By AW Maldonado
This time history will get it right. When the history of the 2020 pandemic is written, I think it will be known as “the Trump virus.”
History got it wrong in 1918 when it called the pandemic “the Spanish flu.” Although Spain was affected as the rest of the world, it did not originate there and in fact Spain had nothing to do with it.
That pandemic killed an estimated 50 million people around the world, 675,000 Americans. News of the deaths was suppressed by press censorship in the countries engaged in World War I, including in the US Spain was not in the war, so when stories started coming out of Spain of flu deaths, someone started calling it “the Spanish flu. ” A big mistake, but it still is.
But I don’t think historians will repeat the mistake. The coronavirus pandemic didn’t start in the US: it originated in China.
So why “the Trump virus?”
We know a few things.
To begin, we know that all his life Trump has dedicated himself to be the center of everything. He made his money putting the word “Trump” on everything, and since he became president, it became “the Trump White House,” the “Trump Republican Party,” for many the US became the “Trump nation.” Whether we wanted to or not, whether we like it or not, for these past four years we have all lived in “the Trump World.”
This means that Trump would have been the news epicenter of the pandemic crisis no matter what he said or did.
But we have seen how hard Trump worked, as he has all his life with great skill, to remain at the center of the pandemic. Paradoxically, he has achieved this in great part by being wrong. Dead wrong. Wrong on the terrible impact of the virus. Wrong on misstating and contradicting what the scientists and expert were trying to communicate to the people. Wrong on what Americans should do to protect themselves and others. Wrong on just about everything.
I’m not saying that he was deliberately wrong to keep every American, the entire world, fixated on his every word and action. He probably believed what he said. But that is really irrelevant. What Trump was doing was misinforming the American people in one of the worst crisis in American history.
And the consequences have been just as obvious. Scientists and others have tried to put a number on how many Americans have died because of Trump’s misinformation and mismanagement. But that there is a number is undeniable. We know that the US, by far the richest national power in the world with the most advanced health care, has been among the world’s top ten worse in virus deaths per capita.
Of course, one never knows how history will judge a president.
Woodrow Wilson during the 1918 pandemic is a good example. Up to recently historians considered him one of the best presidents. No more. Now there are stories that while the flu was killing hundreds of thousands of Americans, incredibly, he did not mention the pandemic once. His denial was even more serious. He himself became seriously sick during the Paris peace conference, greatly affecting decisions that turned out to have terrible consequences, including the horror of World War II. It is hard to think of greater irresponsibility by an American president.
But now we have Trump.
We have the images of Trump rushed to the hospital in the giant helicopter. Himself infected by the coronavirus. His wife infected. The White House itself a hotspot of infections: his aides and staff infected.
BBC correspondent Nick Bryant got it right when he wrote: “Future historians of Donald Trump’s first – and possibly final – term in the White House will regard the coronavirus crisis as its defining event and the President’s contraction of Covid-19 as it culminating moment. “
History will record the “Trump World” as a calamity for the United States and for the world. This time history will get it right: it will record the Covid-19 pandemic as the “Trump virus.”
AW Maldonado was reporter and columnist for The San Juan Star, executive editor of El Mundo, editor & publisher of El Reportero