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Trump’s germophobia

Feb 26,2020
PARK HYUN-YOUNG
The author is a Washington correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

U.S. President Donald Trump is a clean freak. After a campaign rally, he would get in his car and use hand sanitizer. He asks visitors to his Oval Office to wash their hands in the bathroom. He often makes a meeting awkward by not offering to shake hands. In 2004, he wrote in his book, “How to Get Rich,” that he was a germaphobe. He claimed he was “waging a personal crusade to replace the mandatory and unsanitary handshake with the Japanese custom of bowing.”

He has blown business opportunities by refusing to shake hands when he was a businessman. According to his doctor, Trump personally changes the disposable sheet on the bed. He doesn’t touch his children when they were sick because he fears catching illnesses. He kicks out aides who cough or sneeze. He slapped the hand of an employee who licked their finger to flip pages, calling the behavior “disgusting.”

As the coronavirus is spreading, I am paying attention to Trump’s obsessive nature. His extreme fear of germs and viruses could influence the Trump administration’s response to the outbreak. While only about 35 people have been diagnosed with the disease in the United States, health authorities expect it to grow drastically. Some point out that as the virus testing is very limited in the United States, the number of diagnoses may not reflect the actual number of infections. It is widely believed that the number of patients will grow.

While the White House quickly created a task force and holds a meeting everyday, the readiness seems unsatisfactory. Experts are concerned that if the novel virus spreads, there are not enough facilities to isolate a large number of people in the U.S. Federal and state governments also have inconsistent policies. The Department of Health announced that the patients would be treated at a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) facility in Alabama, but the plan was canceled after the governor and representatives directly complained to Trump. It was initially announced that people returning from Wuhan, China, would be isolated for three days, and then the period was extended to 14 days.

Trump is an isolationist who wants to shut down the borders even without the epidemic. He displays a xenophobic tendency. He makes decisions according to political interests rather than experts’ opinions. The New York Times analyzed that Trump’s personal fear and world view were risk factors to ignore expert advice and that it could trigger an extreme response when the public is stirred and chaos unfolds as the number of patients grows. I am worried that Korea’s aggravating situation may stimulate Trump’s anxiety.

JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 25, Page 28