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Chris Trotter says Donald Trump’s hospitalisation reminds us that what happens in Washington matters in Wellington

Chris Trotter says Donald Trump’s hospitalisation reminds us that what happens in Washington matters in Wellington
Donald Trump.

By Chris Trotter*

The chances are that President Donald Trump will emerge from Walter Reed Medical Centre in an upright stance. America’s best medical specialists and its most up-to-date treatments and drugs are at the disposal of the President, so he would be very unlucky not to survive his encounter with the Covid-19 virus.

Less clear, however, is how the virus may impact the President’s powers of concentration and his physical stamina. For obese males over the age of 70, not succumbing to the virus does not mean remaining unaffected by the virus. Nor should it be forgotten that of every 1,000 people infected with Covid-19 in their mid-70s or older, 116 will die.

 This is the challenge for those charged with preserving the USA’s national security. How to work effectively with a president who may, in ways not readily apparent to outside observers, be mentally off his game and physically exhausted. The dangers inherent in this situation are likely to be compounded by the President’s character. Throughout his adult life, Donald Trump has been loath to admit to any kind of weakness or vulnerability. His instinct will be to hurl himself back into the political fray. To tell his adoring followers: “See! I told you the Coronavirus was no worse than a bad case of the flu!”

 Depending on how much damage the virus is currently inflicting on the President’s heart and lungs, such a full-throated re-engagement in the race for the White House could prove fatal. Nevertheless, Trump will likely resist all attempts to re-set the pace and intensity of his campaigning. Just getting the President to accept the necessity for fourteen days of quarantine will be hard enough. Keeping Trump isolated for two of the remaining four weeks of the presidential campaign will require near-superhuman powers of persuasion.

 Trump’s political opponents find themselves in the rather odd position of being able to inflict maximum damage on the President and his Republican Party by doing nothing more than behaving decently. Joe Biden has already sent Trump his thoughts and prayers (albeit without revealing what he was thinking of or praying for!) and ordered his campaign team to take the Democratic Party’s attack ads off the air. They have absolutely nothing to gain by saying publicly what so many Americans are already thinking privately. That their President contracting Covid-19, and all the heart-stopping and market-spooking implications which flow from that single piece of information, expose as nothing else could the wilful ignorance and utter recklessness of the Trump Administration.

 It is difficult to overstate the psychological need of the President’s followers to believe that their champion will swiftly and completely shake-off the effects of his brush with Covid-19. The idea of a stricken Trump: of an incapacitated and ineffectual Trump; will find no place to rest in the minds of those who have invested their hero with invincible, quasi-divine, powers. If the President’s condition worsens, or if he dies, whilst in the Walter Reed Medical Centre, then a “Doctors’ Plot” conspiracy-theory can be expected to begin circulating on social media almost immediately.

 In the febrile – but inventive – imaginations of Trump’s followers, nothing could be more sinister than the President being whisked away to a facility staffed by the very same sort of “medical experts” who have been “misleading” the American people about Covid-19 all year. “How do we even know he had the virus?”, they will demand. “How do we know the Deep State didn’t poison him?” In the conspiratorial fever-dreams of the Right, what has been unfolding in Washington over the last 72 hours will begin to take on the appearance of the perfect assassination plot. Poison the President. Blame it on Covid-19. Steal the Election. QED – or should that be QAnon?

 In some instinct-driven part of his political brain, Trump may already have recognised the potential for presidential misadventure. His stiff walk to “Marine One” on Saturday (NZ Time) during which the effort being expended to appear healthy and in charge was etched across such features of his masked face as remained visible, conveyed an important message to his followers. He was telling them: “When I went in I was fine. You all saw me walk to the helicopter.” Likewise, with the video released by the President from Walter Reed. Yes, the effort going into the performance was, once again, clearly evident. But, equally, the President was lucid and the upbeat assessment of his medical condition quintessentially Trumpian.

 With these images firmly planted in his followers’ minds, any sudden announcement of the President’s death will be dismissed as the very worst kind of “fake news”. If JFK’s followers could never bring themselves to accept the official explanation of their hero’s demise, then why would Donald Trump’s?

 Such widespread public dismay and suspicion would, of course, be compounded by the constitutional, administrative and legal complications arising from the President/Candidate’s death. President Pence would, presumably convene a special convention of the Republican Party to nominate, at the very least, a new Vice-Presidential candidate. While questionable, the legality of votes cast for the dead President’s nominated successor/s in the Electoral College on 14 December would probably not be challenged. All bets will be off, however, if the Republican Party’s clearly signalled intention to aggressively scrutinise both the voting and the counting of general election ballots materialises. Events in the United States could then take an even more decisive turn for the worse.

 There are those in New Zealand who grow weary of their fellow citizens’ abiding interest in American politics. “Of what possible relevance is all this palaver to us?”, they demand to know. Perhaps there were people of similar mind living in the British city of Bath early in the Fifth Century AD. “Why all the attention paid to happenings in Rome?”, they may well have asked. “It’s so far away. Of what possible interest could the politics of the imperial court be to us?” Their answer came, of course, when that same imperial court ordered the Empire’s British-based legions home. Though we pride ourselves on being a free and independent nation, the brute geopolitical truth remains that we are a part of the American Empire. What happens in Washington matters in Wellington.

 Who leads a nation is also something that matters – a lot. If you doubt the significance of President Trump’s Covid-19 infection for America and the world, then just ask yourself how New Zealand’s own general election would be affected by the announcement, just two weeks out from polling-day, that the Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, had tested positive for Covid-19 and was being flown by helicopter to Auckland Hospital.

*Chris Trotter has been writing and commenting professionally about New Zealand politics for more than 30 years. He writes a weekly column for His work may also be found at

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There are those in New Zealand who grow weary of their fellow citizens’ abiding interest 8 American politics.

Well to be honest, only topic in NZ as of now is house price as labour winning the election is also forgone conclusion so people look at royal family in London or Trump to talk about, that is if they are not talking about houses in NZ and needs a different topic.


Well our media seemed to get pretty tired of talking about housing and poverty reform really quickly, which was supposedly the country's most pressing issues in the run up to the 2017 election. Can't imagine why.

Would it have anything to do with ongoing worldwide pandemic and subsequent economic issues taking centre stage?

How long has the pandemic been raging? Three years?

Since 2008

They've moved onto inadequate support for ADHD and I see Mr Depression NZ is back on TV. He was being sidelined by Mike King in the last few months.

the Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, had tested positive for Covid-19 and was being flown by helicopter to Auckland Hospital.

Number 2. Kelvin Davis,

3. Grant Robertson
4. Phil Twyford
5. Megan Woods
6. Chris Hipkins
7. Andrew Little
8. Carmel Sepuloni
9. David Parker

+ wish a speedy recovery, but why Auckland Hospital?

Conspiracy theorist Henry? Wishful thinking? Or just useless speculation?

Who knows why Chris Trotter is thinking through the case of the PM being sick?

Thing is, if PM was sick or resigned, Labour would produce another leader from within, just as they did when Little resigned just before last election.

Remember Norman Kirk's death?

Norman was 51.

Then there was S BAuthur slipping away at 56.

A leader like Ardern or Key is a once-in-a-generation find for any political party. You can find leaders by definition - you just elect them leader. Whether they're any bloody good is another thing altogether.


NZ is still the world's poster girl of how to handle the Covid-19 pandemic correctly thanks to Labour. That's a vote winner for most people including myself.

I mean, we did fairly well but nothing special. Very easy to forget how many relevant factors outside of the control of our leaders played into our favour

anyone could do the same.
Each time the phone rings.....
Hello?, Lockdown lockdown, lockdown, lockdown.

The Our Lady of the Lockdown routine is costing us 50% more than NSW.
Cost us more in govt relief spend.
Costs us more in GDP lost.

Well Trump really mucked it up didn't he! You see what happens when you put the stock market before peoples lives.

I don't look at your dodgy Trump propaganda websites Henry, I've told you that before. If you're trying to convince us that 214,609 dead American's from the coronavirus is acceptable then you're totally out of your tree.

When you type stuff are there, are there any adults in the room?

CJ, for you.

The Spitting View of Our Lady of the Lockdown

I'll exclude the vote Labour for myself but I'll support Labour's new immigration policy. Its called Covids

Your point? Twyford at no 4 plain daft, Davis solid but uninspirational, more a no 6. After that, there is some serious ability, Robertson, Woods, Little, Sepuloni, Parker. Look at National. Brownlee, Goldsmith, Bishop, McLay, Woodhouse ... hmmm. But we can all be consoled knowing that if Ms Ardern does get sick, Ms Collins will be praying for her, as no doubt she is for Mr Trump.

robertson would take over, he made goldsmith look like he had Dyscalculia yesterday on Q & A, even got jame tame to ask his question very funny trying not to say the bright line test is not a CG tax brought in by national

It is perhaps the greatest irony of 2020 that Trump caught COVID, but I think CT is correct in that the potential outcomes actually increase the risk not just to America but to the world. With the country in chaos Can China and Russia not see the opportunities to act on their own adventurisms, and drive the world into a conflict that will have extreme, far reaching consequences?

And of course, in such times of uncertainty, thanks to past leaders we have virtually no effective defence force to contribute to our defence, and worse thanks to Police failings and the action of an Australian nutter, even the population has been disarmed.

Don’t underestimate the boots on the ground in the Republican Party. They will get as down and dirty as it takes. So much at stake. Personal gain if your trough runneth full. Fight to the death for control of the taps.

That is in part CT's point. Trump loses the election and the freaks come out of the woodwork spurred on by some in the Republican party and the second American civil war has started. If such events come to pass, do not for one second believe that NZ will not be affected.

I find it ironic that the right are saying they don't want a civil war yet they seem to be the ones talking about a civil war. The US is just bizarre....

There would be a few 'I-told-you-so's from the people who said reality TV would destroy America.

A not unrealistic scenario is where Biden becomes President and later succumbs to Covid or something else (he's 77) and Senator Kamala Harris becomes President. I feel sorry for the USA

Who control the America?

The president? Democrats or republicans? You must be joking.

The deep state, shadow government, handful of mega family owned business groups are the true owner of the US of A.


Interesting. Are the conspiracy theories the CCP-line, or is that your own personal twist?

Great wisecrack from Chris about Biden's thoughts and prayers.

What matters in Wellington (whomever in power) is.. how the easy $ can be injected into NZ from overseas to plug the debt hole.

at the moment the debt is being created here, but we still have a massive balance of payment deficit year on year

BBC article: Trump's White House event in focus over Covid spread.

Trumps nomination rose garden even shows footage of politicians wondering around not wearing masks, shaking hands and hugging. Eight people who attended are now confirmed to have the virus. Aside from the president and the First Lady: Chris Christie, Mike Lee, and Kellyanne Conway.

What happens in the US affects the whole world - that's one reason to be interested in their politics.

True. This time the Orange Swan strikes. Will the effects be worse ?

I wonder what the Qanon & "plandemic" conspiracy theorists are going to say now, given that their boy has got the virus?

Whatever their random blogs and fave youtube channels tell them to think (whilst at the same time, suggesting that no one else is using critical thinking). Conspiritards question all data to absurdium, except their own.

They get very upset if you point out that they are blindly following some unkown "influencer" on you tube, and it is abit hypocritical to slag off the masses as "sheeple", for believing what every reputable media outlet in the world is saying.
Of course any proof that a conspiracy theroy is false is another layer of conspiracy . Otherwise they quickly move on to the next theroy form the same channels.
Followers of the NZpp/advance nz parties are quick to denounce any exposure of Billy Te Koha's lies , and very dubious use of party funds.

"The problem isn't that Johnny can't read. The problem isn't even that Johnny can't think. The problem is that Johnny doesn't know what thinking is; he confuses it with feeling."

Thomas Sowell

The Wikipedia article for QAnon says

"NBC News found that three people took the original Q post and expanded it across multiple media platforms to build internet followings for profit."

In other words someone has monetized a conspiracy theory.

To be fair, Obama also did a poor job during the H1N1 swine flu pandemic, though he was lucky because 1. The swine flu was not as bad as COVID. 2. The Union was not as deeply divided as now back then. My view is the internal political pressure faced by Trump could escalate the conflict between the United States and the People's Republic further, especially if he loses the election. We will feel the impact strongly when that happens.

Just in case you missed the real news of the Day....BBC is aiding the election...for NZ......for us Muppets to enjoy.

Hmmm, does Trump's infection matter that much? Sure, it casts a bit of uncertainty. But beyond that I don't know if it has too much geopolitical and economic ramifications.

Well he's continuing to fall behind in the polls whether he has covid or not. Guardian article: Trump 14 points behind Biden a month before election, new poll shows. "Trump’s advisers scramble to find a strategy for final weeks, saying ‘it’s important that our campaign vigorously proceed’.

They were worrying about Kamala becoming the President.
Now they are worrying about Pence becoming the President.

I find it interesting that the same people who elected Obama, are also the same people who elected Trump, and yet somehow have transformed from liberal progressives into racist conspiracy theorists in the blink of one election.
I think Trump is amazing for his ability to keep fighting and winning against nearly universally negative media coverage against him and his supporters.
Trump will win 30+ states again in this election, you can look forward to 4 more years =)

That's because the people there are looking for someone not of the corrupt political classes, someone different, and Obama certainly looked like that. Biden doesn't, so from that perspective you may be correct. Time will tell.