President Trump and the coronavirus [UPDATED]

3 mins read

I join Scott in wishing President Trump and the First Lady well in their fight, if it turns out that a fight is required, against the Wuhan coronavirus. I also wish that Trump had taken the risk of infection more seriously at the personal level. I wish he had learned from his friend Boris Johnson’s experience.

In terms of public policy, I think Trump took the virus seriously enough. The administration, in effect, recommended a two-month (or so) shutdown of the economy and then deferred to the states on whether, and to what degree, economies should remain closed.

In my view, Trump’s approach, broadly speaking, was at least as reasonable as the alternatives advocated by critics on both sides of the political spectrum.

But Trump never seemed to regard the virus as a much of a threat to his own well being and that of people around him. For example, he seldom wore a mask in public and there are reports that he didn’t often wear one in private meetings. Reportedly, none of the five or six people who attended Trump’s debate prep sessions wore a mask.

Trump mocked Joe Biden for excessive mask wearing. He held a large indoor rally in Tulsa at which hardly anyone wore a mask. A word from Trump, and the rally would have looked very different.

Wearing a mask isn’t a guarantee against infection, of course. However, it defies common sense to deny that masks provide some protection against a virus that enters the body through the nose and mouth. I don’t think Trump ever did deny this reality. However, his conduct suggested that he didn’t take it seriously.

It seems to me that Trump gambled. He gambled that a fearless, borderline defiant personal approach to the virus would have greater appeal to the electorate than Biden’s far more cautious approach. He gambled that the large campaign rallies he was holding would give him an advantage over Biden without causing him to contract the virus.

It appears that Trump lost his wager. I worry that the political price will be considerable, and pray that the price in terms of the president’s health and the health of those around him will be non-existent or, at worst, minimal.

UPDATE: To be clear about my views on masks, there are, of course, situations where it makes no sense to wear a mask. I don’t wear one when I’m walking in my relatively uncrowded neighborhood. Most of my lefty neighbors don’t either.

That’s a very different context than, for example, an indoor rally like the ill-advised one Trump held in Tulsa.

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