Political Ploy or Pandemic Patient? The Consequences of Trump’s Covid Diagnosis

Earlier this year, Boris Johnson’s sudden COVID diagnosis rocked the nation – a country that appeared irreparably divided by disputes over Brexit, BLM protests and toilet-roll induced panic, came together to wish Johnson a quick recovery. Despite then going on to provide the public with nonsensical instructions and poor leadership, Johnson’s moment of vulnerability seemed to unify the country – if only for a fortnight. The performative appreciation that Johnson displayed both for the NHS and well-wishers is eerily familiar to the current situation in America; with President Donald Trump testing positive a mere 32 days before the presidential election. Is he just another of the 3.1 million Covid patients of North America or is his diagnosis and hospitalisation a political ploy to incite national sympathy and win the next presidential election?

In the soap-opera that is American politics, President Trump made fun of the opposition, Joe Biden’s, regular use of facemasks during Tuesday’s first presidential debate,  – in almost perfect comedic timing, Trump informed the public that he had tested positive for coronavirus just two days later. For the next few days, news channels across the world were saturated with articles about Trump’s condition and the impact his hospitalisation will have on the ever-nearing election. With Trump’s senior administration consisting mostly of his family, who are also forced to quarantine, it’s unlikely that his campaign can continue with the same vigour. The political implications of his absence from the campaign are severe – not only will this have a detrimental effect on the polls, it will also create an opportunity to further expose the shortcomings of his presidency; with unresolved national distress following the murder of George Floyd, civil unrest, inadequate PPE and economic downfall as a result of the pandemic all occurring over the space of a few months. The Democrat party nominee, Joe Biden, holds a significant advantage in being able to continue his own campaign plans undisturbed, representing a new chance for those affected greatly by the pandemic and holding a statistically significant lead in national polls. However, the democratic party and its supporters face a difficult challenge in overcoming the sense of international solidarity that Trump was offered during his hospitalisation.

Why hard-core Trump supporters ignore his lies
Trump and supporters at a rally. Credit: The Conversation

Over the weekend of his stay, crowds amassed outside Walter Reed Medical Centre in the hundreds, many of them mask-less and ignoring social distancing guidelines. Supporters had travelled up to 10 hours to camp outside the hospital to pray for Trump’s speedy recovery and were gifted with a surprise visit on Sunday afternoon by the president himself, being driven past in an SUV, smiling and waving at his adoring fans. Dr James Philips, one of the physicians working at the centre stated, “every single person in the vehicle during that completely unnecessary presidential ‘drive-by’ just now has to be quarantined for 14 days. They might get sick. They may die. For political theatre. Commanded by Trump to put their lives at risk for theatre. This is insanity”. Many critics have expressed how dangerous Trump’s decision to leave the hospital was, but what I find perhaps even more concerning is how effective this “political theatre” seemed to be in rallying the supporters – these great performances to grow patriotism are uncomfortably similar to the acts of dictators, leaders whose complete authority is something we can be certain President Trump aspires towards.

With the next presidential debate (which was supposed to be held on 15th October) cancelled because Trump refused a virtual debate as its “a waste of time”, hinting that he is concerned, “they (will) cut you off whenever they want” the American people have been left in the dark. Not only does this bring into question whether Trump has actually made a full recovery, it also prevents the general public developing an informed opinion about either party’s policies – something they were definitely not able to achieve in the chaotic debate last time. Just imagining how hilarious it would be to see both candidates be muted after their designated time almost makes me feel disappointed that its cancelled – almost. If Trump is too ill to continue his presidency and his campaign, Mike Pence, the Republican vice-president will become acting president, in accordance with the 25th amendment. However, if Pence, who has also been in recent contact with the president, tests positive and is unable to lead, then the baton is handed to Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the House of Representatives – a democrat. The drama continues. As many states have allowed early postal voting, the impact of Trump (hypothetically) dying before the election is severe. In America the presidential ballot is for the individual rather than the party, so any Republicans that would vote for Pence but not Trump, would not have the ability to change their ballot and the same goes to any Trump voters who would not want to vote for Pence. On top of that, it’s questionable whether Pence can stand for the up-coming presidential election as he isn’t an official nominee and hasn’t been through the preliminary process that occurred last spring. It’s all very confusing. Once again, hypothetically, if Trump was to die after winning the presidential election – during the end of his term, before the official inauguration of the new president in January, then leadership would be passed to the vice-president (due to the 20th amendment), however the same issue that Pence hadn’t been a nominee, nor had he been voted in, still applies. Hopefully, the death of the president, during his presidential campaign is not the climactic finale to this year’s extraordinary events.

With America topping the rather macabre leader board of COVID deaths and cases, it’s understandable that many citizens are enraged by Trump’s guidance throughout this pandemic; repeatedly invalidating the studies made by world-experts and at one point even ‘joking’ about injecting bleach into the bloodstream. In a year of unparalleled political turmoil, Trump’s ability to maintain power over those that wanted him, and his establishment destroyed, seemed unlikely. The major worry for many Americans is facing another four years under the control of someone who has repeatedly been lambasted for leading incompetently.. Someone whose continuous disregard for public health has correlated with the deaths of over 1.6 million Americans. Someone who still, after contracting the virus and understanding the severity of the situation, undermines world-renowned scientists and pandemic experts. Though the polls predict a win for Biden, the shrieking of frenzied fans outside his hospital and the wails of mask-less Republicans at rallies suggests that nothing is certain. 

Header image credit: NBC news