Can we stop now?

As Americans of all political colors and stripes train their eyes on Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, where President Trump undergoes treatment for COVID-19, can we at least agree that this disease is real, that it’s dangerous and that yes, wearing masks is our first line of defense against its insidious transmission?

Can this news, shocking to some but not to others, somehow bring us closer together?

As I write this, the president is “doing great,” according to White House physician Sean Conley. Trump’s Twitter feed, all but dormant for hours after he first announced his diagnosis in the wee hours of Friday morning, shifted back into gear Saturday afternoon with a pair of tweets saying he is “feeling well” and calling for passage of a new economic stimulus package.

By the time you read this, the situation may well have changed. In fact, given the breakneck pace of the news this past week, it likely will have changed.

But this much is clear: Mainers who insist that this pandemic thing is all overblown, that masks and other safety precautions are a bunch of Democratic hooey, that there’s no reason for alarm, need to accept reality once and for all.

COVID-19 is not a hoax. The president was not infected by China. The simplest explanation for his illness is also the correct one: He failed repeatedly to follow his own administration’s guidelines for avoiding exposure to the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

At the same time, Mainers itching to wield Trump’s diagnosis as the ultimate “I told you so” need to put down their verbal cudgels and understand that this is no time for reprobation. Rather, it’s an opportunity for reconciliation – a teachable moment, as our beleaguered educators like to say.

Friday morning, as the world reeled from the news about the Trumps, I read a story by Portland Press Herald Staff Writer Peter McGuire detailing an uptick in the number of businesses cited by the Maine Department of Health and Human Services for violating the state’s COVID-19 prevention measures.

Most of the nearly two dozen businesses sanctioned since Aug. 20 are restaurants. And in nearly all those cases, the citations involved failure to require that patrons and/or employees wear protective masks or maintain proper social distancing.

One business owner voiced his annoyance that inspectors were drawn to his establishment by anonymous complaints, as permitted under the state guidelines.

“I’ve had six people call in and report me – how do I know it isn’t the same person who doesn’t like me?” he said. “I don’t think it is right someone can call and complain and I don’t get to defend myself.”

His anxiety for his business’s reputation is understandable. His insistence that he thought he was following the guidelines and that the rules must have changed (they haven’t) reflects at least some effort to do the right thing.

But in lamenting the anonymity of the complainants, the proprietor missed a bigger point: Since the declaration of the pandemic seven long months ago, we have all become one – whether we like it or not. Where we stand on the politics of COVID-19 has nothing – zero – to do with the novel coronavirus’s ability to spread throughout our communities and, heaven forbid, into our own bodies.

That realization is now inescapable not just for the president and first lady, but for a growing list of White House officials, Republican Party leaders and at least three U.S. senators who eschewed masks and other safeguards because that stuff was for liberals and other worrywarts.

Not surprisingly, their hubris trickled down into many parts of Maine, where one was – and still is – judged simply by whether or not one’s face is covered. Go east from my home in Buxton toward Portland and masks are ubiquitous. Head west toward the rural foothills and they’re noticeably fewer and farther between.

We can only hope that with Trump now hospitalized and his team infiltrated by a virus that lives only to replicate itself, Mainers who thought themselves invulnerable will take a minute – or 10 – to reflect on this pivotal moment in our country’s history.

A mere month before a national election, our president is ill with a potentially deadly disease – one that he has for months promised will disappear “like a miracle.” With each passing hour, more names – Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien, Kellyanne Conway, Chris Christie – join the lengthening list of those infected.

Never in most of our lifetimes has the future felt so uncertain.

Closer to home, when some of us ask local business operators why they allow other customers to enter without masks and they say it’s out of their hands, we can insist that they do better. What good are “mask required” signs at the door when no one inside is willing to confront the scofflaws?

This is not a call for more angry confrontation. To paraphrase Sir Isaac Newton, every political accusation these days seems to produce an equal and opposite counteraccusation.

Rather, this is a time for clarity. To continue to accept the president’s longstanding assurances that COVID-19 is some kind of mirage, his supporters must now turn a blind eye to the news clips of Marine One whisking him, finally with a mask on, to his hospital bed at Walter Reed.

Friday evening, I clicked my TV remote to Fox News to see how the president’s admission to the hospital was playing with his base. Tucker Carlson was on, speaking with Donald Trump Jr. about his father’s COVID-19 diagnosis.

“If he can get it,” the president’s son said matter-of-factly, “anyone probably can.”

Lost as it may have been in the cacophony of breaking news, it was nonetheless a startlingly honest statement.

And coming as it did from the president’s innermost circle, it was long overdue.

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