James Hohmann of the Washington Post explains Trump’s refusal to face reality:


Self-help guru Norman Vincent Peale’s 1952 book, “The Power of Positive Thinking,” influenced Donald Trump’s worldview more than anything else he ever read, according to biographers. “Stamp indelibly on your mind a mental picture of yourself as succeeding,” Peale wrote. “Hold this picture tenaciously. Never permit it to fade.” The book includes chapters with titles like “Expect the Best and Get It” and “I Don’t Believe in Defeat.” Peale, who was also a favorite of the president’s father, even officiated the first of Trump’s three weddings.

The Trump presidency has presented scores of painful lessons on the limitations of the power of positive thinking. Climate change continues to make fires, floods and hurricanes worse, even if Trump denies it and his political appointees seek to erase mentions of it from government reports. Russia interfered in the 2016 election and the intelligence community agrees the Kremlin is trying once again to influence the 2020 campaign, but Trump struggles to accept that reality because, current and former aides say, he believes that acknowledging the Kremlin’s support for his campaign would undermine his legitimacy. And so on.

But nothing captures the hubris of trying to spin the primal forces of nature into submission more than the president’s response to the novel coronavirus.


Trump said in January that the coronavirus was “totally under control” and that there would be only a few U.S. cases before the number would “go down to zero.” On Feb. 28, Trump said: “It’s going to disappear. One day it’s like a miracle, it will disappear.” In March, Trump said people would be able to celebrate vanquishing the coronavirus by going to church on Easter. 

That was more than six months ago. Trump downplayed the dangers of the contagion not just at the country’s peril – but his own. Watching these clips with the benefit of hindsight makes the president sound like Baghdad Bob as U.S. forces closed in on the Iraqi capital in March 2003.

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany became the latest member of Trump’s inner circle to test positive. She announced in a statement on Monday that she has no symptoms and will continue to work – but from home.

Apparently, denialism can be infectious, as well. The White House’s lead physician, Sean Conley, acknowledged at a news conference on Sunday that he intentionally withheld information about Trump’s blood-oxygen levels plummeting in order to put a positive spin on the president’s condition. “I was trying to reflect the upbeat attitude that the team, the president, that his course of illness, has had,” Conley said. “I didn’t want to give any information that might steer the course of illness in another direction. And in doing so, you know, it came off that we were trying to hide something, which wasn’t necessarily true.”


A virus does not care what a doctor says at a news conference. White House communications director Alyssa Farah told reporters that Conley was trying to project positive for Trump’s sake during his public remarks on Saturday. “When you’re treating a patient, you want to project confidence, you want to lift their spirits, and that was the intent,” she said.

Positive thinking has certainly gotten Trump far in life, and it can be very helpful for a patient fighting a disease. Everyone wishes the president well and hopes he recovers as speedily as possible and with no long-term damage. But Conley was not speaking to Trump during his Saturday news conference. He was addressing the American people.

Since being hospitalized on Friday at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, the president has been treated with the steroid dexamethasone, the antiviral drug remdesivir and a cocktail of monoclonal antibodies that has not yet been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Outside doctors think Trump may be the first coronavirus patient ever given all three of these strong treatments simultaneously, along with a handful of supplements and over-the-counter drugs. Medical experts we checked with called it a kitchen-sink approach that suggests the president is in worse shape than the White House is claiming.

Trump, who ostensibly remains highly contagious, appears to still be in denial about the risks he poses to others by trying to return to the White House before doctors would advise him to do so – and by going for a ride in his motorcade at Walter Reed on Sunday afternoon to see well-wishers outside the gates. Current and former Secret Service agents and medical professionals were aghast about Trump’s car ride outside the hospital, saying the president endangered those inside his SUV for a publicity stunt, Josh Dawsey, Carol Leonnig and Hannah Knowles report. “As the backlash grew, multiple aides who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe internal deliberations also called Trump’s evening outing an unnecessary risk — but said it was not surprising.  Trump had said he was bored in the hospital, advisers said. He wanted to show strength after his chief of staff offered a grimmer assessment of his health than doctors.”

  • “He’s not even pretending to care now,” one current Secret Service agent said after the president’s jaunt outside Walter Reed.
  • Where are the adults?” said a former member of the Secret Service.
White House chief of staff Mark Meadows listens as Sean Conley speaks to the media on Sunday at Walter Reed. (Erin Scott/Reuters)White House chief of staff Mark Meadows listens as Sean Conley speaks to the media on Sunday at Walter Reed. (Erin Scott/Reuters)

As the virus spread among the people closest to him last week,Trump asked an adviser not to disclose results of their own positive test. “Don’t tell anyone,” Trump said, according to the Wall Street Journal.

We found out that Trump himself tested positive on a rapid test that he took Thursday and was awaiting the results of a second, more reliable, test when he called into Sean Hannity’s show that night. He did not reveal the news to the Fox News host. Former counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway’s teen daughter, Claudia, broke the news on Friday, via her social media platforms, that her mom was infected. Claudia Conway says she, too, has now tested positive for the virus.

There are other indications that the president’s attempted coverup continues. “Farah told reporters Sunday that the White House would be more forthcoming going forward, and would release information about the number of aides who have tested positive for the virus. Later Sunday, [McEnany] indicated that such information would not be released, citing privacy considerations. Several White House officials are still waiting to learn if they will be infected,” Toluse Olorunnipa, Dawsey and Amy Goldstein report. “Nick Luna, Trump’s personal assistant, has tested positive for the coronavirus, according to a senior administration official. … Meanwhile, at least two White House residence staffers contracted the virus some weeks ago and were sent home. Administration officials do not believe those staffers directly gave the virus to the president, given the passage of time since their cases.” Neither of those cases were disclosed to the public. The White House did not acknowledge that senior adviser Hope Hicks had tested positive until a reporter for Bloomberg News broke the story.

There is a lot the White House still will not say. Conley declined to answer when asked how Trump’s lungs have been affected by the virus, whether he has pneumonia and what his exact temperature has been. The White House refuses to say when Trump last tested negative for the coronavirus. That is a critical piece of information to determine how long the president may have been contagious — and how many people he may have put at risk by traveling to Ohio, Minnesota and New Jersey. 

And Trump continues to put a positive spin on his experience. In a video he posted to Twitter on Sunday evening, Trump said he’s “learned a lot” about covid-19. “I learned it by really going to school,” the president said from his hospital suite. “This is the real school; this isn’t the let’s-read-the-books school. And I get it. And I understand it. And it’s a very interesting thing. And I’m going to be letting you know about it.”

The American people do not approve of Trump’s denialism. An ABC News-Ipsos poll conducted in the two days after Trump announced his diagnosis found that 72 percent said both that the president did not take the “risk of contracting the virus seriously enough” and that he did not take “the appropriate precautions when it came to his personal health.” The poll, released Sunday, found that 43 percent of Republicans shared the negative sentiments about Trump’s mind-set and preventative actions regarding the coronavirus. Overall approval for the president’s handling of the pandemic held steady at 35 percent, where it has been since early July.