“Don’t Be Afraid”: How the President Has Undermined Civic Responsibility

As Ludlowe students, we have been urged to take precautions like wearing masks, limiting gatherings, and social distancing, to protect ourselves and our community from COVID-19. When FLHS experienced a number of positive cases related to student interactions outside of school, the district implemented a rigorous contact tracing and quarantining program. The Fairfield Department of Public Health, Fairfield Public schools, and the teachers and staff at Ludlowe have taken their commitment to public safety very seriously and been transparent about the decisions that they have made to keep us safe. 

To hear the President tell the American people “not to be afraid” after the pandemic has tragically taken over 208,000 U.S. lives, is not only a failure to display leadership. It is also a failure to model the civic responsibility that FLHS students are taught to value.

I was saddened to hear of the President’s positive test when I woke up on Friday morning, because I would not wish anyone to contract Coronavirus. However, what comes as a great source of regret to me is the continual failure on the part of the White House to acknowledge the severity of the virus, adhere to social distancing guidelines, and take accountability for its response to the pandemic. President Trump may have achieved a full recovery from the virus, but what about the people that he continues to place recklessly at risk during campaign events and state functions? What about the countless Americans who have lost their lives, and whose lives continue to be dominated by the pandemic?

President Trump, who announced that he and the First Lady had tested positive for Coronavirus on the morning of October 2 and was hospitalized for three days, has repeatedly flouted social distancing measures and discouraged mask wearing. At the Presidential debate on Tuesday, September 29, he mocked Democratic candidate Joe Biden for wearing a mask and limiting the size of his crowds on the campaign trail. 

By holding large events without safety precautions, the President has put himself and the American people at risk—as the positive tests from the past few days clearly communicate. On September 26, the President hosted over 150 people at the White House Rose Garden to introduce his Supreme Court nominee, Amy Coney Barrett. The event was crowded—held in violation of DC safety regulations—and a majority of guests did not wear masks. Numerous senators and members of Trump’s inner circle have tested positive over the past week.

The President’s decision to attend a campaign fundraiser in Bedminster, New Jersey, on October 1, also displays his disregard of common sense safety measures. After his aide Hope Hicks had tested positive, the President still attended the in-person gathering, putting $5 million of fundraising and campaign optics over public safety. Common sense—and the guidelines of the CDC—held little sway for the President, even though he had come into contact with Hicks.

The strategy of the Trump administration over the past seven months has been to minimize the pandemic and claim that it will simply “go away.” They urged schools across the nation to reopen, despite offering little guidance about how that could be accomplished safely. School districts have had to step up, and Ludlowe students have learned that each student must take the pandemic seriously and do their part. Sadly, students can no longer look to our nation’s President as a model of the civic responsibility that is needed. After bypassing safety precautions, the Trump administration bypassed transparency and accountability when the positive tests came in.

The White House did not notify people who had been in close contact with the President, after he tested positive. They did not provide contact tracing information to DC authorities about the nomination event for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, which has become a superspreader gathering.

Throughout the course of the illness itself, the administration has been unwilling to tell the truth. The President’s personal physician did not disclose the President’s full medical condition when questioned on Saturday, October 2, on the President’s second day in the hospital. He did not mention that the President had received supplemental oxygen on the previous day and dodged questions in subsequent briefings. Enormous power and responsibility is vested in the presidency, so the American people have a right to know the truth about the President’s illness.

The administration has also not acknowledged the date of President Trump’s last negative COVID-19 test, which has prompted doubts that the President is actually testing as frequently as his administration claims. If the administration cannot tell the truth about the President’s condition, how can the American people believe that they have been telling the truth throughout the pandemic as a whole? Not only has the President undermined civic responsibility by politicizing social distancing and mask wearing, but he has inflicted lasting damage by undermining public trust.

As the President left Walter Reed Military Hospital, he downplayed the severity of the virus and tweeted, “Don’t be afraid of COVID-19. Don’t let it dominate your life.” Ludlowe students have all experienced unforeseen changes due to COVID-19; the pandemic has dominated the lives of people who have pre-existing conditions or belong to at-risk demographics to an even greater extent. This tweet conveys how startlingly out of touch the President continues to be with his responsibility as a leader and the American people’s experience—even after his COVID-19 diagnosis.

The health care that Trump accessed during his illness does not reflect the experience of many Americans. The President was placed in the Walter Reed Military Hospital as a “precautionary measure” on Friday, October 2, with a full team of specialists supervising his care. The President received an antiviral drug authorized for emergency use, an antibody cocktail still in clinical trials, supplemental oxygen, and the dexamethasone steroid, according to CNN. While the attention the President received and “compassionate use” of trial vaccines can be justified given his prominent role in national security, the insufficient access to health care for marginalized communities in this pandemic is a tragedy.

The death rate for Black Americans diagnosed with COVID-19 is more than twice the rate for white Americans, according to the New York Times. If the President has made a full recovery, as his physician claims, it will not demonstrate that COVID-19 is a benign illness, but instead that everyone deserves the access to health care that made his recovery possible. As the Trump administration seeks to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, the vast disparities in our nation’s healthcare system will only increase.

The President’s experience with COVID-19 is not representative of the experience of the 7.5 million who have tested positive in our nation as a whole. The conduct of the Trump administration cannot, and should not, be used as a national standard of public safety and civic responsibility.

While it is human to wish that the President makes a full recovery, we must not defend the decisions that have placed 7.5 million people in his predicament. Continuing to recklessly avoid public health measures puts the most powerful and the most vulnerable among us, alike, at risk.