Why is it that we have all the downside aspects of an autocratic regime with none of the upside: order, brisk efficiency, and those smart, slimming tunics?
Aside from ordering up random acts of violence against opponents, autocrats are generally known for keeping things on an even, if murderous, keel. With Trump it’s all rage and havoc, one bumbling misstep after another. How that shriveled little heart of his handles all the chaos is a medical wonder.
Indeed, the last week in September saw crises within crises, not to mention ironies upon ironies—any one of which would dominate the headlines of a normal administration for weeks. The New York Times’s epic report on Trump’s taxes—or absence thereof—was a bombshell for the ages. But two days later came his demented performance at the first presidential debate—and his tip of the red hat to the white-supremacist cohort of his base. The missus got into the headline action, too, with the audio recording of the First Lady going blue not only on Democrats but on Christmas decorations! And then just to top things off, Trump made the global pandemic that has killed more than a million worldwide personal, by getting infected himself.
Given the fates that govern our times, even Trump should have known better. Ridiculing others, such as his opponent, Joe Biden, for wearing a mask, was tempting those wicked fates to their very limits. After all, Trump is in the most vulnerable bracket so far as the virus is concerned. He’s old, he’s obese, he has a lingering heart condition—and as we now know, thanks to the Times, he’s low-income.
It’s no accident that the three Western leaders who are COVID deniers have now all gotten the virus. You’d think that once British prime minister Boris Johnson and Jair Bolsonaro, the president of Brazil, came down with the coronavirus, Trump would have taken measures to ensure his own health and that of those around him. But, as we know, he did no such thing. Perhaps he thought that his practiced squint would scare off the virus.
He’s old, he’s obese, he has a lingering heart condition—and as we now know, thanks to the Times, he’s low-income.
Also, the West Wing is both much smaller and more warren-like than you would imagine. It’s a hodgepodge of corridors and tiny offices that only a slumlord would envy. And with colleagues working together in that proximity and without masks, it’s no wonder that the staff is being defenestrated by the virus—with new casualties piling up every day. Some reports describe the West Wing as a “ghost town.” You could chalk a lot of this calamity up to simple male hubris. Indeed, virtually every Western nation run by a woman has seen incredibly low rates of infection.
That haughty Republican swagger was in all its red-tie glory at that Rose Garden unveiling of Amy Coney Barrett, Trump’s nominee for Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s seat on the Supreme Court. There was nothing in the way of social distancing. Mask-wearers were in the minority. And as Trump stood by the podium, in that stance that someone has said looks like a centaur with its hind legs missing, the virus was glad-handing its way through the close-quartered, unmasked attendees.
Former New Jersey governor Chris Christie, who had schooled Trump on his deranged debate tactics, was running around that outdoor petri dish hugging and kissing people with the antic energy of a Labrador that had been let out of the car after a long road trip. Christie and Trump are both motormouths. They never stop talking. And when they’re not talking, they’re shouting. In a situation like that, they are human spittle hoses.
The Republican suckers who later in the week paid upward of $250,000 for an hour of Trump’s time at his New Jersey golf course went home with souvenirs to go alongside their MAGA hats—droplets of their leader’s infected aerosol particulates. Because they were served food buffet-style and were for the most part mask-less, they may have also violated state law.
The mishandling of the whole mess was typical of the administration—an organization that, like Trump’s business, is shambolic, undisciplined, and unethical. The White House is now a coronavirus hot zone, responsible for more new infections than all of New Zealand. Still, in a cage match between COVID and Stephen Miller, the president’s vile architect of immigration cruelty, who tested positive this week, a sensible bet would have to be even money.
The White House is now a coronavirus hot zone, responsible for more new infections than all of New Zealand.
It doesn’t help that Trump and his circle lie simply for practice. Almost every statement or action that came out of Walter Reed or the West Wing was undermined by reporting or follow-up statements. There was no coordination with the Centers for Disease Control to establish a contact-tracing system. As the Times’s Maureen Dowd tweeted: “When Trump walked through the doors, Walter Reed had a stellar reputation. As he walks out 72 hours later, its reputation is in tatters. There’s nothing Trump can’t ruin.”
Trump’s feckless micro-motorcade to wave at the people outside the hospital—among the dwindling few who still believe him to be sane—was tragic. And it simply mimicked his long march across Lafayette Park back in June that he staged so he could hold up a Bible in front of St. John’s Church. Not sure what the intent of Trump’s more recent outing was, but for the Secret Service members who had been in that sealed car with him for that showboating stunt, it meant quarantine for 14 days.
There were the reports that the president was looking wan and a bit peaked in the videos he tweeted from Walter Reed. Well, of course he looked a bit blah—he wasn’t able to lather himself in his carroty tanning spackle. Even his hair had lost that lemony-frosting look.
And then, like a miracle, Trump rose to announce he was cured, and—inspiringly, for his evangelical base—on the third day! Time to get back to work, signing blank sheets of paper, canceling stimulus relief for millions of Americans and small businesses then un-canceling it once he saw the markets tank. The word around Washington was that the president’s enhanced erratic behavior could be chalked up to the dexamethasone he has been treated with—which was not something we wanted to hear. Dexamethasone has numerous harmful potential side effects, including irritability and mood swings—in Trump’s case, that would be increased irritability and mood swings.
But he also had to stage a Perón-esque balcony appearance in which he saluted and then dramatically ripped his mask off. “As your leader, I had to do that,” he said in a video. “I knew there’s danger to it, but I had to do it. I stood out front.” His daughter Ivanka compounded that nonsense with a tweet that included a photo of him at a Walter Reed conference table in front of a suspiciously thin folder. “Nothing can stop him from working for the American people,” she wrote. Then in the trademark Trump-family all-caps style: “RELENTLESS.” To which the only reply can be “I’LL SAY!”
Dexamethasone has numerous harmful potential side effects, including irritability and mood swings—in Trump’s case, that would be increased irritability and mood swings.
Then he headed up to the private quarters, where some 90 full-time butlers, valets, cooks, housekeepers, and such work. They are the permanent staff who attend to the needs of the White House resident and his or her family. Many of them are Black and Latino, and older, and they are now at risk from the Super-Spreader-in-Chief. Yet another example of Trump’s brand of leadership: Me first and the hell with the rest of you.
When he tweeted, “Don’t be afraid of Covid. Don’t let it dominate your life,” that was a direct hit on those who have either died from the virus or have suffered from it. It’s easy to say not to let the pandemic dominate your life when you’re the president and are pumped with every possible experimental treatment scientists have created. Trump has an army of doctors at his side. All his treatments are funded by the taxpayers—himself excluded. And, for Trump, the treatments and the time at Walter Reed are all free. Tell that to Janet Mendez, who survived her bout with the virus in New York last April and was presented with a hospital bill of more than $400,000. Or Michael Flor, who was presented with a $1.1 million bill from his hospital outside Seattle.
The national-security ramifications of all of this are myriad and colossal. When Admiral Charles Ray, vice commandant of the Coast Guard, tested positive, nine members of the military high command, including the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had to quarantine. America’s many enemies are fully aware that there are fewer and fewer people at the top minding the shop.
The election, which at this stage could probably benefit from international election monitors, is less than a month off and already we are suffering from early-onset Post-Trump Stress Disorder. It’s not going to go away after November 3. It’s going to linger, much like the pandemic. And Trump, who will remain in office for another 78 days if he’s voted out, is fully capable of wreaking more havoc as they take him off to his fraught future life, much like a drunk who drives his elbow through the window as he’s being thrown out of the bar. The nightmare will be over. The PTSD night sweats will remain for a good while. If only there were a mask for all of it.