Chaos, confusion, contradiction and karma

Men in white coats: Couldn’t put Donald Trump’s campaign together again. © AP

Is it right to say that Donald Trump’s Covid infection is “karma”? Did the truth-defying, science-mocking leader of the free world get what he deserves? Or is this just shallow moralising?

The newspapers this morning are agreed about at least one thing: for anyone trying to understand the truth about Donald Trump’s health, it has been a rough weekend.

“White House reports on Trump’s condition continue to be limited and contradictory,” says the Washington Post. “As Trump seeks to project strength, doctors disclose alarming episodes,” proclaims the New York Times.

Last night it got even worse – when the president was driven slowly past hundreds of fans in a vehicle with two others inside – just hours after doctors revealed that Trump was taking a steroid normally reserved for patients with severe cases of Covid-19

James Phillips, a doctor who practises at the president’s hospital, Walter Reed, said it was “insanity”.

“Every single person in the vehicle during that completely unnecessary presidential drive-by just now has to be quarantined for 14 days,” Dr Phillips tweeted. “They might get sick. They may die. For political theatre. Commanded by Trump to put their lives at risk for theatre.”

Sean Conley, the White House doctor who came under scrutiny for evading important questions about Trump’s health during two news conferences at the weekend, said yesterday afternoon that the president “continued to improve”.

But he triggered new questions about whether he was giving a full picture after acknowledging that Trump’s oxygen levels had dropped twice over three days, requiring him to receive oxygen on Friday. On Saturday, he had repeatedly refused to answer when asked about Trump’s oxygen levels.

Ever since Covid-19 emerged as a significant threat to global health, Trump has consistently denounced its seriousness.

He has frequently been seen without a mask in public, and has ridiculed others for doing so. During the recent presidential debate, Trump mocked his opponent, Joe Biden, remarking “I don’t wear masks like him.”

Trump has also promoted proven scientific falsehoods about Covid-19. A major study last week found that the president himself has been the “single largest driver” of coronavirus misinformation.

This morning the USA retains its record as the nation with the highest number of cases of Covid-19 (7.3m) and the highest number of deaths (207,000) in the world (according to the World Health Organization).

Since the news of Trump’s positive test emerged, the response by his detractors has been laden with Schadenfreude. Actor Dominic West said that he “jumped for joy” when he heard the news. Others have said that Covid-19 is his nemesis.

Columnist Susie Boniface reflected many thousands on Twitter when she proclaimed it was “karma, at last”.

What is karma? Deriving from the 1,500-year-old Sanskrit word “karman”, meaning “act”, it is the belief that good actions result in good fortune and vice versa – a central idea in Buddhism, Hinduism and Sikhism.

Because it is a religious – not scientific – idea, many sceptics consider it to be a superstition. But there is a school of thought that promotes a form of practical karma – essentially the belief in the moral rule “do as you would be done by”.

So, is it right to say that Donald Trump’s Covid infection is “karma”?

Tempting fate

No, goes one argument. This is a just a way of making yourself feel superior. Trump may have been arrogant, reckless and emotional in his approach to Covid-19, but his illness is no more “karma” than anyone else’s. Just as the ancient Greeks thought the gods were angry during a thunderstorm, so we love to ascribe moral meaning to events. Ultimately this makes us look spiteful and silly.

Yes, goes the opposite view. Trump may not resemble the tragic heroes familiar from Aeschylus or Shakespeare. But he is a person who was given opportunities to do something important in spite of his flaws, placed at a crucial turning point in history. He had a chance at heroism, even greatness, but he chose badly and fate took its revenge.

You Decide

  1. Do you think that Donald Trump deserved to catch Covid-19?
  2. Some have said that they are glad that Trump has the virus. Should we ever be glad when someone has a serious illness?

Activities

  1. Imagine you are picked to give a get well card to President Trump in hospital. What message will you write inside it?
  2. The US election is due to take place on 3 November. Make a list of all the advantages and disadvantages that Trump’s illness may pose to his campaign.

Some People Say...

“If corruption is a disease, transparency is a central part of its treatment.”

Kofi Annan (1938–2018), Ghanaian diplomat and secretary-general of the United Nations

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
It is generally agreed that Donald Trump’s illness struck at a crucial point for his re-election campaign. He had recently started campaigning more in swing states as he tried to reel in Joe Biden, his Democratic rival who is increasing his poll lead. A new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll last night gave Biden a 14-point lead, up six points from several weeks ago. Biden also leads in every swing state, underscoring the tough battle the president faces over the next 30 days.
What do we not know?
One main area of debate is how the news that President Trump has COVID-19 will affect the presidential campaign — experts say this is simply an unprecedented situation so close to an election. In the UK, support for Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party held steady at 51% for weeks following Johnson’s own bout with the virus. However, it may have caused a small uptick in his approval rating – 62% of Britons approved of Johnson on the day of his diagnosis; shortly after he was hospitalised, it reached a peak of 66%.

Word Watch

Presidential debate
In the lead up to every American election, the two candidates debate one another on policy and current affairs.
Detractors
Those who disagree or oppose someone.
Schadenfreude
Literally means “harm-joy”. Schadenfreude is a German word that describes someone deriving pleasure from another’s misfortune.
Nemesis
The inescapable agent of one’s downfall. Its origins are located in the themes of ancient Greek tragedy. It comes from the Greek word “nemein”, meaning “to give what is due”.
Sanskrit
An archaic language that originated in the Indian subcontinent over 3,500 years ago – the liturgical basis of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism.
Sceptics
People who tend to doubt or question claims of knowledge.

Subjects

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