Since Trump's announcement yesterday that he has been infected by the coronavirus, most of the popular reaction has assumed that this is disastrous for his campaign for two reasons. First, it makes him look foolish for playing down the danger from the pandemic and for mocking people who wear masks. Second, it brings the pandemic back into the center of the presidential campaign debate, which favors Biden because Trump's handling of the pandemic does not look good.
But consider Trump's rhetorical psychology. He must boast that he always wins at everything he does. He never loses. So he must turn every failure into a success. He is certainly not going to admit that his sickness shows his foolishness.
Consider then how Trump could turn this all to his rhetorical advantage. Sure, the virus could kill him, and that would be the dramatic end to his presidency. But the odds are against that. Even older obese men like Trump have maybe somewhere around a 90-95% chance of surviving the viral infection. So if he survives, as he probably will, imagine what he could say.
I've done it. I have defeated the virus. I decided that I needed to expose myself to the virus, so that once infected, I could show how to overcome it. Although we don't yet have a vaccine, there are lots of experimental treatments to mitigate the infection. I have tried all of them. And even though I belong to a group that is most vulnerable to the virus, I am strong: I fought it and won.
So, you see, I have just proven--by my self-sacrificial fight with the virus--that the pandemic is no longer a threat to our lives. As I have always told you, I alone can fix it.
Now that I have defeated the pandemic, we can Make America Great Again!
There are some remarkable similarities--but also differences--here with Woodrow Wilson and the flu pandemic of 1918-1920, which killed perhaps 50 million people around the world and 675,000 in the U.S., making it much deadlier than the coronavirus pandemic today.
As president, Wilson did almost nothing to control the pandemic. He did not even speak about it in public. Public health policies were managed mostly by state and local governments.
In April of 1919, Wilson was at the Paris Peace Conference to negotiate peace terms for the end of the World War. He became infected with the flu virus. He was 63 years old and in bad health. He became deathly ill, but he survived. Even in this deadliest pandemic in human history, most of the people infected survived. Unlike Trump's illness, Wilson's was kept secret. A few months later, Wilson suffered a stroke that incapacitated him. He lived on until his death in 1924.
I have written about the flu pandemic of 1918-1920 as compared with the present coronavirus pandemic here, and here. One crucial difference is that in the flu pandemic there was no governmentally mandated lockdown of economic and social activity like that recommended by Trump in March.