When the president gets COVID-19, my fever-dream nightmares come to life

President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump step off Air Force One.
President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump step off Air Force One upon arrival at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport in Cleveland, prior to the first of three presidential debates. The first couple have tested positive for the coronavirus.
(Mandel Ngan / AFP / Getty Images)

I’ve been having a steady stream of nightmares lately, waking up in the dark in cold sweats. It’s something I went through at the start of the pandemic. I thought I’d put those rough nights behind me.

But that was before I dreamed of Dr. Anthony Fauci and a vital message he tried in vain to deliver.

In my dream, his kind eyes were worried. He clearly had something of importance to say. But when he spoke, I could not hear him. His words of wisdom stayed on mute. They probably would have been drowned out anyway by the loud, jeering crowd that surrounded him.


I woke up thinking about that dream Friday morning — even with a fresh bad dream still vivid, of rats running across my bed. The last thing I’d done before I’d shut my eyes the night before was face the waking nightmare that the president of my country had tested positive for COVID-19.

I am terrified of rats. But I am far more terrified of the coronavirus. How could I not be? How could we all not be? It has killed more than 208,000 of our fellow Americans and made many more thousands very ill and it doesn’t seem anywhere near done.

So even though the size of our collective plate of worries feels Guinness-World-Records-shattering right now — lost jobs, potential armed mobs, the future of our vote and of our Supreme Court — and even though I try to watch just about every speech President Trump gives because his words matter so much on these and many other fronts, when I see him throwing caution to the wind and speaking unmasked to largely unmasked crowds, that fact is often the only one I can focus on.

President Trump has preferred not to follow his scientists’ safety guidelines. He hasn’t liked to wear a mask. And so the people in his inner circle who try hard not to displease him haven’t worn them much either, no matter the risks to their loved ones. They’ve been together with little physical distance in so many close quarters — in the White House, on Air Force One and Marine One. And they’ve traveled together to crowded rallies around the country, where his faithful followers have in turn put themselves at risk by making bare-faced a badge of loyalty.

And now he’s got the virus. And the first lady has the virus. And a top aide has the virus. And who knows how many others who’ve been near them and followed his lead, ignoring the most basic and sensible safety guidelines.

Me, I’ve never stopped being nervous. I always keep at least six feet between me and the next person. I always wear my mask around others. I put it on before I set foot anywhere I expect to run into people. I still consider going to the supermarket a high-risk activity. I still try to cross the street or duck into a driveway if I’m on a narrow sidewalk and someone is about to come too close.

Lucy Jones has gotten us through many a crisis. The coronavirus pandemic may be different from an earthquake, but her analysis of it, in a new podcast, is as steady and clear as ever.

I don’t really mind if someone who chooses not to wear a mask does so without putting others at risk. I have no problem on the street if I see a maskless person zigging and zagging to keep plenty of distance. But the president has not been zigging and zagging to protect others. He has been putting them and himself needlessly at risk. He has made the choice of wearing a mask so politically charged that he has even made it feel risky in some settings for people to do so to try to protect others.

In my Dr. Fauci dream, I found myself in a crowded, crowded town somewhere, indoors, jammed shoulder to shoulder with strangers. And not a single one of them was social distancing or wearing a mask. When I spoke to them through mine, they mocked me and mimicked me and jabbed me with their fingers and laughed hard, wet laughs right into my face.

And then the good doctor appeared in his mask — and tried both to comfort me and to speak to the crowd. But no sound came out of the mouth of this man who knows so much about viruses but has been all but silenced by the president.

Masks should have been from the earliest days of the pandemic the proud symbol of our national commitment to come together to defeat a common enemy — a la planting Victory Gardens in World War I.

Scientists like Fauci should have been placed front and center to champion them and our safety.

I’ve written a lot in recent months about how little an ask wearing a mask and keeping physical distance really is. I have brought you the simple, science-based mantra of Dr. Lucy Jones: “Don’t share your air.”

Masks save lives. Masks slow spread. Scientists know this to be true.

Follow along here for the latest about Trump’s positive coronavirus test and what the news means for the presidential campaign.

But our president has sidelined our scientists. He has muted or drowned out their messages.

It’s not just that he resists being told what to do, however wise. He also belittles us rule followers.

He has repeatedly mocked Democratic Party nominee Joe Biden for wearing masks to a fault, as he did in the presidential debate when he said, “Every time you see him, he’s got a mask. He could be speaking 200 feet away from me and he shows up with the biggest mask I’ve ever seen,” and spread his fingers wide in front of his own face to illustrate.

He has not only declined to model taking safety precautions as a do-this-for-all-of-us common good, he has modeled an attitude that conveys that following the rules is for the suckers and the sissies and the scaredy-cats, not the strong.

For his own sake, for the sake of the nation, I hope he’s as strong as he thinks he is and that he’ll get well soon — and then finally cede the microphone to the experts who know best how to save us.