October 2nd 2020
The news that Trump’s open contempt for science and public safety finally caught up to him is one of the most expected shocks in history. For the past six months or so, I’ve expected to wake up to a headline reading “Trump rushed to Walter Reed with Respiratory Distress.” Or those in utter awe at my prognostication abilities, I also predicted the Dodgers would have a good season, California would have wildfires in the late summer, and bell bottoms would make a comeback. I am like unto a God.
Historians will never figure out why the Trump administration was openly contemptuous about wearing masks, still the single most effective way we have to slow the spread of COVID-19. After all, psychiatrists can’t figure out the motivation now.
Authoritarians are famous for denying the obvious when it’s obvious that things are going to hell and it puts them in a bad light. The story of Nero fiddling while Rome burned is apocryphal, but Roman leaders told many reassuring lies in the centuries of Rome’s decline. Hitler pretended all was well and German victory inevitable as late as April, 1945. Baghdad Bob swore there were no American troops were in Baghdad and what’s more, Homer Simpson was screwing their wives while they fought overseas.
But few governments told such transparent lies with so little hope of a good outcome under circumstances that weren’t yet dire.
It’s a sign of the intellectual rot infecting American society that conspiracy theories already abound. Some Republicans have claimed that liberals put the virus in a solution and painted it on Trump’s microphone and dais before the debate. (The only way it would work in reality would be if they painted it on Putin’s penis.) Another was that the Chinese somehow infected Trump because he was about to reveal that they deliberately released the virus.
Just to show that the idiocy is bipartisan, some liberals are claiming Trump is faking the whole thing as a sympathy ploy and/or an excuse to skip the debate.
Well, the good news (sorta) is that with two dozen or so people who have been exposed to Trump getting sick themselves make the odds that Trump is “faking it” vanishingly small. I doubt we’ll get much in the way of accurate and full information going forward. That isn’t even just a matter of Trump’s veracity: historically Presidents and their staff have lied about their health. Few people knew Harrison was dying until after he died. Teddy Roosevelt hid an injury from an assassination attempt and gave a speech. (Points for a gutsy move, though!). Woodrow Wilson had a major stroke and his WH concealed his incapacitation for almost 18 months. Eisenhower concealed the severity of his heart attack because he believed the thought of a Nixon presidency would panic the country.
But with this administration, I have little hope of any transparency. The Trump crowd lie just because they lie. They don’t even need a reason.
Despite his general health, the odds at this point are in Trump’s favor. The disease kills about 5% of those who catch it. For someone in Trump’s observable condition, that rises to about 15%. And given that he is showing symptoms, it’s likely that he will have knock-on health problems for the rest of his life. It’s reasonable to expect that he will walk out of Walter Reed in due course—a few days, a few weeks, a few months. But he won’t be the same man who went in today.
Just the fact that he got sick is going to utterly destroy the anti-mask, anti-science Republican movement that is the main reason COVID-19 has been and remains out of control in America. People who persuaded themselves that it is all a hoax are going to have to reassess that view. Trump’s open contempt for masks and social distancing have caught up to him. People may continue viewing evolution and climate change as commie plots, but the fact that it has laid their hero low means they will have to be circumspect about this one. Some of the smarter ones will start wearing masks. The dumber ones will isolate into non-mask communities, and evolution will take its course. It won’t cure America of its fevered infection of utter stupidity, but it will put a dent in it.
We’re already in one of the most chaotic periods in American history since the Civil War, and this will make things that much worse. If he’s in the hospital for more than a week, Republicans will say the elections must be postponed. Trump will probably get a sympathy bounce in the polls, but it’s unlikely that will translate to more votes. Everyone will be watching Pence for signs he’s preparing to become America’s 46th president. With Trump ill and the nation in crisis, the grotesque drive to rubber stamp Amy Barrett onto the Court may have to actually suspend. For one thing, Trump’s reckless approach to social distancing has infected a number of Senators, all Republican. (Barrett has been exposed to Trump and his Petri dish of a White House over the past week, but there are reports that she tested positive for Covid last summer and is (presumably) immune.
We can’t control events stemming from this latest crisis except for one: Don’t be stupid. Mask up, keep your distance.