November 16, 2020
The Lasting Image of Trump and the Virus

Image credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images (Trump); CDC/Corbis/ Getty (COVID-19) via The New Yorker.

The Lasting Image of Trump and the Virus

As the third wave of the Coronavirus ravages the U.S., I thought it was fitting to share this photo-illustration. You probably deciphered it instantly. If you didn’t, note that the pre-election article of The New Yorker it accompanied is titled “How Trump Became the Pro-Infection Candidate.”

Technically, Trump caught Covid in October and was up-and-about again a week later. Politically, however, it makes sense to say that he caught it last March and never recovered. A Columbia University study published in October estimates that the administration’s inaction likely accounted for between 130k-210k death to that point.  Given the excess infections, disability, and death, and the economic pain it compounded, it probably cost Trump the election.

There are many photos that associate Trump to the carnage, including photos of White House superspreader events, high-risk behavior proximate to those events, and campaign rallies where his followers were packed in and maskless. Even so, there is no image that seems emblematic of Trump as the great Covid enabler. As a result, a more artistic opportunity presented itself.

At first, I didn’t realize that this was an illustration. I thought maybe Getty’s Alex Wong shot the image through a dirty window. Either way, it’s sickly smart, and also very sad. Trump has been a master of evasion. But he has been no match for the molecule. The smaller circles around the bigger splotches, as you see, represent the signature COVID-19 tendrils.

As for the photograph, the setting of the White House South Lawn reminded me of the hours on end Trump reveled in the attention of DC reporters and photojournalists. And it made me conjure mutated dandelions. But there are certainly more significant analogies to consider here. The composite provides ample room, for example, to talk about the Trump era as a perceptual distortion field, or a purveyor of environmental damage, or a pervasive swamp. Whatever else you might bring to the infected portrait though, it certainly does the job of tying Donald Trump to the virus for life.

-Michael Shaw

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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