The Trump Virus
This time, history will get it right. When the history of the 2020 pandemic is written, I think it will be known as “the Trump virus.”
History got it wrong in 1918, when it called the pandemic “the Spanish flu.” Although Spain was as affected as the rest of the world, it did not originate there and, in fact, had nothing to do with it.
That pandemic killed an estimated 50 million people around the world, 675,000 of whom were Americans. News of the deaths was suppressed by press censorship in the countries engaged in World War I, including in the United States. Spain was not in the war, so when stories started coming out of Spain about flu deaths, someone started calling it “the Spanish flu.” A big mistake, but it still is.
But I don’t think historians will repeat the mistake. The coronavirus pandemic didn’t start in the United States, it originated in China. So why “the Trump virus?”
We know a few things.
To begin with, we know that all his life Trump has dedicated himself to being the center of everything. He made his money putting the word “Trump” on everything, and since he became president, it became “the Trump White House,” the “Trump Republican Party,” and for many, the U.S. became the “Trump nation.” Whether we wanted to or not, whether we like it or not, for these past four years, we have all lived in “the Trump World.”
This means that Trump would have been the news epicenter of the pandemic crisis no matter what he said or did.
Now we have seen Trump work very hard, as he has all his life with great skill, to remain at the center of the pandemic. Paradoxically, he has achieved this in great part by being wrong on the crisis. Dead wrong. Wrong about the terrible impact of the virus. Wrong in misstating and contradicting what the scientists and experts were trying to communicate to the people. Wrong on what Americans should do to protect themselves and others. Wrong in just about everything.
I’m not saying that he was deliberately wrong to keep the entire world fixated on his every word and action. He probably believed everything he said. But that is really irrelevant. What Trump was doing was misinforming the American people in one of the worst crises in American history.
And the consequences were just as obvious. Scientists and others have tried to put a number on how many Americans have died because of Trump’s misinformation and mismanagement. But that there is a number is undeniable.
The New England Journal of Medicine, considered the world’s most trusted source of medical information, has no doubt that the number exists. In an extraordinary editorial published October 8, 2020, titled “Dying in a Leadership Vacuum,” pointing out that “the United States leads the world in Covid-19 cases and in deaths due to the disease,” it declares: “although it is impossible to project the precise number of additional American lives lost because of weak and inappropriate government policies, it is at least in the tens of thousands in a pandemic that has already killed more Americans than any conflict since World War II.”
And the Journal has no doubt as to who is to blame, doing something it has never done in its 208 years of publication. It called on Americans not to reelect “our current political leaders” — the Trump government: “We should not abet them and enable the deaths of tens thousands more Americans by allowing them to keep their jobs.”
Of course, one never knows how history will judge a president.
Woodrow Wilson during the 1918 pandemic is a good example. Up to only recently, historians considered him one of the best presidents. No more. Now there are stories that while the flu was killing hundreds of thousands of Americans, incredibly, he did not mention the pandemic once. His denial was even more serious. He himself became seriously ill during the Paris peace conference, greatly affecting decisions that turned out to have terrible consequences, including the horror of World War II. It is hard to think of greater irresponsibility by an American president.
But now we have Trump.
We have Trump and his wife themselves infected by the coronavirus; we have images of Trump rushed to the hospital in the giant helicopter. The White House itself is a hotspot of infections: dozens infected.
BBC correspondent Nick Bryant got it right when he wrote that “future historians of Donald Trump’s first—and possibly final—term in the White House will regard the coronavirus crisis as its defining event and the president’s contraction of Covid 19 as its culminating moment.”
History will record the “Trump World” as a calamity for the United States and for the world.
This time, history will get it right: It will record the Covid-19 pandemic as the “Trump virus.”
—A.W. Maldonado was reporter and columnist for The San Juan Star, executive editor of El Mundo, and editor and publisher of El Reportero.