Let’s not mince words.
President Donald Trump did not catch COVID-19 by accident. He dared the virus to infect him.
And it did.
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This is no laughing matter, of course. A sick president is a weak president. And a weak president is an invitation to Russia, China, Iran and any number of rogue nations across the planet to find ways to play games with America’s security.
But a deeper lesson lurks in this told-you-so fable.
Months ago, doctors handed Trump a simple and easy recommendation to prevent the coronavirus from attacking him and the rest of America: Just wear a mask and keep your distance from people.
He mocked those who wore masks. He scheduled all manner of rallies with his followers, many of them refusing to wear masks. He called for the “liberation” of some states where governors demanded that residents wear masks and tried to block large gatherings of people. He continually labeled the virus as a hoax. He demanded that schools reopen. Just days ago, he was proclaiming that America had “turned the corner” and was about to move on with life.
Now Trump himself is infected.
He remained at the White House most of Friday — in “convalescence,” his doctors say, nursing “mild symptoms” that include a fever — before he was taken to Walter Reed Medical Center. He has canceled all public events for the near future.
Column continues below video.
Wear a mask
Understandably, Trump now faces criticism that he was too cavalier in his months-long dismissal of mask-wearing. If you think this criticism is too harsh as the president is hospitalized, think of all the told-you-so warnings your parents may have given you as a kid:
Don’t run with scissors. Wear your seat belt in the car. Don’t eat soap. Don’t drink any liquids stored under the kitchen sink. Don’t put a pencil or any sharp object in your eye. Don’t dive into shallow water.
Get the picture?
Add to that a new warning for these COVID-19 times: Don’t hang out with people unless you are wearing a mask. And if you hang with anyone, keep your distance.
Such precautions are not attacks on the personal liberty of Americans. They are the public health equivalent of doctors suggesting that you take a baby aspirin each morning to prevent heart disease — or your parents telling you to look both ways when you cross the street.
It’s easy, inexpensive, no trouble really.
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But Trump turned these simple suggestions into an argument that riled and galvanized his “MAGA” supporters.
For months, a debilitating, inane debate has slithered through the American conversation, with all manner of Trump supporters telling us the virus was a creation of the media.
What emerged are two realities – those who wore masks and those who refused.
This summer at the Jersey Shore, these realities crashed together, sometimes frightfully. On the boardwalks, beaches and bars, some people wore masks, some refused. In the worst scenarios, owners of bars and restaurants ignored public health dangers and allowed large numbers of mask-less customers to crowd together.
Elsewhere across America, you saw the mask-less legions converging on small towns for motorcycle rallies or crowding together for Trump’s rallies, from Mount Rushmore to even the south lawn of the White House and a fundraiser at his Bedminster golf club on Thursday even after he knew his aide, Hope Hicks, had tested positive for COVID-19.
But Trump was not alone. Far too many Black Lives Matter supporters ignored the mask and social distance precautions during their protest marches.
Now we watch the alarming spread of COVID-19 among the close-knit Hasidic communities from Lakewood to Brooklyn and Rockland County, New York.
It’s worth asking the kind of questions that have been lurking in the shadows for months: What if Trump spoke to the nation in early March and pushed the wear-your-mask recommendation that doctors were trying to proclaim? What if Trump rallied the nation instead of dividing it like a clumsy butcher? My fellow Americans, we have to unite.
How many lives might have been saved?
How much chaos might have been avoided?
Just last week, scores converged without wearing masks on the White House Rose Garden to cheer the formal nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the United States Supreme Court.
Those spectators included the Rev. John Jenkins, a Roman Catholic priest who serves as the president of the University of Notre Dame, where Barrett attended law school and later taught.
Jenkins, who was instructed by Trump officials not to wear a mask at the Rose Garden ceremony, has now disclosed that he has COVID-19. He points out that he contracted the virus from a colleague at Notre Dame. But who knows for sure?
“I regret my error of judgment in not wearing a mask during the ceremony and by shaking hands with a number of people in the Rose Garden,” Jenkins wrote in a message to Notre Dame students, faculty and staff. “I failed to lead by example.”
Will Trump experience the same health-conscious epiphany as Jenkins? It’s worth asking.
If the White House was the set of a fictional reality TV show, this would be a compelling plot. But it’s not a reality show. It’s all-too-real, played out on an increasingly precarious stage as a presidential election looms.
After such a tumultuous year, America is faced with a president who has fallen sick after mocking, doubting and even belittling some of the nation’s most competent health experts.
Let’s hope Trump recovers. He is, after all, the president, sworn to defend America from its enemies.
Mike Kelly is an award-winning columnist for NorthJersey.com. To get unlimited access to his insightful thoughts on how we live life in New Jersey, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.
This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: Trump’s COVID infection is a told-you-so moment for America. Are we listening? | Kelly