Friday, October 30, 2020


Ruth Bader Ginsburg left us one of the greatest legacies in the history of the US Supreme Court. It could be best described as a continuous and ardent defense of individual rights in the face of state overreach and abuse of power. Her last request was that, in a controversial election year and down to the wire before voting day, the voice of the people should be heard before someone was chosen to attempt to take her place. That request was not only not heeded, but was demonstratively and almost viciously disregarded. Justice Ginsburg deserved better.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg
The death of this iconic American jurist was all but lost in a chaotic  pre-electoral news cycle fraught with extenuating circumstances—the worst pandemic in a hundred years that the administration has chosen to ignore in hopes that it will simply go away, the most divisive political climate in recent memory and perhaps since the Civil War, widespread demonstrations to demand respect for human and civil rights around which extreme elements from the outer fringes of both left and right have sought to stoke violence, and a sitting president who has incited violence himself while suggesting that he could very well not accept the outcome of the current democratic process and, if he loses next week’s election, could presumably have to be removed from office by force.

Nor did the administration and the Republican-led Senate (read: Majority Leader Mitch McConnell) give us time to mourn and honor Justice Ginsburg as she deserved. Instead, they made it immediately clear that they planned to pick an extreme conservative out of a hat—women’s names only, to try and appease female voters whom the current president is shedding like coronavirus at a super-spreader event—and ramrod her appointment through the Senate in the nick of time before the First Tuesday in November. And that is precisely what they have done.

It would be unfair to either woman to say that Amy Coney Barrett, who this week initiates her tenure as a new associate justice of the US Supreme Court, “replaces” Justice Ginsburg. She couldn’t, because Ginsburg’s shoes are unfillable—at least by any of the candidates that the President considered. And, besides, that’s not what Coney Barrett is there to do. No matter what sort of justice she proves to be in what will very likely be her decades in the post, for the moment, Justice Barrett is a ringer, a linchpin nomination designed to pack the Court with conservatives so as to affect US law for generations to come, even though there is every indication that the majority of Americans are currently of a much more liberal political bent. There is reason to suggest that she has been chosen not because of any judiciously even-handed interpretation of the law that she may have, or claim to have, but, indeed, because of her extremely conservative views, as they emerge from her past writing, speeches, decisions, associations and statements, no matter how carefully she avoided reflecting those views during Senate hearing questioning by opposition lawmakers.

Amy Coney Barrett at the White House

Seeking to strike any comparison between Coney Barrett and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg would be almost cruel. Next to RBG’s extraordinary accomplishments by the time she first came to the Supreme Court, Amy Coney Barrett is a relative novice. But taken beyond the boundaries of her ostensibly being a “replacement” for Ginsburg, she indeed has a sound (though not astounding) legal curriculum vitae.

After graduation from an all-girls Catholic high school in New Orleans, where she was class vice-president, Coney Barrett attended Rhodes College in Memphis, where she majored in English literature and minored in French, graduating magna cum laude in 1994. She was awarded a full tuition scholarship to Notre Dame Law, where, among other honors, she served as executive editor of the Notre Dame Law Review. She graduated at the top of her class earning a juris doctor suma cum laude degree in 1997. That same year she began clerking for DC District US Court of Appeals Judge Laurence Silberman. The following year, she went to work as a clerk for US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and remained with him throughout 1998 and 1999. For the next three years, she worked for a boutique law firm in Washington that later merged with a bigger law firm in Texas. Following the merger, she participated on the research team for a lawsuit entitled Bush v Gore, emerging from controversy over the 2000 presidential election results. Her firm represented George W. Bush. The rest of her credits are academic and include teaching or acting as a research fellow at George Washington University, University of Virginia Law, and at her alma mater, Notre Dame, imparting subjects related to the federal courts and constitutional law and researching and writing on topics related to constitutional law, originalism, statutory interpretation, and stare decisis (litigation according to precedent) for the Columbia, Cornell, University of Virginia, Texas and Notre Dame Law Reviews, among other publications.  

In 2010, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts appointed Coney Barrett to serve as a member of the Advisory Committee for the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure. It wasn’t until 2017, that she was named by the Trump administration to serve as a federal judge for the US Seventh District Court of Appeals, thus providing her with less than three years’ experience on the federal bench. Her ultimate Senate confirmation in that post was contentious, since Democrats saw her as a political appointee chosen more for her staunch anti-abortion stance and her dubious stated views on whether Rowe v Wade should be overturned than because of her general record as an attorney and educator. She is also believed to favor overturning the Affordable Care Act and to hold staunchly rightwing views on immigration. Nor did she prove herself capable, during her Supreme Court nomination hearing, of clearly answering what her response would be if President Trump were to try and make good on his threat to refuse to give up the White House if he is defeated in next week’s election—an act that, if carried out, would be clearly unconstitutional, if not seditious. These topics and her relative inexperience were some of the same issues that came up regarding the eleventh-hour GOP rush to place her on the Supreme Court while they still hold a Senate majority in case they are voted out of office, which, according to recent polls, appears not unlikely.

Ruth Bader Ginsberg, meanwhile, has been described in liberal legal circles as, quite simply, “the most important woman lawyer in the history of the Republic,” and one of the most famous and popular justices in the history of the Supreme Court. The “notorious RBG”, as she was fondly known, has quite literally become a pop icon, something few if any other Supreme Court justices in history can boast. And, by contrast and comparison, Amy Coney Barrett has become an unwitting catalyst for the posthumous exponential growth of Ginsburg’s popularity, particularly among American women. In her place at the other end of the spectrum, Coney Barrett is cast by liberals as the GOP’s “handmaid”—a reference to Margaret Atwood’s political fiction, The Handmaid’s Tale, in which, from one day to another, an all-pervasive quasi-evangelical state policy is violently imposed to disempower women.

By the time RBG was appointed to the Supreme Court by the Clinton administration in 1993, she had already served as a federal judge on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia for nearly thirteen years, having been nominated for that post by the Carter administration in 1980. She was known as a prudent, judicious and moderate jurist who was adept at seeking points of agreement with her conservative colleagues—including her later fellow Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia—and reaching a consensus for the appellate court’s final decisions.

Daughter of a Ukrainian-born father and a first-generation Polish-American mother, RBG attended the same public high school in Flatbush (Brooklyn), New York, as Senators Bernie Sanders, Chuck Schumer and Norm Coleman. She lost her mother, who had inspired and encouraged her to be all she could be, to cancer the day before her graduation. Despite this blow, by age seventeen, she not only had her high school diploma but was also enrolled in the academically prestigious Cornell University, majoring in Government, and graduating first in her class in 1954.

She married her husband, tax attorney Martin Ginsburg, right out of college at twenty-one, and accompanied him to Ft. Sill, Oklahoma, where he was assigned for active duty as an ROTC Army Reserve officer. There, she landed a job working for the Social Security administration for two years, but was demoted in her second year after she became pregnant. This early incident was one of the personal injustices that she suffered that would later affect her interpretation of sexual discrimination under the law.

Another was when she enrolled and was accepted at Harvard University’s Law School. She was one of only nine women out of a class of several hundred. Early in the year, the dean of Harvard Law invited all nine women to his home for dinner and, once they were seated at his table, asked each to explain why she had decided to come to Harvard Law to take a place that could have been filled by a man.

RBG later transferred to Columbia Law in New York City, from which she graduated in 1959, tying for top of her class. While studying, she became the first woman in history to be on the staff of both the Harvard Law Review and the Columbia Law Review. In 1960, with the recommendation of the dean of Harvard Law, she sought a position as a clerk for Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter, but was turned down strictly based on her sex. She later sought a similar position, with the recommendation of Columbia Law professor Gerald Gunther, on the staff of New York Southern District Federal Court Judge Edmund Palmieri, but was also at first rejected because of her gender. But Gunther doubled down, telling Palmieri that he would never again recommend a Columbia Law graduate to the Judge if he failed to hire Ginsburg. She then got the job, and held it for two years. Ironically, young legal professionals like Amy Coney Barrett who never have had to smash through the gender barrier to gain access to jobs in the federal legal system owe an enormous debt to Ruth Bader Ginsburg, parts of whose legacy the GOP is now seeking to undo.

From 1961 to 1963, RBG worked on an international legal procedure project sponsored by Columbia Law, for which she learned Swedish and carried out extensive research at Sweden’s Lund University, the result of which was a book that she co-authored with Swedish legal expert Anders Bruzelius—a member of a famous family of Scandinavian jurists.  It was while in Sweden that she further developed her stance on democracy and women, noting that anywhere from twenty to twenty-four percent of all Swedish law students were women, while in the US, with a few brilliant exceptions like herself, the legal profession tended to be a closed boys’ club. She also took note of the fact that one of the Swedish judges whom she interviewed for her project was eight months pregnant and still on the job. She came back from Sweden convinced that a more equal and democratic world for women than the one in the US was possible.         

When Ginsburg acquired her first teaching post at Rutgers Law in 1963, she was one of only a score of female law professors in the entire country. She taught civil procedure at Rutgers until 1972. While teaching there, RBG co-founded the Women’s Rights Law Reporter. It was the first US legal journal whose entire focus was set on women’s rights.

RBG in the '70s
In 1972, she became the first tenured woman professor ever to teach at Columbia Law. She remained at Columbia until 1980. While there, she became the co-author for the law school’s first sex discrimination casebook. Also during that time, she put in a year as a research fellow at Stanford University’s Center for Advanced Studies in Behavioral Sciences.

Also en 1972, RBG became a co-founder of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Women’s Rights Project. The following year, she became general counsel for that project. As such, she was a front-line participant in some three hundred general discrimination cases that the ACLU filed by the end of the next year. As the project’s general counsel, it was her job to personally argue six discrimination cases that the US Supreme Court heard between 1973 and 1976. She won favorable Supreme Court decisions five out of those six times.

Constitutional scholars tend to agree that Ginsburg chose her battles carefully, going after sex discrimination one precedent at a time rather than battling the Court for a blanket ban on all gender discrimination, which, in those times, she was unlikely to achieve. By concentrating on specific statutes throughout the country, she was creating the building blocks for a broader assault on gender inequality. Nor did she limit her plaintiffs to women, since by adding the cases of some men, she was implicitly proving that sex discrimination affected everyone, not just women. Examples included cases in which men, on the basis of gender, were denied benefits that women received—e.g., a widowed man who was denied Social Security benefits paid to widows caring for small children but not to widowers in the same situation, and a male caregiver denied a tax deduction provided to female caregivers.

Additionally, she couched the language of her legal briefs, preferring the term "gender" to the trigger-word "sex", which, she felt, might distract male judges hearing the cases. And it is important to note that her equality advocacy work during this time played a direct and significant role in ending gender discrimination in no few fields of law, as well as in tapping into the Fourteenth Amendment granting equal rights protection to African Americans, so as to seek its application to gender discrimination as well. Indeed, she drafted the brief for the historic Reed v Reed case argued before the Supreme Court, basing it on the applicability of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to women, as well as to blacks.

Legal scholars and civil rights advocates tend to agree that RBG’s work at the ACLU should be credited with making major legal inroads for women on the basis of the Fourteenth Amendment to the US Constitution and that her repeated victories largely discouraged legislators from continuing to treat women differently than men under the law. This has prompted many, including her conservative friend and fellow justice, Antonin Scalia, to compare her step by step, precedent by precedent building of women’s constitutional equality with how the country’s first black Supreme Court justice, Thurgood Marshall, built the case of African American equality. Said Scalia, "She became the leading (and very successful) litigator on behalf of women's rights—the Thurgood Marshall of that cause, so to speak." Linda Hirschman, an attorney/writer and the author of Sisters in Law: How Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg Went to the Supreme Court and Changed the World, calls Ginsburg “quite simply the most important woman lawyer in the history of the Republic.”

And she, in essence, maintained that incisive attorney’s view in her thirteen years as a federal judge and her nearly three decades as a Supreme Court Justice. Instead of switching hats and distancing herself from the lawyerly view of her clients’ needs and rights, she merely switched clients, and her new client was “we the people.” This was probably because her interpretations were based more on what was legitimate than what was “legal” and she wasn’t afraid to shake discriminatory laws to their illegitimately vested foundations and seek to force them to conform to the true spirit and letter of the Constitution.

RBG with Sandra Day O'Connor

Outstanding lawyer, researcher, teacher and judge, she was, without a doubt, a remarkable jurist. But she was also, first and foremost, a small-d democrat, who, nevertheless, took a judicious view of democracy and realized that it was, as the old saying goes, “the worst form of government, except all the others.” As such, she knew its weaknesses: namely, that if minority rights weren’t protected under law, it would be easy for the majority to disregard them in the name of democratic majority rule, and that majorities might well seek to influence the electoral process in order to ensure their permanence in power. Through her advocacy, public legal practice and decades on the bench, RBG worked tirelessly to ensure that constitutional interpretation encompassed an ever broader swath of equality.

A landmark Supreme Court case that typifies Justice Ginsburg’s influence in broadening the meaning of discrimination in the United States is the 1996 United States v Virginia. Written by Ginsburg and passed in a seven to one decision, the overwhelming Supreme Court majority struck down the Virginia Military Institute’s traditional male-only admissions rule. The only dissenting justice was William Rehnquist, while Justice Clarence Thomas recused himself because his son was enrolled in the VMI at that time. In drafting the decision, RBG stated that the institute had failed to demonstrate “exceedingly persuasive justification” for banning women from admission. The ban was, then, unconstitutional, since it violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

In seeking to get around the equality requirement, the State of Virginia offered the same sort of “separate but equal” ploy so often utilized to perpetuate racial discrimination, but this time applying it to gender. In short, it offered a program entitled the Virginia Women's Institute for Leadership (VWIL), to be provided through the nearby liberal arts school, Mary Baldwin College.

But Justice Ginsburg’s majority decision argued that the VWIL would not provide the same rigorous military training that men received at the VMI, nor would it boast the same curriculum, faculty or ultimate career opportunities to women as to men, including those arising from the contacts and reputation implicit in attending the all-male academy. Again drawing the parallel between racism and sexism, Ginsburg referred to Sweatt v Painter, a 1950 decision in which the Court had ruled that it was unconstitutional to segregate law schools in Texas because an alternative all-black law school that had been set up failed to provide the same benefits to its students that the prestigious and long-standing white school did. According to the Ginsburg majority decision, "The VWIL program is a pale shadow of VMI in terms of the range of curricular choices and faculty stature, funding, prestige, alumni support and influence."

She went on to write, “Generalizations about ‘the way women are,’ estimates of what is appropriate for most women, no longer justify denying opportunities to women whose talent and capacity place them outside the average description.” What she was subtly yet radically telling the society of those times, legal scholars say, was that if there is any woman who can meet a state’s standard for any sort of opportunity, then no woman can be denied access to that opportunity.

Perhaps the prime role of the Supreme Court should be protection of “we the people” against the frailties of democracy and the overarching power of both federal and state government. Ginsburg had a profound understanding of this responsibility. And a perusal of her advocacy, her appellate court performance and her victories and dissents in her many years on the Supreme Court make clear the debt she is owed not only by women, but also by racial and ethnic minorities, the LGBT community, political dissidents and people accused of alleged crimes—in other words, every social group or individual whose civil and human rights have too often been ignored by those representing the majority in a supposedly democratic society. In short, this diminutive woman with her enormous intellect and heart was no less than the epitome of justice, equality and the rule of law.

In a nation in which so many women owe protection of their basic rights to the persistent commitment to equality of this iconic Supreme Court justice, it is ironic that another woman has been picked by the Senate majority—one of those domineering majorities whose nefarious influence Justice Ginsburg spent her life seeking to limit—to try and  ensure that some of the results of victories fought and won by RBG and other staunch advocates of true democracy are eventually dismantled.

There is no way to know precisely how Amy Coney Barrett will perform as a Supreme Court Justice, but it seems clear that she has an almost diametrically opposing view to that of Ruth Bader Ginsburg when it comes to the tenets of democracy and, in particular, the basic rights of American women, including their reproductive rights. If members of the far-right who proposed her are successful in their hopes that she will do their bidding, it will be a slap in the face to the legacy of “the notorious RGB” and sadly, American democracy will be the worse for it.


Tuesday, October 6, 2020



 If anyone, including myself, held out hope that US President Donald Trump might grow an empathy chromosome while he was briefly in hospital with coronavirus, we saw our hopes swiftly dashed when he checked himself out of the Walter Reed Army Medical Center—bolstered by experimental drugs and pumped up on steroids—and went back to the White House for a victory lap and photo op. The president put on a display of machismo by snapping a salute at a Marine guard as he descended under his own power from his helicopter and strode unassisted across the White House lawn and up a flight of stairs to one of the residence’s balconies. Although he couldn’t hide the fact that the brief bit of exercise had left him winded, he defiantly stripped off his mask and saluted the cameras before walking through the balcony doors into the White House, without putting his mask back on, despite the fact that he is very likely still shedding virus like crazy and that several members of his staff were waiting for him inside.

This wasn’t the first time in the last several days that he had endangered those around him. Even during his brief stay at Walter Reed, he got bored and couldn’t bear the temptation to go AWOL from the medical center and gallivant around in an official SUV with part of his security detail, waving at passers-by and making sure images of him up and about and out and around were caught by the mainstream media. Like the mad dictator of North Korea, Kim Jong Un, for whom the president has expressed admiration and even “love”, former reality star Trump seems bent on the puerile goal of painting a picture of himself as somehow super-human, equating, like only the most insecure of immature males can do, not only illness but also kindness, politeness, gentleness, sensitivity, empathy and generosity with unacceptable weakness.

We (who are indeed empathic) understand from Trump’s niece, Mary, and from other reliable sources, that these insecurities are the result of the horrific upbringing that young Donald had under the tutelage of a ruthless father. But no matter how much we might weep for the president’s inner child, the American public shouldn’t be expected to pay the price for Trump’s childhood psychological trauma or his continuing childish pranks. While his behavior throughout the nearly four years of his presidency has been consistently recalcitrant and often questionable, his comportment over the past few days has been socially—almost criminally—unacceptable. And more and more people appear to be noticing.

By leaving the hospital, first to go for a spin in his car and then to return home in the midst of intensive experimental treatment for a deadly and highly contagious illness, and once again refusing to wear a mask when he knows full well that he is infectious, Trump has endangered everyone around him, from drivers and security agents to hospital, household and military staff, to say nothing of his adding to concerns about the plague that is spreading through the White House staff like wildfire after a super-spreader event held without social distancing or masks in the garden of the residence for the nomination to the Supreme Court of Judge Amy Coney Barrett. So blatant has been the attempt by the president to foster a White House reality show about his victory over COVID-19, that an anti-Trump conspiracy theory went viral that his infection with the disease was—as Trump might very well posit if it had happened to an opponent—“fake news”, a hoax, a sham.

But knowing how adamant Trump is about never wanting to appear weak, why would he make up such a story? Some conspiracy theorists said it was to arouse a “sympathy vote” in the upcoming presidential election, since the latest polls place former Obama Vice President Joe Biden at a fifteen point lead over the president for voter intention. Others claimed a more Kim Jong Un scenario in which Trump would go into the hospital apparently stricken, only to emerge resurrected and stronger than ever to try and persuade the public to believe his “superman” reality-show narrative.

At the other end of the political spectrum, several stars of far-right talk radio and TV oozed once more like pond scum to the surface of their swamp with yet another conspiracy theory—that if Trump had managed to dodge the virus up to now, wasn’t it strange that he’d gotten it just a month before elections? And didn’t the nefarious Democrats perhaps have something to do with it?

Despite the president’s latest performance, however, none of these theories seems likely. And the ostensible facts would appear to be far worse: namely, that President Trump is indeed ill with COVID-19. That he fell ill as a result of his repeated flouting of the science and his utter disregard for scientifically proven protocols. That he is too unaware to realize that the only reason he is feeling substantially better is because, for several days he has been, around the clock, in the hands of some of the United States’ finest physicians. That those physicians have, medically speaking, thrown everything but the kitchen sink at him to make him feel better and get him through his bout with the plague as painlessly as possible. And that the euphoria that he is feeling and that he credits—and this comes as no surprise to anyone—to himself and his “amazing powers of recovery”, is very likely the result of the powerful doses of steroids that doctors are reported to have been administering to him.

Worse still, the president continues to make it “all about him” and to flagrantly and indifferently ignore those around him. The fact is that if he were a socially responsible person, he would remain in isolation until he is no longer a threat to others, since, right now, wherever goes, he is irresponsibly infecting other people and endangering their families. On top of all of this, Trump tweeted on leaving the hospital that he felt “better than twenty years ago” and told his followers: “Don’t be afraid of COVID. Don’t let it dominate your life.”

At a time when there are at least forty thousand new infections a day in the US and when American coronavirus deaths have already topped two hundred nine thousand, no message from the nation’s leader could have been more reckless or un-presidential. A caring, responsible leader would have said, If I can get it, anyone can and although, for the moment, I may be doing exceptionally well, many others won’t. In fact, many others may very well die. Nor am I out of the woods yet, either. So be responsible. Wear masks. Wash your hands. Socially distance. And whenever you can, stay at home.

The president’s break-out from the hospital and his blatant disregard for the health and welfare of those around him isn’t, by any stretch of the imagination, heroic, as he seems to think it is. It is, rather, sociopathic, as has been his administration’s basic denial of the health crisis up to the present. Trump’s horrendous handling of the pandemic in his own “household”—where more and more infections are being reported by the day—is a clear reflection of his mismanagement of it at a national level. And if the incumbent candidate should win another term and roughly half of the people of the United States continue to follow the leader and wantonly ignore the health protocols dictated by science and common sense, Americans can expect, in incredibly short order, to see the COVID death toll climb from an already shocking hundreds of thousands into the millions.


Friday, October 2, 2020


There has been a lot to take in this week and at week’s end it has been capped by the announcement (tweeted by the US president himself) that both Donald Trump and his wife have COVID-19. The fact that Trump is the sort of president he is—dismissive of even his closest advisers and with a tendency to unilaterally change course on policies publicly espoused by his own cabinet secretaries—tends to paint a picture of an entire administration thrown into a state of rudderless frenzy with the possibility of internal power struggles erupting in the West Wing. Vice President Pence, who has pretty much limited himself to being yet another yes-man in the president’s entourage, inspires little if any confidence in the public or the markets and this only adds to the problem of bringing reassurance to Americans.

It is too early to tell what will happen—how the modern-day plague will affect Trump, since COVID-19 is an entirely unpredictable disease that affects different people in a variety of ways, ranging from hardly any symptoms at all to deathly illness requiring intensive care and assisted breathing. Nor can we count on learning what the president’s real state of health is as his illness progresses, since we have yet to find out why he made an emergency trip to the Walter Reed Army Hospital a few months back and which was dismissed as “routine”, despite taking place off-schedule and in a context that was anything but.

Like some of the authoritarian leaders that he admires—Kim Jong-Un, Xi Jiping and Vladimir Putin spring to mind—the president treats his health as a matter of national security and guards this information beyond any sort of normal procedure, having in the past, for example, written his own bill of health saying, essentially, that he was one of the most healthy men on earth and then having a doctor sign it, or prompting the surgeon general to say that he was even healthier than the doctor himself—a naval officer three decades Trump’s junior.

What we do know is that, despite what he says or pressures others to say, the president is not a particularly healthy specimen. The fact that he’s in his mid-seventies, clinically obese, subject to major stress factors and, by all accounts, has horrendous eating habits place him at high risk. We learned on Friday that he had been checked into Walter Reed “for a few days out of an abundance of caution” and were told that he was “working out of the presidential offices” there. But it seemed telling that his usual unbroken flow of Twitter garrulity was conspicuous by its absence, even as the White House issued a report saying that the president was “fatigued” but in good spirits, while the first lady was suffering from “a mild cough” and headache.

The problem with any reports coming from the White House is that this administration has completely undermined the trustworthiness of anything said in the president’s name. While most Americans might contend that “all politicians lie” the current occupant of the White House is arguably the most habitually and consistently prevaricating president in the history of the United States, lying even when there is no apparent reason to and often lying the exact opposite of what he has previously lied about as if the public were too stupid to notice. So the question is, why would the majority of Americans, or world leaders, for that matter, believe a single word that comes out of the White House regarding Trump’s state of health?

And this lack of trustworthiness is bound to raise a great deal of nervous uncertainty across the United States and around the globe. This is especially true considering how the Trump administration has flagrantly denied the science regarding COVID-19 (and regarding just about everything else from evolution to climate change), scoffing at the repeated pleas of even the internationally recognized physicians and medical researchers inside of his own administration, for people to socially distance and to wear masks any time they are in contact with other people, explaining that following these simple steps could reduce coronavirus deaths six-fold.

Trump, through his most fanatical aides, has bullied people within his own cadre, making it known that those who persist in wearing masks will be looked on with suspicion and disfavor. And this sort of anti-mask herd pressure has been particularly strong over the course of the US summer months, when the president was pushing his agenda for a rapid re-opening of the economy and public schools. The president has even suggested that the virus will just magically disappear from one day to another, when experts, including his own beleaguered men and women of science, say just the opposite. 

Largely following the president’s lead and his encouragement of individual rebellion against protocols and against business and public event shutdowns to halt the spread of the virus and to thus be able to get back to some reasonable facsimile of normalcy in the near future, the US now finds itself in first place as the country which has worst handled the pandemic, racking up over twenty percent of worldwide COVID-19 deaths, while boasting only four percent of the world’s population. It seemed almost ludicrous, then, when White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows—still not wearing a mask—told reporters this Friday, “This news was shocking—if this disease can reach the White House, it can reach anyone, anywhere, in any house.”

Really??? What, as if the White House or the president had some god-like immunity? What has the science been telling this administration since February? Why does it come as a shock that the president is ill when he has scorned every precaution not only in his administration but also by holding indoor political rallies at which both social-distancing and mask-wearing were discouraged, almost criminally exposing his most avid supporters to this modern-day plague? Once known as a germaphobe, Trump would appear to have bought his own image of god-like power and believed himself to be above catching a highly infectious disease, since his COVID promiscuity has been almost tantamount to licking the handrails aboard public transport.

What is incredible then, rather than a shock, considering that the president has tempted fate endangering himself, his campaign staff, and his most fanatical supporters, is that he hasn’t fallen ill sooner. And this, combined with the reportedly unprotected close contact maintained in advance of last Tuesday’s debate with former Vice-President Joe Biden between Trump and his closest aides and advisers means that it will almost be a miracle if more cases of coronavirus don’t emerge in the White House over the course of the coming days.

With the 2020 presidential election a month away, this couldn’t come at a worse time for Trump. Average recovery time for COVID-19 patients is usually counted in weeks rather than days, and even relatively young and healthy patients often suffer severe after-effects in terms of their oxygen absorption and energy levels. In terms of his most fanatical supporters, who have followed the leader in ridiculing masks, dubbing coronavirus a “fake epidemic” and disregarding the need for drastic public health measures, accepting their hero’s view of the science as a deep state plot to make Trump look bad, perhaps the president’s illness will provide a public service by convincing his followers that if even The Donald can get it, maybe it’s real after all.   

For the sake of the country’s political and economic stability—which has already been sufficiently shaken by the uncommonly divisive and impromptu nature of the Trump presidency—we can only wish the president and first lady a speedy recovery. But as part of his COVID experience, we should also hope that the president emerges sufficiently enlightened as to start taking seriously, for a change, the worst threat to public health since the Spanish flu pandemic of a hundred years ago. So far he has ignored and sought to minimize it, placing the entire country at risk through his words and actions. But perhaps having suffered the disease himself he will, finally and belatedly, discover a modicum of empathy for others and realize that it falls to him to be a true leader rather than a demagogue in seeking solutions that will ultimately bring the pandemic under control before it brings the United States to its knees.