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Trump fights the virus — and his diminishing credibility

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Donald Trump at Walter Reed (Screen Grab)

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Terry H. Schwadron
Terry H. Schwadron

On the day that Donald Trump went public with his coronavirus diagnosis, Republican legislators were in court to support a lawsuit against Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers’ orders for mask-wearing in public—even as the state/s hospitals reported tripled admissions for the virus.

On the same day, a Michigan Supreme Court struck down extended emergency powers for Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) to order public health lockdowns, at the request of a federal judge who also had ruled in a case brought by Republican legislators in that state.

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And on the same day, another 42,000 Americans tested positive for the disease, including the Trumps.

Anyone standing back and looking at this would conclude that for Republicans, public health is a partisan issue, and that normal personal protective actions are for Democratic wimps. The great question in the Trump coronavirus case besides the health of the president who insists on running the country’s business and campaign from his hospital bed, is whether Americans, and Team Trump, actually can learn anything here.

Indeed, in the early going, what we see is a White House and campaign that is seeking to control all information and imagery to reflect a sympathetic image of a president working under siege without sharing appropriate medical information – creating a credibility gap.

It highlights the problem of trying now to believe a White House that has eschewed truth. As Politico notes, “The president who once dictated his own doctor’s note is now asking a worried nation to trust his doctors’ notes.”

The Information Gap

The medical update provided illustrates the issue: White House Dr. Sean Conley said the president has only mild symptoms, yet he needs hospitalization and the infusion of drug cocktails not fully through clinical trial. The medical team was selective in its information, refusing to answer key questions about when the president was first diagnosed, first symptomatic and whether he had received supplemental oxygen, for example. It affects who else should be quarantining because of contact with contagion.
But then a spokesman with an off-the-record statement, who turned out to be White House Chief of Staff Mike Meadows, said  Trump went through a “very concerning” period over the last day. “The president’s vitals over the last 24 hours were very concerning, and the next 48 hours will be critical in terms of his care,” Meadows said. “We’re still not on a clear path to a full recovery.”

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Only to be outdone by Trump himself who, apparently angered by the Meadows statement, donned a coat and produced his own statement about feeling better.

The timeline of contagion remains a mystery. What political gain that provides is unclear; Trump has consistently mocked mask-wearing and insists on mask-less, crowded rallies.

And so, over the last couple of days, social media posts from average citizens have openly speculated that there was no disease at all, that this was some wag-the-dog diversion. The White House staff and doctors have done little to quell lingering questions.

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Would we even know that close White House advisor Hope Hicks had contracted the disease if it had not been for a Bloomberg reporter who confirmed it?  That report led to questions about Trump himself, and finally a 1 a.m. announcement early Saturday.

Margaret Sullivan, the Washington Post media columnist, asks, “Would we even know about Trump’s diagnosis if it weren’t for that? Maybe not. What about those he has come in contact with in recent days? Would they know they were endangered? The indications aren’t good.”

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Don’t we all agree that Americans deserve to know whether Trump is well enough to make decisions of importance, including those regarding the nation’s security. Apparently not.

Why was Trump taken to the hospital if the symptoms truly are mild or straightaway moved to experimental drugs. If Lesson One is that Trump should have learned renewed respect for the dangers of pandemic, Lesson Two is to stop lying and hiding about medical status – and pretty much every other public issue he touches. Trump may have believed he was invincible because of constant and instant testing that the rest of us do not have, but this but diagnosis underscores the obvious – we all are vulnerable.

“Given his track record, a president who’s rarely at a loss for words is short of one crucial quality in a moment of national anxiety: Credibility,” said Politico.

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Paying Attention

That single fact of vulnerability ought to be enough to keep Republican legislators from pursuing court challenges to public health orders. It ought to be enough to keep religious leaders from demanding large indoor mask-less services. It ought to move that stalled negotiation over coronavirus aid off the dime in Congress.

We ought to be learning about quarantines and contact tracing and physical distancing. Maybe we should be learning not to be so quick to dismiss the real dangers of re-opening schools and stadiums – or to take more care with campaign rallies. We ought to recognize that shouted slogans for independence don’t stop contagions.

We ought to be embracing the scientific work at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, stomp on the politicization of information and to revive the White House coronavirus task force under scientists rather than politicians.

The stubbornly partisan Senate majority should delay its consideration of the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett for the Supreme Court on health reasons alone, never mind the political insensitivities and hypocrisies of shoving a polemicist judge into a lifetime position days before Election Day. Apart from all else, Republicans on the Judiciary Committee can’t afford to miss two votes for approval.

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Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and Speaker Nancy Pelosi ought to find new motivation to move on stalled negotiation over coronavirus aid.

Team Trump ought to stop fighting about mail-in ballots soaring over fears of contagion.

And we ought to be sharing the appropriate medical information with Americans.

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