After being diagnosed with Covid-19, Donald Trump took to Twitter to declare: “We will get through this TOGETHER!” Sadly, that statement is utterly at odds with the reality for many Americans, who lack anything close to the medical resources at his privileged disposal.
Despite constantly downplaying the seriousness of the virus to the American public, Trump had access to constant testing. Now that he has the virus, he benefits from exclusive and seemingly excessive treatments, all while denouncing and systematically reducing access to these same vital measures for others. He can watch as a disease ruins millions of lives and know his privilege will protect him.
In a recent statement, the president said: “Melania is handling it statistically like it’s supposed to be handled.” No individual is a statistic, but it is easier to resign your loved ones to them when that statistic is in their favor. Melania is a 50-year-old white American; her cohort has seen seven times fewer deaths than Black Americans of the same age. Trump’s own whiteness, even at his age and risk level, means his Covid-19 mortality risk is comparable to Black Americans 20-30 years younger. These stark differences only widen when you add the consideration of the Trumps’ tremendous wealth – wealth that is, of course, born of white privilege.
These inequities are created by systemic racism. The Trumps could afford to engage in Covid-risky behavior because their privileges stacked the odds in their favor.
The Trumps could afford to engage in Covid-risky behavior because their privileges stacked the odds in their favor
These privileged narratives receive a disproportionate amount of our attention, but they are not representative of the true risk of Covid-19. When celebrities such as Tom Hanks, members of the Utah Jazz, and other high-profile figures test positive, they nearly always have an expeditious and often asymptomatic recovery. This is unsurprising: celebrities and the super-rich have access to some of the best healthcare in the world. Yet even within the ranks of wealthy Americans, there are racial discrepancies in Covid’s impact. After controlling for income levels, non-white communities still appear to experience greater rates of both infection and death. Even if he were not president, Trump would probably face lower risk than comparatively wealthy people of color.
The true story of the pandemic is not of the wealthy – it is of those with the greatest risk. Without routine testing and full access to healthcare, Black, Hispanic and Indigenous communities have been forced to rely on social interventions for protection. Social tools, in turn, rely on a unified compliance by all. White Americans face a lower risk of infection and much better overall outcomes. But if they do not comply with, for example, mask-wearing protocols, they put others at risk, especially essential workers, a disproportionate number of whom are people of color. When Trump ridicules masks, he sends a message that his risk will be borne by others.
Trump testing positive cannot reverse the preventable deaths, nor is it likely to save future lives. It just serves as another reminder that he benefits from a system unfairly built for him to succeed.
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His response to his seeming improvement only underscored that. On Monday, as he was preparing to be released from hospital, Trump tweeted: “Feeling really good! Don’t be afraid of Covid. Don’t let it dominate your life,” adding, “I feel better than I did 20 years ago!”
Not only is Trump ignoring all of the ways in which he has gotten the best treatments available in the world, he is also creating a highly selective and discriminatory narrative – one that downplays the pandemic and paints his family’s Covid-19 experience as representative of all Americans. To propose bleach for others and expensive medical cocktails for yourself is the height of privilege.