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The sick man of western democracy

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Race for the White House Donald Trump treats COVID-19 much as he does anything or anyone else, as an untethered plotline for his own self-imagined reality TV show

If they were your patients, you’d probably be advising them to stay home right now, but in the US two men in their Seventies are vying to become President. COVID-19 is an issue, unsurprisingly as the death toll from the virus draws level with that of the Civil War. Joe Biden, the challenger, approaches it gravely, with respect for its transmissibility.

The incumbent Donald Trump treats the subject much as he does anything or anyone else, as an untethered plotline for his own self-imagined reality TV show. First it was no threat at all. Then, when it was a threat, it was someone else’s fault. Then it became a canvas for outlandish theories and miracle cures – the point at which a medical journal had to publish a short paper advising against taking disnifectant intravenously might represent the nadir of American intellectual life. He rails against wearing masks and social distancing. It was only ever going to be a matter of time before he caught it.

After a weekend in hospital, and a surprisingly quick discharge the most Trumpian detail of all followed. As the President enjoyed his Rolls-Royce health care, he was preparing to send lawyers to the Supreme Court to strike down the Affordable Care Act thus locking tens of millions of Americans out of basic health insurance. In his zero-sum worldview, some other sucker always has to lose for him to win.

But the reality of COVID has blown that worldview out of the water. Truth matters; co-operation (even between rival pharma companies) is vital, and health is no longer the preserve of the individual but the task of a community. If the 45th President cannot lead in this new reality, someone else will have to.

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