After months of downplaying the COVID-19 pandemic that has upended much of the world since March, President Trump announced that he had contracted the virus. From the now-infamous January line that the virus was “completely under control” to his September claim that the virus affected “virtually nobody”–despite some 200,000 COVID deaths in the United States alone– Trump’s diagnosis throws another wrench into the already chaotic 2020 presidential election. Washington was reeling this week from Trump’s announcement, and there was even discussion of the use of the 25th Amendment to transfer presidential power to the Vice President while Trump recovers.
Trump’s diagnosis doesn’t necessarily come as a surprise, especially given his preference for holding large rallies that don’t abide by social distancing rules and his reticence for wearing a mask (the President wasn’t publicly photographed wearing one until July). Even at his first debate with Former Vice President Joe Biden on September 29, the President ridiculed Biden for frequently wearing a mask in public.
Trump spent the weekend at Walter Reed Medical Center undergoing COVID treatments before returning to the White House Monday. In a video posted to Twitter from the President’s personal account, he urged Americans not to let the virus “dominate” their lives, a message that is at odds with those put out by Trump’s own health experts since the start of the pandemic.
Also at odds was the reporting on the President’s physical condition. Trump’s personal physician, Sean Conley, in a press conference Sunday, presented an optimistic depiction of the President’s health, saying he felt “very well” and his vitals did not offer any cause for concern.
An unnamed source, who later identified as White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, presented a much darker picture, telling reporters that Trump’s condition was “very concerning and the next 48 hours will be critical in terms of his care. We are still not on a clear path to a full recovery.”
What should Americans make of this? With the election under one month away, what does the mixed messaging tell us about the state of our President’s health? As history shows, the White House isn’t always upfront about the state of the Commander in Chief’s wellbeing. Take, for instance, Franklin Roosevelt, who by 1944 suffered from congestive heart failure. Doctors told him that he would not survive a second term, and Roosevelt’s team sought to keep his ailments hidden from the public. FDR would die in office only three months after his fourth inaugural in April 1945. Woodrow Wilson, too, suffered a debilitating stroke while in office, virtually rendering him incapacitated, and John F. Kennedy suffered from a chronic condition of Addison’s Disease, which, in neither case, was public knowledge.
In our highly evolving media landscape, concealing a presidential ailment is nearly impossible. The confusing, even contradictory, messaging from the White House indicates that Trump may not be as healthy as he wants us to believe, and he may not have “dominated” the virus like he hopes Americans will. How voters will respond at the polls to his condition is still up in the air, but the blatant contradictions in presentation from the White House warrants further investigation.