Now that President Trump has been infected with the same virus that he has frequently downplayed, there are at least two possible ways to respond.
One, tempting to Democrats, would be to gloat. The other, tempting to Republicans, would be to concoct a conspiracy theory.
Either would appeal to this nation’s baser instincts, and thus neither should be taken.
The only honorable course — which most people have chosen — is to wish the president and the first lady a speedy recovery, to hope that the health complications for both of them will be mild, and that the president will come out of this a little humbler, a little better informed about this disease and a little less likely to encourage those citizens who have ignored the advice of scientists and the directives of their own government.
It’s not certain where or how the president contracted COVID-19. Although Hope Hicks, a top aide who traveled with the president in close quarters several times this past week, became ill first, there’s no proof that she transmitted the coronavirus to him.
He could have transmitted it to her before he showed symptoms, or they could have been infected independently. With this invisible contagion, there can only be theories, but no certainty, about the precise moment or agent of transmission.
Such precision does not really matter. The president has knowingly and regularly put himself in harm’s way. He’s frequently gone without a facial mask and mocked Democrats, including challenger Joe Biden, for wearing one so often.
He’s held large campaign gatherings where precautions might have been put in place to protect him from the virus, at least at the moment, but not those in the crowd and possibly not even the staff traveling with him. The former casino developer was betting against the house, and those odds eventually were going to catch up with him.
Now that they have, it hopefully will make those who have been flippant or scornful about this disease to think again. Masks and social distancing are a nuisance, but until someone comes up with a scientifically vetted and trusted vaccine, or until we reach herd immunity, they are prudent precautions. If you are not worried about yourself, you should worry about the others you might infect.
If the president was contagious the night of the first debate, with all the unmasked venom spewing on that stage in Cleveland, Ohio, he could have put several other people in danger. Especially at risk would have been Biden, who because of his age is in many of the same high-risk categories as the president. Biden so far has shown no sign of infection.
Whoever wins on Nov. 3 needs to win at the ballot box, not at the hospital. This country does not need any more trauma in this election, especially not the death or incapacitation of one of the candidates so close to Election Day.
Let’s hope the president recovers quickly and that Biden stays healthy, and may the best candidate win.