Trump with COVID

Assistant opinion editor Joshua Howell discusses why some people are indifferent about President Trump's COVID-19 diagnosis.


That was the terse response a friend of mine had when news broke of President Trump’s positive coronavirus test.

Mind you, my friend is a smart lady. She has an undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering and recently received a perfect score on the verbal portion of the GRE. She is a very highly educated woman. She knows words. She has the best words.

But that night, all she could manage was a dry “oops.”

I confess, her response seemed perfect to me. There was no bragging, no high-fiving, no glad-handing because the president’s reelection appeared less likely than it had the day before. She didn’t stay up that night sweating over the national security implications; she didn’t review the protocols should the president die in the coming months; she didn’t spin an intriguing if on-the nose comparison to Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death,” a horror story in which elites, thinking they are safe, throw a masquerade ball during a pandemic only to be killed by the personification of the disease.

In other words, “oops” sufficed. And if “oops” were to sum up her complete feelings on the matter, there was little appetite to discuss the magnitude of the moment. After all, we remain in the thick of a pandemic, over 200,000 Americans have died and our president — a man both elderly and with pre-existing conditions — has caught the virus. All that didn’t merit a word.

And yet with those four letters my friend captured the indifference of the nation.

The indifference is not solely borne from the antipathy many feel toward the president, though that’s certainly part of it. There are many in this country who wish him ill, who wouldn’t pull the trigger themselves but are more than willing to sit back, crack open a beer and let karma do the dirty work.

These people exist, but they aren’t the movers and shakers behind our collective funk. They write their social media posts and amuse themselves with TikTok videos, but they aren’t the driving force behind our conversation — or lack thereof.

Instead, I suspect our disinterest exists because the president’s illness is dull and predictable, not unlike his acquittal in the senate earlier this year. (Aha! You had forgotten about that, hadn’t you? For what it’s worth, I had to check my notes.) Back then, the dull predictably was because no one believed Republicans would break ranks and convict a member of their own party. Our current situation is more akin to the chronic smoker who one day is diagnosed with lung cancer. We wish him well, we do what we can, but on some level we all think he had it coming. After all, he was warned. Repeatedly. And so we shrug and move on with our lives. It is the physical manifestation of “oops.” It is the exasperated sigh of a parent too tired to tell their child, “I told you so.”

And so it is with the president. Really, what else needs to be said?

That large crowds should be avoided? We knew that.

That wearing a mask is one of the most effective ways to protect yourself and those around you? We knew that.

That doctors should be trusted and their instructions followed (not because they are infallible, but because they are the relevant subject matter experts)? We knew that.

That flouting these safety precautions puts you at higher risk for contracting the virus? We knew that.

That the coronavirus isn’t merely the “spicy flu” but can leave you in the hospital for days on end? Trump knew that in February.

What the president is experiencing now isn't karma. It’s science. It is the inevitable result of avoiding scientists and surrounding himself with supporters at his rallies. His is a Shakespearan tragedy in which the hero’s fate is sealed by his own faults.

Early in Othello, the titular character informs us that he is not one prone to jealousy. Oops.

So there’s not much to be said here; there’s no deep insight to be had. Just mind the simple things, the respectful things, the things all of us have been repeatedly told to do: wear your masks, avoid large crowds, wash your hands.

Otherwise you might end up like the president: put into a hospital with a nation largely indifferent to your plight.

Joshua Howell is a computer science Ph.D. student and the assistant opinion editor of The Battalion.

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