This is how fast the news cycle moves these days.
Remember when RBG died, a year ago? Since then we’ve had the beginning of the Amy Coney Barrett drama, the New York Times’ bombshell revelation of Trump’s decades of tax fraud, the pro wrestling spectacle that was the debate debacle (or DebatcleTM), the Proud Boys gearing up for civil war, and most recently, the revelation of Trump’s COVID diagnosis quickly followed by the Nixonian spectacle of Marine One lifting off the White House lawn to medevac him to Walter Reed (and sadly not San Clemente). All that in less than two weeks.
Conspiracy theories about whether Trump really has COVID immediately began swirling, a measure of how little credibility this administration has, how thoroughly its dishonesty has poisoned our culture, and how cynical and suspicious it has left us as a nation.
I don’t buy it…..not because I think he’s above such deceit (ha!), but merely because I don’t see how it benefits him politically. At best his illness is a mixed bag for his already wobbly electoral prospects, and more likely hurts him. Right off the bat he had to cancel three of his favorite things—big Leni Riefenstahl brand rallies, one in Florida and two in Wisconsin—a harbinger of how his sickness is likely to hamper him in the final thirty days of the race. (There is also the pragmatic question of how one would fake all this, given the infrastructure involved, as well as all the other Republicans infected in the same superspreader event, which taken together would be a charade at the moon landing hoax level.)
Trump’s desperate attempts to project wellness and vitality from within the confines of Walter Reed also suggest that this not the twelve-dimensional chess some so often want to ascribe to him. It’s more like exactly what it appears to be: a science-denying fat old man who recklessly ignored the best public health advice and wound up catching a potentially lethal illness, at the worst possible time.
While no one can accurately predict how all this will play out, a few things do seem already clear in terms of the impact on the election:
At a minimum, Trump’s COVID will take him off the in-person campaign trail for at least ten days, depriving the GOP of its best weapon. (The alternative take is that the pause will benefit Trump, as he is also his own worst enemy. Discuss.) It will also keep the coronavirus front and center in the public conversation, at a time when the GOP would dearly like it to be pushed aside. And lastly, should Trump still be debilitated come November 3rd, it will make it harder for him to carry out his well-telegraphed (and already underway) plan to contest the results of the election and claim the right to stay in power regardless of the results of the vote.
One can only hope.
Events moved especially fast last Friday, when most of America awoke to the news that Donald and Melania had tested positive. Initially we were told his symptoms were mild, which was a sure sign that they were severe. By that afternoon, he was being flown by Marine One—not normally a dustoff bird—to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
Characteristically trying to play down the severity of the situation, the White House announced that Trump was being hospitalized out of “abundance of caution.” If so, former Minnesota Senator Al Franken acidly noted, it was the first time since the emergence of the coronavirus that this administration had ever acted out of an “abundance of caution.”
The New Yorker editor David Remnick writes:
Any ailing individual ought to be able to depend on the best wishes of others—and on affordable, decent health care. Trump can depend on both, even if millions of Americans cannot. We can only hope that he and his wife get through the virus in a couple of weeks with minimal suffering, and, with prime medical attention and a modicum of luck, there’s reason to think that they will.
But, as President and as a candidate for reëlection, Trump should not count on the silencing of American citizens—on a deference that he has never shown to the people whom he swore to protect and has not. Because of his ineptitude and his deceit, because he has encouraged a culture of heedlessness about the wearing of masks and a lethal disrespect for scientific fact, he bears a grave responsibility for what has happened in this country.
As far back as last February, Donald Trump knew the novel coronavirus pandemic was deadly; he told Bob Woodward so, privately. At the same time, he was telling the American people it was a hoax, that it would miraculously disappear, that we didn’t need to wear masks or social distance or reevaluate our faith in him as an all-mighty god-emperor and steward of the national welfare. He and his team subsequently made conscious choices to deny assistance to various states and municipalities for partisan reasons, some of those choices driven by racially motivated reasons. He attacked his own scientists, disseminated misinformation to include stumping for snake oil cures, and mocked preventive measures, among other atrocities. History will hold him and his minions murderously culpable for a national response that wasn’t just botched but criminal.
So to see him catch that very disease now?
From the start of his Presidency, Donald Trump has threatened the health and the security of the United States. It has now been made clear that Trump’s incompetence, cynicism, and recklessness have threatened his own welfare. Even the best security system and the most solicitous medical officers in the world could not protect him from a danger that he insisted on belittling and ignoring.
Joe Biden, like all other decent Americans, immediately wished the president a speedy recovery. Can we imagine Trump doing the same if the roles were reversed? Of course not. He would be onstage cackling that Biden was “weak” for getting sick. (“I like presidents who don’t catch COVID,” as the meme illustrated with a laughing John McCain goes. Check your Internet for dates and times in your area.) Indeed, in one of his video tweets from Walter Reed, Trump framed his hospitalization as an act of bravery and sacrifice on his part. Just in case anyone feels even an iota of sympathy for him, he is there to quickly remind us who he really is.
Fox News laughably called for Biden to suspend his campaign while Trump recovers…..as if Trump would ever do likewise. (In fact, Biden immediately pulled his negative ads as soon as word broke of the president’s illness; the Trump campaign pointedly said it would not do the same.)
So no matter how humane and magnanimous we wish to be, it is all but impossible to gaze upon Trump’s infection with COVID without noting the irony, and if I’m honest, a certain amount of grim schadenfreude.
For I genuinely do wish Trump a full recovery, as the premature embrace of the Grim Reaper would, in a way, be yet another way in which he has dodged justice and accountability his whole life. Like a great many of his critics and foes, I don’t want Donald Trump to die of COVID. I want him to recover, get beaten like Ginger Baker’s drum kit on November 3rd, then slink off to Mar-a-Lago in humiliation and disgrace to await his fitting for an orange jumpsuit and his place in history as the worst US President ever and one of the most wretched human beings of this or any other century.
Death by COVID is not the closure justice demands. So we do wish Donald well, both because he is a fellow human being—notwithstanding all evidence to the contrary, or the way he has treated others in the same position—but also because the fate he deserves is something quite different.
JAGGED LITTLE PILL
The specifics of how Trump caught the virus, and then recklessly exposed others offers a microcosm of how he has endangered the entire country over the past nine ten months.
Heather Cox Richardson writes:
The Trump entourage has refused to wear masks, social distance, or follow the advice of public health experts for reducing the spread of the virus. Now it appears that White House officials deliberately withheld information about their condition, directly endangering other people who acted on the presumption that the Trump people weren’t infected. The Washington Post reported that Secret Service agents, who risk their lives to protect the president, are angry and frustrated: “He’s never cared about us.” The 30-50 Republican donors who met with Trump Thursday night at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, are “freaking out,” one report noted. Tickets had cost up to $250,000, and Trump met privately with about 19 people for 45 minutes. Trump knew his adviser Hope Hicks had tested positive when he left for the club, but he went anyway. He did not wear a mask.
Reporter Chris Wallace of the Fox News Channel, who moderated Tuesday’s debate and so was one of those the Trumps’ entourage endangered, revealed today that Trump arrived too late on Tuesday for a COVID-19 test, as the venue required. Instead, there was an “honor system.” Organizers assumed the people associated with the campaigns would not come unless they had tested negative. Trump’s people arrived wearing masks, which they had to have to enter the auditorium, but then removed them shortly after sitting down, and refused to put them back on. During the debate, Trump mocked Biden for his habit of wearing a mask.
The campaign did not tell the Biden camp that Hicks, who attended the debate, had tested positive for coronavirus the day after the event. The Biden organization learned it from the newspapers. The White House did not even tell former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who spent four days in close quarters with Hicks and Trump, helping the president prepare for the debate. He, too, learned the news from the media.
Trump announced his diagnosis—via tweet, natch—in the early hours of Friday morning, but there is evidence that he may have known as eagerly as Wednesday. On that day, he nonetheless got on Air Force One with a largely maskless entourage including White House chief of staff Mark Meadows; national security advisor Robert O’Brien; Rudy Giuliani; press secretary Kayleigh McEnany; Ivanka; Jared; Donald Jr.; Kimberly Guilfoyle; Eric and Lara; Tiffany; campaign manager Bill Stepien; a shirtsleeved Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, and others. Stephen Miller was also onboard, despite Air Force regulations against bringing live reptiles on government aircraft.
You may be reassured to know that Trump clearly does not care about of these people—his own family and closest supporters—any more than he does the rest of the country. Or perhaps they have all bought into the myth of their own science-denying invincibility. Or maybe they’re just part of the Trump death cult. Or all of the above.
Since then, Stepien, McEnany, and Republican Senators Mike Lee, Thom Tillis, and Ron Johnson have all tested positive, as has Chris Christie (couldn’t he just retreat to his private beach?). Tillis and Lee happen to on the Senate Judiciary Committee which is in a mad rush to confirm archconservative Amy Coney Barrett before Election Day. Chairman Lindsey Graham has indicated that the committee will continue to push forward like a Wuhan bat out of hell nonetheless, even if it has to do so virtually. (Chuck Schumer and others have, reasonably, called for a postponement while health concerns for committee members can be addressed.)
There is yet another irony in the fact that this particular COVID outbreak is being traced to a White House Rose Garden event on Saturday September 26th to announce that nomination. The GOP’s mindbendingly hypocritical rush to jam through the Notorious ACB (as she is already being called) is putting its already endangered Senate majority at further risk in the upcoming election; it might wind up costing it the presidency too, if not the very lives of various high-ranking Republican officials, going all the way to the very top.
In the words of Alanis Morissette, isn’t it ironic?
ANOTHER MOFO IN A MOTORCADE
Trump’s appalling disregard for others has continued since his hospitalization. (It’s a lifelong habit, actually.) On Sunday evening Trump decided to take a joy ride, leaving his hospital suite to cruise around in a motocade and wave at his supporters who had gathered outside the gates.
He is supposed to be quarantining. He is not. As a morbidly obese 74 year old man with a shitty diet and some apparently alarming symptoms of the virus, he is supposed to be doing everything he can to maximize his chances for a full recovery. He is not. He is not supposed to be exposing other people—like the Secret Service agents driving him around—to the virus. He is.
It ought to go without saying that that ride was an incredibly reckless and indefensible act, one that no legitimate doctor should have allowed, suggesting that either he is acting “against medical advice,” as the term of art goes (meaning, more precisely, in defiance of), or that his doctors are in violation of their oath by subsuming their professional obligations to political allegiance.
There is no denying that the optimistic, carefully worded public statements they have made thus far—particularly those of Dr. (CDR) Sean Conley—have proven to be misleading, perhaps deliberately so, in obscuring the truth about the severity of Trump’s condition, his use of supplemental oxygen, his prognosis, and other issues. In that sense, Dr. Conley appears to be in the grand tradition of White House predecessors like Dr. Ronny Jackson, another Navy doc, who famously stood before the cameras and pretty much claimed that Trump was a superman. (Dr. J is now retired from the Navy and running for Congress in Texas as a rabid right wing Trump acolyte.)
But, as the New York Times reports, “the few medical details disclosed—including his fluctuating oxygen levels and a decision to begin treatment with a steroid drug—suggested to many infectious disease experts that he is suffering a more severe case of COVID-19 than the physicians acknowledged.” Indeed, the treatments he is receiving are indicative of a patient with an advanced and even life-threatening case of the novel coronavirus. The use of dexamethasone in particular is significant, as it “is reserved for those with severe illness, because it has not been shown to benefit those with milder forms of the disease and may even be risky.”
Yet these same White House doctors tell us that Trump could be released as early as today, another thing that mystifies most informed medical observers. The WaPo reports that “Robert Wachter, chairman of the University of California at San Francisco’s department of medicine, said any patient of his with Trump’s symptoms and treatment who wanted to be discharged from the hospital three days after their admission would need to sign out against doctors’ orders because it would be so ill-advised.”
The point is not the severity or mildness of Trump’s illness, although that is a concern of course. It’s the lack of transparency—not unusual when it comes to presidential health issues in any administration, but in this case emblematic of this one’s egregious history of lies and general unwillingness to be honest with the American people.
Lest we forget, this is not merely a matter of Trump’s own well-being, but of national security as well. The dangers of a helmless ship should be self-evident, as they surely are to our enemies, even if it Captain Queeg who has been at the helm.
Almost a decade ago, I worked on a script for Sony Pictures that envisioned a biowarfare “decapitation” attack that took out the president and all the senior leaders of the United States. It’s a scenario that goes back decades—usually in the form of a nuclear strike by the old USSR—and one that motivated the shadowy Continuity of Government program that dates to the Truman era. But with the superspreader event at the Rose Garden that is thought to be the source of Trump’s infection (unless it was long-rumored hanky panky with Hope Hicks), we have seen something approaching that for real.
Then again, like Queeg, Trump doing nothing is in many ways better than Trump hard at work.
Many of Dr. Conley’s comments an answers to questions have been meticulously constructed to give the rosiest possible picture without outright lying. As Dr. Leana S. Wen writes in the Washington Post:
On Saturday, Conley repeatedly evaded questions about whether the president required supplemental oxygen. On Sunday, he stated that Trump was not on oxygen at that time but did have two episodes, one on Friday and one on Saturday, where his oxygen level dropped. When asked whether it fell below 90 percent, Conley answered that it wasn’t “into the low 80s or anything.” So we are left to surmise that perhaps the oxygen levels were, at some point, in the mid or high 80s — a concerning finding that points to substantial lung involvement.
Even more concerning is Conley’s admission that the drop in numbers on Friday was what prompted the president’s transfer to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. This was in line with (White House Chief of Staff Mark) Meadows saying in an interview that he was worried about the president’s “plummeting oxygen levels.”
I’m worried, too. A COVID-19 patient who experiences a substantial drop in oxygen saturation is unstable. It was correct to transfer him to the hospital to watch for signs of deterioration in case he needs further respiratory support. Here’s my question: What’s changed for Americans to be assured that the president is now stable to return to his residence, as doctors suggested could happen as early as Monday?
On Sunday, we learned that Trump has been started on dexamethasone, a steroid medication that has been shown to reduce mortality in critically ill patients. Importantly, this medication is not recommended for patients with non-severe disease. Given the use of steroids and oxygen saturation drops, it seems likely that the president has at least moderate pneumonia.
This is something else that Conley won’t confirm; when asked about Trump’s chest X-ray or CT findings, he would only say they are as “expected.” Notably, he did not say that they were “normal.”
Another possibility Dr. Wen suggests is that Trump may be further along than we have been told, in which case we have been lied to about when he first contracted and was diagnosed with COVID—not good either, especially for those whom he came in contact with but who were not told of that potential exposure.
Trump may well have already been released by the time this piece goes online; I have no doubt that he will insist on doing so as soon as possible, irrespective of the best medical advice. Laughably, Trump tried to show he was hard at work even in the hospital by releasing staged photos of himself signing blank pieces of paper. But that’s OK: again, it’s preferable to the actual orders he has signed as president.
GET WELL SOON
The amount of undeserved good luck from which Donald Trump has benefited in his long, obscenely privileged life is enough to turn the Pope into Bill Maher. To name just a few lowlights, he has been able to avoid the consequences of bankruptcy, tax fraud, sexual assault, campaign finance felonies, the popular vote, a special counsel, impeachment, and even objective reality itself. But the novel coronavirus has zero fucks to give, and on that count at least, Trump’s luck—and his ability to defy science—has run out.
Trump may yet get off easy once again. Per above, he has the absolute best medical care in the world, and we are already seeing him receive aggressive, cutting edge, experimental treatments that are unavailable to the vast majority of his fellow Americans. So the least deserving person in America is getting the most top-notch care.
But just the fact that he has gotten COVID at all is a stark reminder that not even the most arrogant blowhard can poke his finger in the Lord’s eye forever and get away with it.
With all that help, and even with his comorbidities, he may yet beat COVID, which he will brag about, and his slobbering disciples will lap up as proof that it ain’t that bad, and/or that he’s indeed the übermensch that Dr. Ronny Jackson claimed. But even so, it will keep the pandemic on the front pages, and deny the Trump campaign its desire to make Americans forget his wretched handling of it. In case anyone has already forgotten, let me remind you:
As I write this, some 215,000 Americans are dead from the pandemic—about half as many as we lost in World War II—a significant number of whom would be alive if Donald Trump were not president.
Even Trump’s illness may not be enough to put an end to that. Even as he enjoys blue chip medical care at taxpayers’ expense, the continuing Republican attempt to openly steal this election and keep him on office went into high gear. In Texas, Republican Governor Greg Abbott ordered the closure of all but one ballot dropoff location per county. (Some Texas counties are bigger than the state of Rhode Island.) In Pennsylvania, state Republican leaders tried to form a so-called “Select Committee on Election Integrity” to investigate the presidential election even as it is still going on. This five-member committee would be comprised of a 3-2 Republican majority with the power to subpoena election officials, the Postal Service officers, and “examine aspects of the election, even while voting and counting are in process.”
In other words. the GOP continues to make it very very clear that it does not want the American people to vote and express their will this November. What does that tell you?
To repeat, no one knows for sure how this latest turn will ultimately affect that race. There have already been so many unforeseen twists and turns that only a fool would venture to do so. Still, I have to believe that Trump’s infection and hospitalization, however mild or severe it turns out to be, will hurt him to a greater or lesser degree. But—full disclosure—I have been wrong before.
As the culture writer Jordan Zakarin tweeted, “To help Donald Trump get the full COVID-19 experience, let’s make sure he loses his job and is evicted from his home next month.”
I’ll join the chorus wishing Donald Trump well and a speedy recovery, along with the others in his circle who were recently infected….and the other roughly 43,000 Americans who were diagnosed with COVID on an average day last week. I hope the United States as a whole gets well soon, too……and I know just the cure I would prescribe.
Photo: The King’s Necktie, off my TV (MSNBC)