality, we won’t know how sick he is for many days, maybe weeks.
There is a new rise in COVID-19 cases. At the height of daily cases during March and April, there were 30,000 new infections a day. After lockdown, that gradually dropped, but remained above 20,000. From June–August, with the relaxation of the lockdown over summer, new cases rose to more than 60,000 a day.
New restrictions were imposed in some places, which brought down the number again, but it remained at more than 30,000 a day. Now there is a new uptick.
More than 210,000 people have died in the US as of October 6, and new predictions are that this could double by the end of the year, unless mask wearing and social distancing becomes predominate in the population.
That cannot happen as long as the 40% who follow Trump’s lead continue to defy those proven precautions.
When Trump dismisses the virus, he insults all those who have died and will die, their loved ones, and the many more who have suffered severely from the disease or continue to have serious symptoms, including neurological ones.
He still doesn’t connect the disease to what it has done to the economy, or indicate the slightest grasp of the fact that the economy will not heal until the pandemic is brought under control.
He and the Republicans are pressing forward on other fronts. One is their campaign that the coming election will be marked by huge voter fraud. Trump keeps emphasizing, without evidence, that postal ballots are inherently fraudulent. Since many people are wary of voting in person due to COVID-19, the postal vote is expected to be large.
By downplaying the virus, Trump hopes to bolster his case against postal voting.
Another charge is that Democrats round up undocumented immigrants to illegally vote. After his 2016 win in the Electoral College, Trump used this argument to claim he was defrauded by more than three million such votes, which explained why he lost the popular vote.
In reality, undocumented people steer away from things like voting that could endanger them.
The Republicans also raised voter fraud in 2016 in the run-up to the election. Vice presidential candidate Mike Pence led that charge. The New York Times said on October 4: “The Trump campaign had a team of election lawyers standing by to dispute election results throughout the country, and the Republican National Lawyers Association had readied a self-described ‘Navy Seal-type operation’ to fight similar cases. In the event of a Republican loss, they would need a story, and fraud was it.
“As the 2020 presidential election nears, it is becoming clear that the Trump administration and the Republican Party are not just looking at but heavily investing in the largely nonexistent problem of voter fraud.”
The NYT’s investigation, which was “based on a review of thousands of pages of court records and interviews with more than 100 key players ‒ lawyers, activists and current and former government officials ‒ found an extensive effort to gain partisan advantage by aggressively promoting the false claim that voter fraud is a pervasive problem.”
Trump continues to promote violence: “Proud Boys, stand back and stand by,” he declared at his first presidential debate with Biden.
Trump was asked by Fox News moderator Chris Wallace to denounce white supremacists. Instead, Trump issued this clarion call to the Proud Boys, a growing right-wing extremist group of Trump loyalists, which formed in 2016 and openly promotes political violence.
Attorney General and head of the Department of Justice William Barr ‒ a Trump stooge ‒ recently said his department is preparing for violence during the elections. Taken in this context, Trump’s call to the Proud Boys (and by implication other similar armed white-supremacist groups) means “stand back now” and be ready for action on election day.
Trump has also called for an “army” of his supporters to show up at election sites to “oversee” the ballots for fraud ‒ in fact, to especially intimidate Black voters from voting.
Restrictions on the right to vote for African Americans in Republican-led states have been upheld by the Trump Supreme Court. These include shutting down polling booths in Black areas, requiring identification documents that poor workers have difficulty in obtaining, and other requirements reminiscent of the Jim Crow segregationist era in the South.
Trump and the Republicans are deliberately fomenting chaos around the election. It looks like they will make enough legal challenges to the outcome if Trump loses to throw the election into the courts. Are they counting on the Supreme Court, whose rightist majority is soon to be augmented by Trump’s new appointee, to give the election to Trump?