A Presidential Coronavirus Diagnosis Is On-Brand for 2020. Don’t Panic.

4 minute read

This article is part of the The DC Brief, TIME’s politics newsletter. Sign up here to get stories like this sent to your inbox every weekday.

By now, you’ve heard that the President of the United States has tested positive for COVID-19, making him perhaps the most prominent person on the planet to be personally impacted by a pandemic that shows no mercy for fame or power, nationality or partisan identity.

Coming a little more than a month before Election Day, it is merely the latest reminder that, as much as any presidential strategist can game-out the final march to the ballot box, there are still variables that lurk just outside of the frame. If you don’t think this year can get any more unpredictable, I will remind you that the calendar began with an impeachment trial of the President, saw global travel screech to a halt and is proceeding with Kanye West on the ballot for his own bid for the presidency. Don’t tempt the gods on what can go astray.

The late-night disclosure by President Donald Trump that he and First Lady Melania Trump had tested positive sent the already tumultuous race for the White House into a tailspin. Top White House aide Hope Hicks had tested positive for the virus on Thursday and reports indicated that she had been showing symptoms. Hicks, one of the original hires on Trump’s 2016 campaign, had traveled with Trump in recent days and is close with Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner, both West Wing hands in addition to being family members. Reports today also indicated the President was showing mild symptoms.

The news all but paralyzed the White House on Friday as Trump’s inner circle confronted their new reality: what does a campaign look like when the incumbent President is stuck on the second floor of the White House like Patient Zero? (It’s been the reality challenging Democratic nominee Joe Biden — who on Friday announced his COVID-19 test came back negative — since March.)

For all of the rightful hand-wringing about the President and his prognosis, a coronavirus confirmation is but one of the many variables in how the next month will play out. Starting next week, we will be using this newsletter to outline the election’s most likely scenarios.

The one most people are worried about is that this chaotic few weeks devolves into our democracy somehow going off the rails. And yet for all of the upheaval in this dumpster-fire of a year, for all of the unrest in the streets over a country that has never lived up to its promise on race, for all of the struggle in an economy that is tanked by pandemic, America has always shown a strength that outpaces its circumstances.

For any number of reasons, the environment has never been determinative of the United States’ future. And, in this, it’s worth taking a deep breath and recalling that the history of this country includes slavery, civil war, bigoted internment, illicit surveilance and a persistent divide between classes rooted in race. While Wall Street may panic, Main Street still has an enduring faith in this country.

So as the President and First Lady quarantine and recover, it’s worth putting on a second pot of coffee, setting aside the smartphone on which you are reading this right now and considering this: On Nov. 3, Americans will have a chance to chart their future for the next four years. The pandemic is terrifying, the economy is in tatters and injustice is around every corner. Even with all of those disadvantages, is there any doubt that this country will emerge — eventually — with any less pluck than when this calendar year began with a cloud of impeachment over it? It’s an optimism that seems naive, but one grounded in both history and fact.

Make sense of what matters in Washington. Sign up for the daily D.C. Brief newsletter.

More Must-Reads from TIME

Write to Philip Elliott at philip.elliott@time.com