America, or at least the non-
part of it, is wishing President Trump and his wife Melania a speedy recovery after their positive tests for Covid-19. The good news is that, even in the worst medical case, the United States has the constitutional measures in place to assure continuity of governance. This may even be an instructive moment for the American people.
The media are professing shock that Mr. Trump is infected, but it really isn’t all that surprising. He’s running a government and running for re-election. This requires by necessity contact with numerous people, and it’s simply not realistic to think he can do his job and not come into contact with infected individuals who might be asymptomatic. This underscores the pernicious nature of the virus, and it shows how the supposed fail-safe of more testing is far from foolproof.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson endured the worst Covid symptoms, but Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro also caught the virus, as did Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s wife. Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, had to self-quarantine for 12 days after she came in contact with a doctor who turned out to have the virus. Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam and his wife tested positive for the virus last week.
The shame is that America’s media have peddled the fiction that every new Covid case represents a failure of policy. Their line now is that Mr. Trump’s infection is karma because he didn’t take the disease seriously enough. In remarks Friday, Joe Biden also came close to indulging the karma explanation, while disclaiming partisanship.
But the White House tested everyone in proximity to Mr. Trump. Its mask-wearing protocols weren’t always strictly enforced, but that’s true nearly everywhere. Gov. Andrew Cuomo this week threatened to fine non-mask wearers on the streets of New York because so many people aren’t wearing them.
Most Covid patients, even 74-year-olds who are overweight, survive the disease with relatively mild symptoms. Mr. Trump has always seemed indefatigable, and we hope his general good health helps him power through now. If he becomes gravely ill, Vice President Mike Pence will assume the presidential duties for the short or long term.
Mr. Pence has tested negative for Covid, and Americans should be reassured that he is more than up to the job. His calm demeanor is exactly what the moment calls for. Americans will look at next week’s vice presidential debate with more interest knowing that either Mr. Pence or Kamala Harris could be the next President sooner rather than later.
How America responds will depend in part on how the White House and the President himself handle his illness. One crucial step is transparency about the course of his disease. The President’s doctor should report to the public each day with openness about the symptoms and their severity. The public can accept bad news but it will punish deception.
Democrats are already teeing up this possibility, but Mr. Trump should confound his critics with candor about how he’s doing. The Biden campaign said Friday that Joe and Jill Biden tested negative for the virus after the debate, which is good news, and they should be held to the same transparency standard.
Mr. Trump will no doubt be frustrated that his campaign is confined to his personal residence or his office at Walter Reed hospital, but that may be an opportunity. Americans will be empathetic, and Mr. Trump can respond in kind. Ronald Reagan’s popularity soared after he was shot because he showed grace and cool under strain—“honey, I forgot to duck.” Rather than lash out at his critics, Mr. Trump can show optimism and fortitude and maybe even good humor in coping.
He could also use the time, and his virtual media appearances, to make a positive case for a second term. His strategy of attacking Mr. Biden and son Hunter personally isn’t working, so why not use fireside chats to frame the policy differences? He was headed for probable defeat before his new diagnosis, so he has little to lose by trying.
If Mr. Trump recovers soon, his example will underscore his larger campaign theme that America can return to a semblance of normal life and commerce despite the virus. He could, by the way he behaves when waylaid by Covid, set a positive example for the country.
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