“He can still make this right,” Holmes thought.
But then Trump stood on the White House balcony Monday night, theatrically ripped off his mask while gasping for breath, and proclaimed the virus was nothing to fear.
Watching at home in Green Bay, Holmes cringed. Then he got mad.
The coronavirus is, in some respects, a great equalizer: Anyone, even the president, can get it.
But rather than bond Trump to the millions of Americans who have suffered from the virus or watched a loved one go through it, Trump’s experience with the virus has only deepened the sense of distance that some voters say they feel from a president who has consistently downplayed its severity.
In interviews, Americans whose lives have been upended by the virus said they felt disappointed that the president missed an opportunity to model responsible behavior. They expressed anger that Trump has continued to minimize the virus’s threat after receiving deluxe care that the vast majority of people can only dream of at a time when testing and treatments are running low. And they voiced fear that Trump’s words and actions would lead to more reckless behavior among his supporters.
“I wish he would just be square with the American people. But he can’t do that,” said Holmes, who spent three weeks in intensive care without access to the advanced therapies that Trump’s doctors deployed. “He says, ‘Don’t be afraid of covid. It’s not that bad.’ Well, he should see what it’s like in the real world.”
Since he got sick, Trump and his advisers have sought to portray his bout with the virus as an asset. The White House produced a dramatic video recounting his return from a weekend at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, fundraising emails touted his triumph over the disease, and Trump himself seemed to suggest his infection had been a personal sacrifice in the name of good governance.
“Nobody that’s a leader would not do what I did,” Trump said in his balcony address before reentering the White House, maskless and infectious.
Trump’s illness has only made him a better president, said Doris Cortese, 81, a fervent supporter who said she has had friends and acquaintances who have contracted the coronavirus — but who has escaped infection herself, despite wearing a mask “only when forced to do so.”
“If you’ve been there and done it, you understand better the people who are going through it,” said Cortese, who leads the Trump Republican Club of Lee County, Fla. “He has always done whatever he could to try to keep Americans safe. Now he has even more empathy.”
But that message does not appear to be resonating beyond his base. Even before Trump’s illness, polls showed strong disapproval of his handling of the pandemic, which has claimed at least 210,000 American lives. His numbers have only worsened in the days since last week’s diagnosis, with surveys showing significant majorities of Americans mistrusting the White House’s messaging — both on Trump’s health and