Donald Trump's Covid infection is unlikely to lead to a Damascene conversion – Henry McLeish

Sympathy and goodwill are being expressed to President Donald Trump and the First Lady Melanie after they tested positive for the coronavirus and his admission to the Walter Reed Medical Centre in Washington.

Monday, 5th October 2020, 4:45 pm
Donald Trump listens during a phone call with Vice-President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley in his conference room at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (Picture: Tia Dufour/The White House via AP)
Donald Trump listens during a phone call with Vice-President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley in his conference room at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (Picture: Tia Dufour/The White House via AP)

That is how it should be. But these sentiments also hide the obvious. Trump has been reckless with his own health, endangered America by his cavalier and irresponsible handling of the pandemic, allowed a chaotic White House to flout health and safety protocols, and mocked measures such as mask-wearing and social distancing at campaign rallies.

Campaign staff, close aides, strategists, and US Senators are falling like ninepins, victims of a callous disregard for their own well-being and a contempt for the safety of those they serve.

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The presidential myth of indestructibility has been exposed. As a narcissist, Trump is unable to accept that actions have consequences. This troubled and desolate soul has ignored the devastating consequences of the pandemic and has mismanaged America to become the worst in the world, with nearly eight million cases and over 200,000 deaths.

Populists like Trump do not factor this toll of human misery and loss into their “me first” politics. Lives matter but not in Trump’s world.

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In an interview with Axios on HBO, the President said the United States’ staggering death toll from coronavirus “is what it is”, while giving his administration credit for its pitiful performance.

This could not have come at a worse time for the President, with only four weeks before polling day. Baseless claims of vote-rigging from Trump, counter-allegations of voter suppression from the Democrats and a globally viewed train wreck of a presidential debate aired on television last week mark this election campaign out as the worst in living memory.

Variously described as “the worst debate ever”, “an insult to America”, “a dumpster fire” and a “s*** show”, there were 90 minutes of interruptions bullying, lies, insults and a spectacular display of brutal behaviour from Trump. Neither of the combatants came out of the debate well, but polls suggest that Biden was the victor on the night.

Trump had been experiencing one of the most difficult weeks of his presidency. A New York Times investigation had revealed the President’s much sought-after tax returns. Trump dismissed this as fake news but, for his critics, the findings revealed how bad a businessman he was and how skilled was his tax-dodging. Trump paid no taxes in 11 of 18 years of tax records examined and in 2016 paid only $750 in tax, much less than the ordinary American worker.

In a highly publicised exclusive, Channel Four News exposed the extent of voter suppression efforts deployed by the Trump campaign to discourage African Americans from voting in 2016. These measures, based on sophisticated analytics, will be used in 2020 and pose a real threat to the Democrats, who witnessed a reduction of nearly six per cent in the black vote for Clinton over the Obama turnout in 2012. Biden desperately needs these votes.

Trump has been accused of disparaging military veterans and war heroes, raising once again his draft-dodging and previous spats with the respected war veteran and prisoner in the “Hanoi Hilton”, the late Senator John McCain. Trump mocked him after his death and tried to ridicule him when alive saying, he preferred smart military people who avoided being captured!

The President’s refusal, in the televised debate, to criticise white supremacists and militia, such as the Proud Boys, has unsettled many Congressional Republicans, especially the comment that they “stand back and stand by”, interpreted by some as a future call to arms.

Trump’s hospitalisation has created a crisis for the Republican party campaign. The election itself has been thrown into turmoil. While a sympathy vote may emerge post-Trump’s illness, other issues continue to drag him under.

This is reflected in the polls. They have barely moved in the past four months. Trump’s base remains immovable and Biden’s lead remains stable. Promising to be the most expensive election in history with spend projected to be nearly $11 billion, Biden continues to outstrip Trump in campaign spending, by a significant margin.

Biden leads Trump by nearly eight percentage points nationally, 51 to 43 per cent, according to a recent Washington Post average of polls. Biden’s margin “is the same in Pennsylvania and smaller in other key battleground states: seven points in Wisconsin and Michigan, five in Arizona and one in Florida”. Another set of polls puts Biden ahead in other key states such as Ohio, North Carolina, Arizona, and Iowa.

Nate Silver, of the FiveThirtyEight political analysis website, gives Trump a one-in-four chance of winning re-election: roughly where things stood four years ago!

For the President, proving positive for the coronavirus could destroy the strategy he has used over the past six months to talk about anything except the pandemic. The virus is now centre stage.

But the myth of Trump’s indestructibility and invincibility is not easily dismissed. His base remains solid and it is worth remembering his remark as a candidate in January 2016 that, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters.”

MSNBC cable show anchor Rachel Maddow suggested that Trump’s “ugly brawling” technique in the TV debate was deliberate, with the aim of demoralising, discouraging and disillusioning his enemies, boosting his base and destroying democracy from within.

Trump’s ill-health should be a wake-up call to every American. The President’s first brush with “reality” in four years may lead to a Damascene conversion but, with less than a month to go, this seems unlikely.

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