Findings, music, and occasional reflections by Paul Woodward

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The metaphors of strength that Trump and other use are making the pandemic worse

Ed Yong writes:

On Monday, as President Donald Trump left Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Senator Kelly Loeffler of Georgia tweeted a doctored clip of the president tackling and punching the wrestler and WWE CEO Vince McMahon. In the edited version, McMahon’s face has been replaced with a picture of a virus. “COVID stood NO chance against @realDonaldTrump!” Loeffler wrote.

Similar sentiments, trumpeting Trump’s strength and fighting spirit, have poured forth since he tested positive for COVID-19. “#TrumpStrong,” Twitter users wrote. “Our president is strong and will beat the virus,” said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. “He’s a fighter,” said former press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. He has the “strength and stamina” of someone decades younger, said a urologist.

Such rhetoric is not unique to Trump. In the Western world, bouts of illness are regularly described as “battles.” Viruses and other pathogens are “enemies” to be “beaten.” Patients are encouraged to “be strong” and praised for being “fighters.” “It’s so embedded in our nature to give encouragement in that way,” says Esther Choo, an emergency physician at Oregon Health and Science University, “but it’s language that we try not to use in health care.”

Equating disease with warfare, and recovery with strength, means that death and disability are linked to failure and weakness. That “does such a disservice to all of the families who have lost loved ones, or who are facing long-term consequences,” says Megan Ranney, an emergency physician at Brown University. Like so much else about the pandemic, the strength-centered rhetoric confuses more than it clarifies, and reveals more about America’s values than the disease currently plaguing it. [Continue reading…]

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