This week’s column was going to be easy. A televised Carroll County Board of Education candidates forum was held Tuesday night at 7; a televised presidential debate at 9. There were some pretty obvious contrasts.
I was going to note there were no voices raised, no one talked over each other, and no insults were lobbed during the former, although it really would’ve spiced things up if one of the BOE candidates had called another a clown. I was going to (facetiously) give a lot of credit to the moderator. Me. It was, hopefully, going to be equal parts insight and insult about a national embarrassment, and completely irreverent.
It would also be wholly inappropriate now, after the nation got the news early Friday that President Trump tested positive for COVID-19 and was hospitalized later in the day.
While social media reacted predictably — a combination of thoughts and prayers, cries of karma coming back to bite Trump, conspiratorial questions about whether this was a ploy to gain sympathy and improve his standing in the polls, and more than a little delight — it was a difficult day for the nation. A tense day. A disturbing day. A most unusual day.
Watching live as the helicopter took Trump to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, momentarily transported those of us who are old enough back nearly 40 years to the day President Reagan was shot by John Hinckley Jr. Twelve-year-old me was, admittedly, slightly preoccupied with the NCAA men’s basketball championship game between Indiana and North Carolina being played that night. But I have a vivid recollection that the assassination attempt pulled the nation together. Clearly, it was a different time.
Given Trump’s age and other possible medical issues, not to mention the unpredictable nature of a virus that seemingly affects everyone differently, it’s a potentially serious illness. That’s been a rarity for a president in modern times and it disrupts everything from the nation’s mood to the stock market to how foreign countries view us.
It’s interesting how our expectations for information about the president’s condition has changed. When Woodrow Wilson came down with the Spanish Flu (and the first lady essentially ran the country), when Dwight Eisenhower suffered a heart attack and even after Reagan’s shooting, Americans largely had no idea how serious their situations were.
Trump’s situation may very well not rise to those levels. Many who contract COVID-19, even in their 70s, come through it fine and he will get the finest medical care in the world. Or, he could be in for a fight like the one British Prime Minister Boris Johnson went through in the spring, when he wound up in intensive care and has said it was touch and go one night as to whether he would live.
It’s impossible, of course, to ignore the timing of Trump getting sick just a month before Election Day, after many have already cast presidential ballots by mail. Johnson’s popularity surged after he recovered (fueling the conspiracists who question this October surprise). Assuming Trump is back in good health in a few weeks, what will that do to the polls?
Even more important, however, than whether Trump coming down with COVID-19 will earn him any sympathy votes, is whether it will convince his ardent followers that the coronavirus is not a hoax, that anyone can get it and that, yes, not wearing masks contributes to its spread.
Notably, the positive tests from Trump’s circle keep coming. The first lady. His counselor. And his former counselor. The Republican National Committee chair. The president of Notre Dame. Several senators. All had been together at events in the week before Trump’s positive test, sans masks for the majority of the time. And how many who attended rallies for him Wednesday night or Thursday night will join those ranks?
This is a scary time for the country and even the president’s most vocal detractors should be pulling for him.
But if one good thing can come out of this, maybe it’s that millions of people who adopted Trump’s cavalier attitude toward the virus will change their thinking now that they see it’s real and anyone, even Trump, can get it. And if they change their behavior and begin exercising more caution, maybe we as a nation can, belatedly, get COVID-19 under control.
Bob Blubaugh is the editor of the Carroll County Times. His column appears Sundays. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.