He thought he was invincible. Donald Trump, the head of the most powerful country in the world, did everything possible to undermine medical science these past eight months. All things related to the avoidance, detection and treatment of the coronavirus infection he publicly abnegated while exhorting his people to do likewise. With his words and actions he set a bad example, telling Americans to disregard wearing of face masks, or maintain social distancing, or take other simple but helpful precautions to try and keep the virus at bay. Now he and his wife, Melania, are down with the deadly virus.
It is because the virus recognises neither one’s station in life nor the executive office one may hold. The equal-opportunity devilish microbe is so mighty potent because it is completely secretive, with no scientist as yet succeeding in making a vaccine to neutralise its killer effects. Of course, we lament the irresponsible behavior of the US president, not with a sense of schadenfreude but only to underline the need for everyone here in India as well not to defy commonsensical measures meant to avoid contracting the infection. As for Trump, we hope he is soon back on his feet and plunges yet again into his re-election campaign for the November 3 polling, but this time with utmost care.
Bluster and bluff does not become a head of a government, especially when it impacts the health of millions of people. Before Trump, Prime Minister Boris Johnson had made light of the pandemic, asserting with his typical bravado that herd immunity will see its death even before it inflicts any damage on the British people. Johnson would soon learn that toying with as serious a pandemic as Covid-19 could be dangerous. He was near death before he had a miraculous recovery, a fact he was to later acknowledge himself. His country is now in the throes of a resurge and is imposing curbs on people's movement.
In Brazil, President Jair Bolsonaro mocked those who wore masks and took care to maintain social distancing, calling the virus no more than a common cold. He and his wife were soon struck by the virus. Happily, both have recovered since. Without doubt, Trump was far more reckless, holding rallies of tens of hundreds of his followers without wearing a mask. Most in the audience were equally blasé, disdaining masks and social distancing. It speaks of his cynical, nay, craven attitude that while over two lakh Americans are dead under his watch from the coronavirus, all that Trump was obsessed was his re-election. He constantly coaxed the states to reopen public places, schools, sporting competitions, etc. , arguing, falsely, of course, that the virus was dying or was even dead. So deprecatory was his attitude towards the scientific community that he rebuked it often for forcing lockdowns or denying people the opportunity to resume normal life.
Indeed, in the 90-minute televised non-debate last week that he had mocked his Democratic challenger, Joe Biden for wearing 'a big mask wherever he goes’ and for avoiding holding in-person campaign rallies. Later, after Trump was down with the virus, Biden had the good sense to wish the Trumps a quick recovery. For, there is no knowing when Trump might seek to milk his infection for vote-seeking, a la sympathy vote in the Indian context. The only gain that might come from Trump’s infection is that he might hereon, show due respect to science and scientists.
There is something about the coronavirus that has defied the best of global minds so far in locating an effective antidote to it. Some might see in this a vindication of their belief in a Higher Being who masters all that happens, or, does not, on Mother Earth. Even if one is an agnostic or even an atheist, the fact that viruses have kept tormenting humanity at regular intervals, from the mid-14th century Black Death to the Spanish Flu in the earlier 20th century to a host of other plagues till a couple of years ago, the failure of humankind to prevent such global outbreaks underlines one of the two factors: One, we as humans are doing something so terribly wrong that Nature punishes us every now and then, or two, we are still some way from mastering our own destiny. Have your pick. But, for now, the sensible will internalise the simple mantra: 'Stay safe and stay Covid-free.’