There's nothing to fear.
That was President Donald Trump's message to Americans as he pulled off his mask on the White House balcony, in the denouement of a bizarre and propagandistic comeback amid his bout with Covid-19.
"Don't let (the coronavirus) dominate you. Don't be afraid of it. You're gonna beat it," Trump said in a video he filmed on his return from hospital, posing as a conquering warrior who sacrificed himself for the American people.
Never mind that 210,000 Americans are already dead. Forget that mere mortals don't have access to the kinds of experimental drugs and state-of-the-art care still being administered to Trump — and that his administration is trying to take away health insurance from millions. And ignore the fact that the pandemic is getting worse in the US; in the days since Trump's diagnosis, thousands of Americans have died of the virus.
Trump's illness has not caused him to reflect on his mismanagement of the crisis or the gravity of this winter's expected spike in cases. Instead, the President fired off perhaps his most irresponsible comments about the virus yet and made a show of defying the mask guidelines that could save thousands of lives this winter.
There is no doubt that the President's release from the hospital is based on political indicators — his doctors have warned he is "not out of the woods yet." The President is setting a returning hero narrative in his effort to turn around his polling deficit to Democrat Joe Biden.
A new CNN/SSRS poll, however, finds that Trump's erratic performance in recent days and relentless White House misinformation about his condition have taken a further toll on his political prospects. Some 69% of Americans said they trusted little of what they heard from the White House about the President's health, with only 12% saying they trusted almost all of it. In a new high, 60% said they disapprove of Trump's handling of the pandemic.
The President might not be afraid of the virus, but these numbers show he's got plenty to fear 28 days before Election Day. On the basis of his behavior on Monday night — so does everyone else.