The Pandemic Diary: Trump has COVID

Between February 10, 2020 and May 27, 2020, I kept a daily diary chronicling my thoughts, impressions, fears, anxieties, and outrages in response to the COVID-19 Pandemic. It ended up being over 120,000 words worth of personal therapy for me but I stopped updating it once doing so ceased to be therapeutic and, instead, began to anger me and fill me with despair. I am, however, updating it once in a while, when warranted.

October 2: Trump has COVID. So does his wife, his advisor Hope Hicks, Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, and Republican Senator Mike Lee. All of these people were in close proximity to Trump in recent days.

As of this writing Trump and his wife are said to have “mild symptoms.” Joe Biden’s campaign announced that he and his wife, Jill Biden, have both tested negative. Biden, too, was in relatively close proximity to Trump this past Tuesday at their first debate, but obviously not as close as all the others.

There will likely be many more people in Trump’s inner circle and on his campaign team who test positive in the coming days as Trump attended many meetings and fundraisers this past week, most of which featured tight crowds and all of which featured almost a complete absence of masks. One can make the abject denial of the need for health and safety protocols a plank in one’s political platform, but viruses do not care about such things.

Since the news broke last night a lot of people have speculated that this was some grand plot by Trump to defuse the Pandemic as a campaign issue. One in which Trump would claim to have COVID, gain a groundswell of sympathy, quickly “recover,” and in doing so simultaneously appear to be some kind of superman and bolster the “COVID is just the flu, everyone is overreacting” line of argument with which so many on the right are enthralled.

Personally, I find the idea that this is some sort of Trump October surprise laughable for a host of reasons. Among them:

  • Neither Trump nor his campaign released this information. It was a story investigated by journalists who got information about Hicks having COVID, tracking her movements, and noticing that there had been a change in the Trumps’ behavior over the past couple of days consistent with them being infected. It was only as those questions were being pressed last night that Trump hastily admitted his diagnosis;
  • Any argument that Trump is pretending to have COVID for tactical reasons ignores the fact that this is causing him to cancel rallies and fundraisers, which are key to his campaign efforts. It has the added effect of making his embarrassingly bad performance at the debate on Tuesday his most recent public appearance of note. Trump and his people know that he must do whatever he can to change the subject and get networks running new footage of him but now they can’t;
  • Trump’s biggest fear — the thing he will do or say anything to avoid — is appearing weak, and physical infirmity is, in his mind, the biggest sign of weakness possible. Any “this is a trick!” theory has to account for the fact that Trump is psychologically incapable of accepting the idea that appearing sick or anything less-than-vigorous is a good thing;
  • Specific to COVID, Trump has spent six months downplaying it. The only people happy with his approach are hardcore Pandemic deniers who are enthusiastic Trump supporters. A convoluted plot in which he pretends to have COVID serves no political interests and would actively alienate his base.

If none of that registers with you, I’ll offer an all-purpose rule which is true most of the time, even if Trump’s presidency has put it to the test: never mistake for malice what you can more easily put down to incompetence. While there is no shortage of evil in Trump and those loyal to them, there is no indication whatsoever that they have the chops to pull off some scam like this. When they perform acts of evil, they do so openly, obviously, crudely, and shamelessly. They do so daring someone to tell them “no,” knowing all the while that, at the moment, there is no one in power with both the desire and the ability to do so. They do not try to pull fast ones. So, yes, I think Trump has COVID. Seems pretty simple to me.

Now, what to think about it. Short answer: not much, frankly.

I’m not the sort who dances on graves or takes pleasure in the misfortune of others. Trump takes me all the way up to the limits of that ethos, but it’s an ethos I still stand by, even when it’s him. But that does not require me to actually care about him either.

Indeed, if I have even a faint stirring of compassion for him, I think of how he lied to the public about the threat of the virus. About how he mocked and then undermined those who took it seriously, rendering the federal government essentially powerless to respond to a national threat. I think about how he politicized the wearing of masks and the closing of businesses, bullied and threatened governors and mayors, and encouraged anti-governmental sentiment, thereby undermining state and local efforts to fight the Pandemic in the absence of a federal response.

I think about how his direct actions, his willful omissions, and his words have led directly to the needless deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. I think about how we have been living a national tragedy all year long and about how it is mostly Trump’s fault that things have gotten as bad as they are.

So no, I don’t actively wish Trump harm, but nor do I have a square nanometer’s worth of space to spare in my heart for his well-being. There are about 7.8 billion people on this planet with a greater claim to that space. If I get through all of them and I have some left afterward, maybe I’ll reassess.

UPDATE: Since I wrote this multiple members of the White House staff, multiple senators, and multiple presidential advisors have been reported to have contracted the virus. Most of the cases seem to be linked to the Rose Garden announcement of Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Amy Coney Barrett.

Since Trumps hospitalization on Friday the White House has staged multiple photos and stunts to make it appear as though Trump is faring well and still working. The drug regimen he is reportedly on, however, suggests that he is seriously ill. Despite this, Trump and his closest advisors are agitating for him to be released from the hospital. Presumably against medical advice.

This outbreak is a microcosm of how Trump has handled the national response to the Pandemic. He ignored health and safety the advice, he has ignored the guidance from doctors, health officials, and scientists, and he has endangered countless people around him.

If this was all a TV show and a script writer suggested this ending, the show runner would reject it for being too on-the-nose.

Craig Calcaterra

Craig is the author of the daily baseball (and other things) newsletter, Cup of Coffee. He writes about other things at He lives in New Albany, Ohio with his wife, two kids, and many cats.