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OpinionEditorial

If only Trump would lead

Dr. Sean Conley, physician to President Donald Trump,

Dr. Sean Conley, physician to President Donald Trump, talks with reporters at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, on Monday. Conley said Trump "may not be entirely out of the woods yet." Credit: AP/Evan Vucci

From the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, President Donald Trump’s response has been motivated by politics and the presidential race — to the detriment of the nation. Now that the president has been stricken with COVID-19, politics is still his guide — even if it might be to the detriment of his own health and to those who work with him, while still being dangerous to the nation.

Trump’s decision Monday to leave Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, where he was being treated, is alarming, and seems unwise given what’s known about the virus. His own doctor acknowledged Trump "may not be entirely out of the woods yet," and that his team was in "a bit of uncharted territory" given the unprecedented combination of therapies, some experimental, the president has received. Trump also disregarded his advisers, who urged him to remain at Walter Reed.

But caution has never been the president’s buzzword. The animating argument of his campaign has been that he is strong and that former Vice President Joe Biden is weak. Being ensconced in a hospital is not good optics when your pitch is your supposed virility, especially with Election Day four weeks away. But this is a sadly limited notion of strength. Being strong also includes doing the right thing even when that is difficult. That means thinking of those who must work with you in the White House at a time when you are still shedding the virus and are supposed to be in quarantine.

Trump has put his doctors in an impossible situation. As Navy personnel, they must follow orders from their commander in chief. That left lead doctor Sean Conley willingly divulging data that seemed to indicate Trump was progressing well, but citing privacy laws in declining to give information that might reveal otherwise. Many critical questions are unanswered, like how the president’s lungs have been affected and, critically, when he last tested negative for the virus. Knowing that would help determine who was put at risk during Trump’s pre-diagnosis travels to Ohio, Minnesota and New Jersey.

Trump veered from the unwise to the unsavory in tweeting, "Don’t be afraid of Covid. Don’t let it dominate your life," a grossly insensitive comment to the 210,000 Americans who died and the countless medical professionals who labored to save them and many thousands of others. And it came as the virus spikes in nearly half of the states, and as hot spots emerge in New York — hot spots that can be tamped down by the preventive behavior the president has refused to model.

New York did this once before, flattening the curve and reducing infection numbers by wearing masks and practicing social distancing. We, and the rest of the country, can do it again. But it would help if the president would lead the way by listening to experts, following his full course of treatment, remaining in quarantine until it is safe to others for him to emerge, and letting science — not politics — be his guide.

— The editorial board

Columns