Special Election Issue

Karen Kurson, In-Depth Editor

After more than half a year of the COVID-19 pandemic, the disease entered the oval office. Early on Oct. 2, President Donald Trump announced via Twitter that he and his wife tested positive for coronavirus, shortly after one of his top aides, Hope Hicks, had caught the virus. Soon after Trump’s case was confirmed, he was off to the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center to seek medical attention. 

After three days of treatment, Trump was released from the hospital, and shortly reappeared at the White House on Saturday, Oct. 10, before traveling to Florida two days later.  He has since tested negative for the disease, according to White House reports, and did not follow the standard 14-day quarantine recommended by the Center for Disease Control (CDC). He has continued to travel for his campaign, welcoming large crowds of mainly unmasked citizens. The Trump administration insists that he has made a full recovery, and the President himself assured the public that he was “feeling great” at his first public appearance since hospitalization. Yet his old age and overweightness, two comorbidities of COVID-19, raise some public concern about his health. Ogenna Oraedu, ‘21,  commented,“It’s a little unusual for him to be fine in such a short amount of time,” questioning his quick release given his conditions. 

These concerns and contention between the administrations of each presidential candidate resulted in the loss of the second presidential debate, one of the only three scheduled for the 2020 election. It was originally arranged for Oct. 15, 13 days after Trump’s positive test, one day short of the recommended quarantine. The candidates reached a deadlock when the Trump campaign declined the Commission on Presidential Debates’ proposal for a virtual replacement, and the Biden campaign turned down the offer to delay both of the upcoming presidential debates by a week. Each candidate had a separate town hall meeting as a substitute, and the second and final debate was held on Oct. 22. 

Art by: M. Shapiro

During this debate, Biden and Trump discussed their plans for future protective measures. In keeping with his pattern of de-emphasizing the pandemic, Trump assured viewers that a vaccine is on its way and the spread of the virus is under control. He mentioned his personal experience as well: “I was in the hospital for a short period of time, and I got better very fast, and now they say I’m immune,” he said.

The details of where, how and when the president caught the virus remain vague, but there is plenty of speculation to be found online or at the dinner table. Despite Trump’s outward coherency, conspiracies linger about his physical and neurological health, with some questioning the integrity of the administration.  Jesse Cherins, ‘22, showed doubt about the administration’s honesty, but also felt that “a lot of people are assuming they’re not being transparent just because of their history and because of their own personal desires.” Oraedu “was a bit skeptical” of the news regarding Trump’s condition, in part due to the history Cherins mentioned. 

The blurred lines have even led some to plead the 25th, with skeptics pondering the administration’s honesty regarding the president’s wellbeing. Some believe that Trump is much sicker than he is letting on, and that the 25th amendment would have to be enacted, effectively giving Vice President Mike Pence control over presidential duties. Even if this was the case, history has shown that presidents seldom enact Section 3 of the amendment, in which they yield their power to the vice president. This remains unlikely as Trump continues his cross-country campaign and has yet to show visible signs of serious illness. 

Others have trusted Trump’s reports of wellbeing, but criticized his triumphant attitude that told American citizens, “Don’t be afraid of Covid.” Critics such as Senator Bernie Sanders have claimed that while Trump is a high-risk demographic for COVID-19, he also received immediate treatment at one of the top institutes in the nation, a stark comparison to the treatment that much of his audience would receive. “It’s such a dangerous message… we’re not all the President of the United States, we don’t all have access to your kind of health care,” Oraedu said. She also expressed her worry for the onset of a second wave due to Trump’s lack of concern. 

Trump has been critiqued in the past for downplaying the virus by likening it to the flu and encouraging rapid economic reopening. Cherins went so far as to claim “he brought [it] upon himself.”  Trump certainly wasn’t the first world leader to contract coronavirus, but unlike Boris Johnson or Jair Bolsonaro, his case came days after a long-awaited presidential debate and weeks before an upcoming election. Cherins wasn’t surprised when Trump caught it, but thought that “it came at an unfortunate time.” Oraedu also felt his “parading around” made him more vulnerable. “The jokes write themselves,” she said, referencing the posts regarding the president’s illness that flooded social media. The immediate reaction on social media was overwhelming. Twitter, which has been criticized for its left-leaning stance, banned death threats against Trump after a slew of posts mocking his condition and wishing for his death started to pour out. Cherins appreciated this effort, and said that despite his contempt for Trump, he felt that “the fact that people are celebrating is disgusting.”

The president’s case and its exceptionally turbulent timing has undeniably stirred conversation. But whether it will change the outcome of the election is impossible to know for sure. “The election is something that terrifies me,” Oraedu said, mentioning the relief of being a minor. With mixed signals about voting methods and a president who caught a virus with unknown lasting health complications, the upcoming election is truly a mystery.

Designed by: Jack Griffith