Trump's positive COVID result is a reality test

  • Trump has tested positive for COVID-19, which means he now faces another test — a reality test.
  • A few weeks before the election we will see if Trump can accept his diagnosis and change his behavior.
  • World leaders have tested positive before. When UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson got sick he started taking the pandemic seriously and saved lives. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro did the opposite and Brazil's COVID death toll is around 145,000.
  • Trump may have to choose between continuing his campaign and accepting reality. But that's only if he's lucky, sometimes COVID is so ferocious it does not offer choices.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

President Donald Trump has contracted COVID-19, and now we will see if he can accept that diagnosis and proceed accordingly.

Consider this another reality test in a series of reality tests for Trump during this pandemic — most of which he has failed. Failure here — so close to an election and with a topic on the forefront of every American's mind — could have disastrous consequences for the Trump campaign. Worse than that, it puts the President's life at risk.

Trump's reality test

The fact that Trump contracted the disease is, in itself, a failed test. The disease made it to the White House because of the administration's tenuous relationship with reality. Despite knowing the contagious nature of the virus Trump and his staff didn't change their behavior. Many White House staffers and officials eschewed masks, and Trump was still holding rallies and continuing to meet in person and indoors with donors as recently as Wednesday.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called Trump's positive COVID test a "very sad." But also pointed out that Trump's behavior was a "brazen invitation" for the illness to enter his camp. So it did. That's one giant reality test failed.

Now that Trump himself is sick he faces a new reality test that two world leaders already took earlier this year. Both Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson contracted the coronavirus at one point. And they walked away from the experience with two very different relationships with reality in this pandemic.

Johnson got so sick he ended up in intensive care. Following the illness, he completely turned around the UK government's flippant response to the virus and took it seriously. After an initial spike in the spring, the UK was able to flatten the curve over the summer. 42,000 people have died of COVID-19 in the country and while cases are once again surging, 59 people died of the disease on Thursday — well off the peak. The government has also responded the surge in cases with new restrictions to contain the virus.

Conversely, even though he himself contracted the coronavirus, Brazil's Bolsonaro was never able to accept the pandemic as a reality. He insisted that it was just a "little cold" and joined Trump in touting hydroxychloroquine — a malaria drug unproven to fight COVID-19 — as a treatment. And now Brazil's COVID-19 death toll is around 145,000 and the country has the second highest death rate per 100,000 residents in the world. The number of news cases and new deaths have stayed tragically flat and on Thursday alone 728 people died of the virus.

And a reality test for the nation

American citizens face a new reality test too, and since Trump and his wife Melania's positive test results were announced some are already failing. Some people think that Trump's COVID result is fake — a plot ginned up by the campaign, or by the White House, or by the Russians, or by aliens. It's 2020. We are in the midst of one of the worst global trust deficits since WWII. It seems natural to doubt news this important. The timing, some say, seems too convenient.

But consider this: Do you really think that, just weeks before the most important election in modern American history, Donald Trump — a candidate who feeds off the adulation of crowds — wants to spend the next ten to 14 days in the White House reading magazines with Melania? No. This country needs to face the truth, even if the president won't.

This is real. The global pandemic is real. The fact that it is out of control in the US is real. As someone once said: "reality has a way of asserting itself.". This time it's asserting itself through Trump's diagnosis.

We will see whether or not the president can accept that when his campaign is on the line. Or it's possible his illness is so severe he won't have a choice. As of now it's too early to tell, the virus is in control of that outcome. Meanwhile, a spokesperson said the rest of the White House will carry on with the same procedures that got them into this mess — which is wrong.

A US president has paid a high price for doubting the veracity of a pandemic before. During the 1918-1919 flu President Woodrow Wilson ignored the flu even as he and his White House contracted the disease. Some historians suggest that because Wilson was so ill, he was unable to advocate for more lenient terms for the Germans in the Treaty of Versailles, which ended WWI.

We know how that turned out. Pandemics have consequences.

This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author(s).

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