Impending death, as the saying goes, has a way of focusing the mind. There’s no reason to believe President Trump faces imminent death as a result of his recently testing positive for the coronavirus.
But the brief video he released before he went into hospital showed a Trump we’ve rarely seen before: sombre, scared and, perhaps for the first time, truly shaken by the pandemic’s threat to both the nation and himself. It’s conceivable that this momentous new development in the US presidential race, just a month from election day, could restore a seriousness to our politics that it has lacked for quite a while.
Exhibit A in the unseriousness of American political life has, of course, been our tragically inept response to the pandemic. Not all of the blame can be pinned on the Trump administration. The coronavirus has demonstrated a widespread breakdown in national competence that has become increasingly evident since the end of the cold war, which likely will receive further confirmation when we prove ourselves incapable of conducting a successful election next month.
But Trump’s distinctive contribution to our cack-handed response to this pandemic has been to politicise the public health measures to combat it. His irresponsible pursuit of partisan advantage over the national interest led him to downplay the threat of the virus, to demand a premature return to business as usual, to ignore social distancing at his public rallies and to mock wearing a mask as somehow weak and un-American.
Trump’s opponents have some justification for considering his contracting the coronavirus to be a kind of karmic retribution. Bu fortunately, most prominent Democrats and Never Trumpers understand that the presidency as an institution, as opposed to any particular