For a nation reeling from the coronavirus, Donald Trump’s announcement, early Friday morning, Oct. 2, that he and first lady Melania TrumpMelania TrumpEric Trump falsely calls president’s coronavirus treatment a vaccine Trump rallies supporters at White House in first event since COVID-19 diagnosis Christie released from the hospital after COVID-19 diagnosis MORE had tested positive for the disease represented the perfect teachable moment.
On the one hand, it could not have come at a worse time. After a couple months of decline, over 20 states reported a daily increase in new COVID-19 cases. The NFL was forced to postpone several games. Many college campuses started classes, only to close weeks later, due to a resurgence of new cases. The death toll surpassed 200,000. With schools, restaurants, and businesses reopening, health experts warned of a fall resurgence.
On the other hand, Trump’s diagnosis came at just the right time. Assuming, as all Americans prayed for, he came out of it swiftly and strongly, it was the perfect opportunity for him to deliver the message Americans needed to hear. Close your eyes. You can almost hear Donald Trump saying it in an Oval Office address the day after his return to the White House from Walter Reed Medical Center.
“My fellow Americans, I’m happy to tell you that I’ve recovered from my bout with the coronavirus. It’s a terrible disease. And, I admit, at first, no matter what my health experts told me, I didn’t think it was that dangerous. But now that I’ve experienced it myself, I realize that I was wrong. I’ve learned my lesson, and I want to share that with you tonight.
“Please believe me. COVID-19 is a very serious threat. It’s not going away. It’s still with us, and it’s as dangerous as ever. And here’s what I want you to understand: If I, the president of the United States, living in the most secure bubble on the planet, with the most advanced health care of anybody, can get the coronavirus — then so can you. And, of course, you would not benefit from the round-the-clock team of doctors and access to latest medication that I enjoy.
“So, I urge you tonight: Please protect yourself and your loved ones. Do what I did not do. Do what the health experts recommend: Take the coronavirus seriously. Wear a mask. Practice social distancing. Avoid crowds of people. I’m confident that we’ll get over this crisis and put the coronavirus behind us, but only if we take all the necessary precautions together.”
That’s exactly the message Americans needed to hear from President TrumpDonald John TrumpTwo ethics groups call on House to begin impeachment inquiry against Barr Trump relishes return to large rallies following COVID-19 diagnosis McGrath: McConnell ‘can’t get it done’ on COVID-19 relief MORE. Unfortunately, instead, we heard just the opposite. It was clear from the moment Trump stepped off Marine One, returning to the White House from Walter Reed, that he hadn’t learned a damned thing from his bout with COVID-19.
He immediately ripped off his mask. He pronounced himself cured. He said he was probably immune. Within 24 hours, he insisted on returning to the Oval Office, putting White House staffers and Secret Service agents at risk. Once again, defying CDC guidelines, he invited hundreds of supporters for another superspreader event on the South Lawn on Saturday and held his first post-COVID political rally in Florida Monday — when, under doctor’s orders, any other coronavirus patient would still be under quarantine.
The tragedy is that this could have been the turning point. Instead, the virus will rage on as before, with health officials saying one thing, and the president of the United States saying just the opposite.
The result: more families will be torn apart, more small businesses will close their doors forever, and another 200,000 Americans could die of coronavirus. All because Donald Trump refused to admit he was wrong.
Press is host of “The Bill Press Pod.” He is author of “From the Left: A Life in the Crossfire.”