Trump Covid diagnosis: Papers unsurprised and unsympathetic

Donald Trump lands at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center following his announcement on Friday that he and his wife had tested positive for Covid Keystone

US President Donald Trump’s announcement that he has Covid-19 has filled Swiss newspaper frontpages. Commentators conclude that Trump’s history of lying, ignorance and selfishness have come back to haunt him. But what does it mean for next month’s election?  

This content was published on October 3, 2020

“Nobody wishes the president any ill, […] but nobody has been surprised by his infection,” said the Tages-Anzeiger in Zurich on Saturday.

On Friday Trump moved to a military hospital for treatment after being diagnosed with Covid-19. His wife Melania and communications adviser Hope Hicks also tested positive.

“Right from the beginning Trump treated the pandemic with a mixture of arrogance and ignorance. Like Boris Johnson and Jair Bolsonaro [other populist leaders who contracted Covid-19], he mocked the ‘China virus’ and politicised the disease like no other politician,” the paper wrote.

It pointed out that Trump, 74, hasn’t always been so truthful about his health – and as a result has frittered away trust. “This is why he is met with scepticism, even after his coronavirus infection,” it said.

“Despite this, Trump’s entourage has learnt nothing. Although he is being treated with the highest possible dose of an as-yet-unapproved drug [remdesivir], his infection is ‘mild’. As a result, suspicions and rumours were coming thick and fast last night. This speculation was driven by the realisation over the past four years that he can never, ever be trusted. The more he denies something, the more likely it is to be true.”

The Tages-Anzeiger said that when Trump unexpectedly went into hospital last year, the White House described it as a routine examination. “But Vice President Mike Pence was alerted and stood ready to take over. Trump later even referred to ‘mini-strokes’, which no one else had previously talked about.”

The cover-up continued with the coronavirus infection, the paper said. “The fact that his advisor Hope Hicks was infected was made public by Bloomberg news agency not the White House.”

‘End of the mirage’

In French-speaking Switzerland, the Tribune de Genève said the president’s infection was forcing pro-Trump America to confront its own vulnerability.

“The end of the mirage created by Donald Trump in an attempt to minimise the pandemic has turned into a nightmare for him,” it wrote.

“On Tuesday night in Cleveland he once again made fun of the size of his opponent Joe Biden’s mask. On Friday he was holed up in the White House, forced to consider the risks of the disease and cancel his meetings – just as he is behind in the polls.”

The Tribune de Genève said that with just a month to go before the presidential election the Americans most exasperated by Trump’s attitude towards the pandemic may find it hard to resist mockingly citing the “no more bullshit” placards waved in recent months by the president’s supporters.

“Many others will shake their head in disgust at the scale of the disaster that has already claimed more than 208,000 lives in the United States while the president pretended it didn’t exist.”

Impact on campaign

“Even though the news of Trump’s hospitalisation dropped in the US like a bomb, it’s important to keep things in proportion,” said the Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ).

“Breathless speculation that the disease will kill the president and perhaps a significant portion of the US leadership is misplaced. Thanks to excellent medical care, the risk of Trump’s death is very low. Equally exaggerated is the fear that a foreign state could use the moment to act against America’s interests somewhere in the world. The US state apparatus is working normally, probably even more smoothly without the daily commotion emanating from the Oval Office.”

However, the NZZ pointed out that the diagnosis would have a serious impact on the election campaign.

“Leading a campaign from hospital is an enormous challenge. On the one hand this applies to the logistics: Trump’s trademark – fiery appearances in front of rapturous supporters – is out of the question for the time being. Personal meetings with donors must also be cancelled, which could have financial consequences for the campaign. The next television debate with Democrat challenger Joe Biden, scheduled for mid-October, is still on the agenda but will probably have to be postponed or cancelled altogether. This means that Trump is running out of time. The election is only a month away. This would have been barely enough time to make up for the considerable deficit in opinion polls even without the latest bad news.”

But what was probably even more serious for Trump, according to the NZZ, was that he was now losing control of the dominant campaign issues.

“In the last few days before his illness he had done everything to push the pandemic and accusations of his political failure in the coronavirus crisis into the background. Regarding the progress made in vaccine development, his message was that an end to the epidemic was in sight and that nothing stood in the way of a new economic boom. Now, however, Covid-19 is back dominating the headlines.”

‘Threat to democracy’

Presidential elections are known for “October surprises” – cooked-up scandals and smears designed to turn the tide in favour of the likely loser, concluded the Tages-Anzeiger.

“But whether this surprise will work is questionable. Trump’s mendacity, selfishness and inability to empathise make it difficult to sympathise with him,” it wrote.

“More than that, surveys show that a clear majority of Americans see him as a deadly threat to democracy. For them, the most dangerous virus is not Covid-19, but Trump. He is more subversive. There will be a lot more pain before the president is removed from the nation’s insides.”

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