In a weekend video from hospital, donald trump said he had learned a lot about coronavirus by really going to school. judging from the clip he posted after his highly-choreographed return to the white house, the president learned the wrong lessons. dont be afraid of covid. dont let it dominate your life is not just a message that is disrespectful to the memory and families of 210,000 americans and hundreds of thousands of others globally who have died after contracting the disease. for the leader of the worlds most powerful democracy to refer this way to a virus that remains often lethal is profoundly irresponsible.
Mr trumps response contrasts sharply with that of his friend, the uk prime minister. boris johnsons three-night stay in intensive care with covid-19 left him with a wary new respect for a disease whose seriousness he was initially slow to grasp. he has since lost 26 pounds, and faced grumbling from some in his party for alleged overcaution. while his governments handling of the pandemic including glaring failings in its test and trace system remains worryingly chaotic, it is at least guided by mainstream science.
The us leader seems instead to want to ape his fellow strongman jair bolsonaro of brazil, who dismissed coronavirus as a sniffle, succumbed himself, recovered, and enjoyed a political bounce. brazils president has continued to downplay the risks, sideline medical experts, and eschew practices such as mask-wearing.
Mr trumps stance towards the virus has been barely less cavalier. his white house treated spot tests that often give false results as a substitute for precautions, such as face coverings and social distancing as witnessed at the now-notorious rose garden celebration to present his supreme court nominee 10 days ago. though the presidents doctor has refused to confirm when he last tested negative, there was reason to suspect he might be contagious when he attended an event in new jersey, maskless, last week. a dozen trump associates and senior republicans have now tested positive. one of the worlds supposedly most secure political environments has become a vector of infection.
The disregard for the dangers continued after his positive test. mr trumps drive-past to greet supporters outside the walter reed hospital, and removal of his mask on arrival at the white house, both put staff at unnecessary risk. his behaviour and words the president on tuesday compared the virus to seasonal flu have dismayed political strategists and health officials who hoped his illness would prompt him to display more empathy, and advocate more prudence, over covid-19.
The president is right to praise medical staff, and the progress in finding treatments. but his comments ignored the fact that the experimental or rationed treatments he received such as monoclonal antibodies and the antiviral drug remdesivir may not always be available to many ordinary citizens in the us and elsewhere.
Such apparent tone-deafness about the inequities the virus has exposed would damage many other leaders in western democracies. mr trumps pronouncements, by contrast, seem only to strengthen his base. the world will continue to wish a swift recovery to the us leader and those in his circle who have fallen ill and that mr trump, whose illness may still be at a relatively early stage, will suffer no relapse. many will also hope, however, that after more time to reflect on what he has been through, his attitude to the most serious global pandemic in several decades will start to alter. many lives may yet be at stake.