In the early hours of Friday morning, President Trump tweeted that he and the First Lady had tested positive for Covid-19 and would isolate for 15 days at the White House. The statement came just hours after Trump advisor Hope Hicks was revealed to have tested positive for the virus and only days after the president had said the virus affects “almost no one.” Trump has already been whisked off to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, where he is being monitored by a team of doctors. Uncertainties abound about the election, the Supreme Court confirmation of Amy Coney Barret, and the wider ramifications of Trump’s health. But one thing is certain: Donald Trump’s experience of the coronavirus is not the same as the 200,000 mostly working class people who have died so far in the pandemic and the 7 million others who have been infected.
President Trump has minimized the seriousness of the coronavirus pandemic since the beginning, even as it started to ravage U.S. cities in mid-March. He has said that 99 percent of cases are “virtually harmless” and that the pandemic was “fading away” and “getting under control.” According to Trump, the United States’s huge number of cases was due to high testing, while the staggering death toll “is what it is.” Of mask-wearing, he has said, “Maybe they’re great, and maybe they’re just good. Maybe they’re not so good.” As recently as the presidential debate last Tuesday, Trump mocked Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden for wearing a mask, saying, “I don’t wear a mask like [Biden]. Every time you see him, he’s got a mask. He could be speaking 200 feet away and he shows up with the biggest mask I’ve ever seen.”
The news that Trump contracted the coronavirus has sparked many questions around the presidency and his reelection campaign. His planned rallies, fundraisers, and other appearances have been put on hold, despite the fact that he is currently trailing Biden in the polls. He is unlikely to be able to face his opponent at the second presidential debates, currently scheduled for October 15. If Trump becomes incapacitated or dies, the United States could “face an unprecedented electoral crisis.” Reflecting these ambiguities, global stock and oil prices tumbled, although markets have recovered somewhat since his hospitalization.
However, amid this profound uncertainty, one thing is clear: Trump, Melania, and the other afflicted Republican leaders will receive top quality medical care with no negative impact on their vast fortunes and lavish lifestyles, in stark contrast to how the working class has experienced the pandemic. They will not worry about how they’ll pay for healthcare or rent; they won’t worry that their children have no childcare. They won’t worry about whether they’ll lose their income.
The coronavirus pandemic has had devastating effects on the working class. The economy has not recovered the millions of jobs that were lost in the spring, and recent reports suggest that many of these job losses are permanent. As a result, twelve million people in the U.S. have lost their employer-based health insurance, and up to 40 million people are at risk of being evicted. The working class is likewise facing a crisis of childcare as many schools provide full- or part-time remote teaching. Across the country, unsafe school openings are a veritable tinderbox of infection. All of these factors disproportionately harm the working class, particularly people of color.
For working-class Americans who get sick, conditions are worse still. Precarious and undocumented workers in particular cannot risk missing work due to illness, as a day at home is a day without pay. Over 30 million people in the U.S. do not have a single day of sick leave, among them the many frontline workers — those who are most at risk of contracting the coronavirus — who earn paltry wages with few benefits such as healthcare. Many in the working class also have huge debts, often as a result of medical bills.
Decades of austerity and cuts have left healthcare systems in dire straits and hospitals unprepared for the deluge of cases, which had deadly consequences. In states like New York, medical professionals were forced to stop testing people unless they were hospitalized. People were asked not to seek medical attention or go to the emergency room unless they were severely ill and had trouble breathing. Some report being told that they should not seek medical attention unless their lips turned blue, as hospitals struggled to deal with the pandemic surge. These were conditions disproportionately felt by the working class.
The title of a New York Times article puts it bluntly: “Surviving the Coronavirus Might Come Down to Which Hospital Admits You.” Patients from poorer neighborhoods languish in under-resourced hospitals during coronavirus spikes and lack access to the cutting-edge equipment present in hospitals in wealthy neighborhoods. By contrast, the wealthy, who have high-quality insurance, are admitted to hospitals with large endowments where they access specialized treatment and are more likely to recover.
These disparities have real consequences: People of color and the poor are more likely to die from coronavirus. One in 1,000 Black people and one in 1,540 Latinx people have died from the coronavirus. The rate for white people is only one in 2,100. If the poor and people of color survive the disease, they are still more likely to face financial ruin, unemployment, and eviction.
Meanwhile, despite allegedly having only mild symptoms, Trump has been hospitalized at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center since Friday evening, staying in the presidential suite. He, Melania, and all of the politicians who contract coronavirus will convalesce in luxury. They will be encouraged to stay for as long as necessary, without a thought for their insurance coverage or their employer. A team of medical workers will tend to their every need, keeping a close eye on their vital signs and assiduously nursing them back to health.
These politicians and wealthy people will also still get paid huge amounts of money, even if they have to isolate, quarantine, or recover for weeks. When they leave the hospital, they will enter their enormous homes with nary a thought of lost rent or mortgage payments. When they finally return to their jobs of immiserating the working class and greasing the cogs of capitalism, they will be welcomed with open arms, facing no consequences for their absence.
We should also ask about the fate of the many workers — cleaners, cooks, drivers, and others — who have surrounded President Trump, the First Lady, Hope Hicks, and the other Republicans who have fallen ill in recent days. Undoubtedly, several of these workers have contracted coronavirus from these individuals through their carelessness, yet their illnesses go unmentioned in the news.
This is not a bug of capitalism — it is a feature. The coronavirus itself may be blind to wealth and class when selecting its victims; however, while capitalists are unburdened by thoughts of insurance, rent, and employment, the working class faces devastating consequences from becoming sick. This system must be uprooted and destroyed.