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If Trump has learned anything from getting Covid-19, he’s not showing it

Trump’s messaging continues to come out of the same playbook that got America into its current Covid-19 mess.

President Donald Trump waving in the back of a motorcade outside of Walter Reed medical center.
President Donald Trump waving to supporters from the back of a motorcade outside of Walter Reed medical center, where he is receiving treatment for Covid-19.
Alex Edelman/AFP via Getty Images

If President Donald Trump has learned anything from getting sick with Covid-19, he’s not showing it. In his latest tweets and comments, Trump has continued to downplay the coronavirus — even after it put him in the hospital.

Since Trump’s diagnosis last Thursday, he and his administration have seemingly tried to cover up the president’s disease. They’ve downplayed his symptoms. They’ve suggested he needed to be hospitalized not because of his apparently high fever and low oxygen levels but “out of an abundance of caution.” They’ve posted videos and photos of Trump in the presidential suite at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. Even the president’s own doctors have taken to politicized spin, arguing that they were trying to be “upbeat” as they refused to fully and truthfully answer questions about Trump’s health.

On Sunday, that culminated with a photo op as Trump was driven outside Walter Reed hospital so he could wave at supporters — exposing at least the driver and a passenger in the car to infection. As James Phillips, attending physician at Walter Reed, tweeted, “That Presidential SUV is not only bulletproof, but hermetically sealed against chemical attack. The risk of COVID19 transmission inside is as high as it gets outside of medical procedures. The irresponsibility is astounding. My thoughts are with the Secret Service forced to play.”

Then on Monday, Trump tweeted that he’ll be leaving Walter Reed hospital later in the day. He wrote, “Don’t be afraid of Covid. Don’t let it dominate your life.” It was a warning experts immediately admonished, arguing that Americans should continue to follow recommended precautions for the coronavirus.

This is all out of the same playbook Trump has used for Covid-19 from day one. It’s an attempt to make everything seem normal, as if the coronavirus isn’t wrecking millions of lives, in a desperate attempt to go back to a world that could help ensure Trump’s reelection. As Trump told journalist Bob Woodward, “I wanted to always play [the coronavirus] down.”

Trump has stuck to this even as it’s put people in danger again and again. He’s called for states to reopen — to “LIBERATE” them — even as experts warned that opening too soon would lead to new cases (and, sure enough, cases spiked over the summer as states opened prematurely). He’s pushed for less testing, arguing more tests pick up more cases and therefore make the US look bad, even as experts said more testing, along with contact tracing, is still needed to slow the outbreak. He’s mocked masks and frequently refused to wear one himself, even as experts and a growing body of research show masks are key to stopping Covid-19.

This obsession with creating a false sense of normalcy seemingly extended to the moment that Trump received a positive coronavirus test. As the Washington Post initially reported, and White House staff confirmed, Trump attended campaign events on Thursday even after he and his staff learned that one of Trump’s closest aides, Hope Hicks, was showing symptoms. That continued, based on recent reports, as some staff noticed Trump seemed fatigued. In doing this, Trump likely exposed his own staff and supporters to Covid-19.

A potential silver lining to Trump getting sick was that maybe it would show him how serious this virus is — that it’s real, that it can make people very ill and kill them. Trump alluded to that in a video on Sunday, claiming, “I learned a lot about Covid. I learned it by really going to school. This is the real school.” Despite that, Trump was back out Sunday for the drive-by photo op, and then posted a tweet on Monday downplaying the risk of Covid-19.

This is all ridiculous, of course. We already know Trump is sick and hospitalized, being treated with multiple experimental drugs, including steroids, and supplemental oxygen. This is obviously not normal.

And we know the consequences of this action. It’s how the US ended with nearly 210,000 Covid-19 deaths so far — more than any other country in the world. It’s how the US ended up, after accounting for population, at the top 20 percent among developed countries for Covid-19 deaths. (If the US had the same Covid-19 death rate as Canada, more than 125,000 more Americans would likely be alive today.) It’s why America can’t go back to normal, even as countries like Germany, New Zealand, and South Korea open up more, as it faces far too many coronavirus cases — more than 130,000 since Trump announced he tested positive.

It’s why Trump himself got sick. As he lived his denial, going to ill-advised campaign rallies and events, frequently refusing to wear a mask, Trump exposed himself to the coronavirus again and again.

And it’s all set to continue — as Trump and his staff’s barrage of mistruths and political spin since his diagnosis on Thursday have proved.