On Monday night, many of us sat in disbelief watching Donald Trump return to the White House from the Walter Reed Army Medical Center just three days after being admitted to the hospital with the disease that’s killed more than 210,000 of his fellow citizens. The shock, at least in my case, quickly turned to anger as the US president, clearly gasping for breath after walking up the stairs to the Truman balcony, pulled off his mask and put it in his pocket.
A photographer staged nearby soon appeared beside him as he mugged for the assembled cameras below, spewing infection into the night air. This photographer, following the advice of almost every expert, continued to wear her mask, an act of caring for others that seems lost not only on this president but on so many of his followers and members of his political party.
At least a dozen of the latter, including his press secretary, his campaign manager and several U.S. senators are currently self-isolating after testing positive for the virus. On Tuesday, the Joint Chiefs of Staff went into quarantine, followed soon after by Stephen Miller, one of the architects of the administration’s cruel immigration policies.
Standing on that balcony, basking for a moment in what this American president no doubt saw as the adoration of his fans, the leader of what used to be called the free world then turned to enter the residence, where several people seemed to await his arrival and where he continued to put others at risk of serious illness.
The day before, the president put a number of secret service agents and possibly others at risk for a drive by wave at supporters in front of Walter Reed, a crowd that included Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes. He did so in a vehicle sealed to withstand a chemical attack, if not a biological one from within. Earlier the same day, the American Commander in Chief released a video where he spoke in somewhat bizarre terms, calling his illness “interesting” and telling supporters that he now understood the disease in a way that those with mere ‘book learning’ never could.
Before leaving the hospital, where the general public could be protected from him, the most powerful man in the world took to his favorite social media platform to tweet, “Don’t be afraid of COVID. Don’t let it dominate your life. We have developed, under the Trump Administration, some really great drugs & knowledge. I feel better than I did 20 years ago!”
Later that same night, perhaps worried that some might not have seen his message, the U.S. president recorded a video to reiterate what he’d said, creating a typically superlative filled word salad in the process, “…One thing that’s for certain, don’t let it dominate you. Don’t be afraid of it. You’re going to beat it. We have the best medical equipment. We have the best medicines all developed recently, and you’re going to beat it. I went … I didn’t feel so good. And two days ago, I could have left two days ago. Two days ago, I felt great. Like, better than I have in a long time. I said just recently … better than 20 years ago. Don’t let it dominate. Don’t let it take over your lives. Don’t let that happen. We have the greatest country in the world. We’re going back. We’re going back to work. We’re going to be out front. As your leader, I had to do that. I knew there’s danger to it, but I had to do it. I stood out front. I led. Nobody that’s a leader would not do what I did. And I know there’s a risk. There’s a danger. But that’s okay, and now I’m better. Maybe I’m immune. I don’t know.”
Even after requiring oxygen at least twice over a three day period, this stream of nonsense crystallized what was already clear to many people: the failed real estate developer had learned nothing from what must have been a terrifying experience. Instead, he remained more than willing to put others through the same situation he still faces without the vast resources of the American presidency behind them, including the drugs and care he was given that are not available to his fellow citizens.
It’s just my opinion, but it seems unethical for his doctors to have released him while he is still infectious and on a cocktail of drugs, including a steroid treatment that is known to have side effects, “from blood clots, headaches and blurred vision to aggression, agitation, anxiety, irritability and depression”.
Some day, the cowardice and venality of those around this president, from these doctors all the way up to the vice president, will be studied alongside the stories of those complicit in the crimes of fascism in Europe. Their hollow protestations of ‘patriotism’ will just as surely indict them when the history of this terrible year is written.
One might have hoped that the sickness of Donald Trump and many of those around him, who seemed to think themselves immune to the virus as evidenced by a well attended ceremony to celebrate the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the country’s highest court, might result in a new seriousness in tackling a disease that has harmed so many in both medical and economic terms.
Instead, his allies and media cheerleaders have already begun to praise his ‘leadership’ in catching a totally preventable illness.
We’ll probably never know exactly when the American president knew he had Covid 19, but we do know he missed the deadline for testing before last week’s train wreck of a debate, meaning it’s possible he was already spreading the disease at that time. Both Chris Christie and former White House communications director, Hope Hicks, who were involved in the preparations for the face-off, have been infected, with the latter’s earlier diagnosis hidden from the public until it was reported by Bloomberg.
Further demonstrating that different rules apply to America’s political class, Christie checked into hospital as a ‘precautionary measure’, VIP treatment not available to his fellow citizens who would surely have been sent home by angry hospital staff, if not escorted back into quarantine by authorities.
As much as most of us would like to have sympathy for Trump’s grown children at a time when their father is ill, at last Tuesday’s presidential debate, each and every one of them, perhaps believing they are above the muck of human biology, made a point of removing their masks despite clear guidelines given by the venue.
Another depressing aspect of all this is how deeply the mainstream press in the United States has failed at every turn to hold the Grifter in Chief to account up until and mostly including the present moment. The so-called opposition hasn’t done much better, engaging in empty gestures like ripping up speeches for the cameras rather than actually using their power and the pulpits it offers them to fight this most radical of rightwing administrations. I had never thought that fecklessness was contagious but it may be more so than the novel coronavirus itself.
At the same time, it’s also true that America’s ruling class, like almost any other, has always shown a predilection for sociopathic cruelty and indifference to the suffering of others, especially those in marginalized communities within the country and those in foreign lands whose leaders are deemed enemies.
To avoid the temptation to succumb to the ghoulishness so often displayed by the right, who celebrate when those who oppose their politics are harmed and even die, American progressives should hold in their minds the image of this U.S. president, dressed in an ill-fitting jumpsuit in the color he seems to love so much living for many more years and railing against his many enemies, real and imagined, from behind bars. As an extra punishment, he could share a cell with his insipid son in law.
Regardless, hopefully, the Pied Piper of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue won’t be given another term to pull his country and the world further off a cliff.