The Trump presidency has presented scores of painful lessons on the limitations of the power of positive thinking. Climate change continues to make fires, floods and hurricanes worse, even if Trump denies it and his political appointees seek to erase mentions of it from government reports. Russia interfered in the 2016 election and the intelligence community agrees the Kremlin is trying once again to influence the 2020 campaign, but Trump struggles to accept that reality because, current and former aides say, he believes that acknowledging the Kremlin’s support for his campaign would undermine his legitimacy. And so on.
But nothing captures the hubris of trying to spin the primal forces of nature into submission more than the president’s response to the novel coronavirus.
Trump said in January that the coronavirus was “totally under control” and that there would be only a few U.S. cases before the number would “go down to zero.” On Feb. 28, Trump said: “It’s going to disappear. One day it’s like a miracle, it will disappear.” In March, Trump said people would be able to celebrate vanquishing the coronavirus by going to church on Easter.
That was more than six months ago. Trump downplayed the dangers of the contagion not just at the country’s peril – but his own. Watching these clips with the benefit of hindsight makes the president sound like Baghdad Bob as U.S. forces closed in on the Iraqi capital in March 2003.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany became the latest member of Trump’s inner circle to test positive. She announced in a statement on Monday that she has no symptoms and will continue to work – but from home.
Apparently, denialism can be infectious, as well. The White House’s lead physician, Sean Conley, acknowledged at a news conference on Sunday that he intentionally withheld information about Trump’s blood-oxygen levels plummeting in order to put a positive spin on the president’s condition. “I was trying to reflect the upbeat attitude that the team, the president, that his course of illness, has had,” Conley said. “I didn’t want to give any information that might steer the course of illness in another direction. And in doing so, you know, it came off that we were trying to hide something, which wasn’t necessarily true.”
A virus does not care what a doctor says at a news conference. White House communications director Alyssa Farah told reporters that Conley was trying to project positive for Trump’s sake during his public remarks on Saturday. “When you’re treating a patient, you want to project confidence, you want to lift their spirits, and that was the intent,” she said.
Positive thinking has certainly gotten Trump far in life, and it can be very helpful for a patient fighting a disease. Everyone wishes the president well and hopes he recovers as speedily as possible and with no long-term damage. But Conley was not speaking to Trump during his Saturday news conference. He was addressing the American people.
Since being hospitalized on