Postcards From Trump

“Hello, having a wonderful time, wish you were here”:

Donald Trump Sends Me a Postcard from Fantasyland

“[W]hen you have 15 people, and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero, that’s a pretty good job we’ve done.”

—President Donald Trump, February 26

“So you’re talking about 2.2 million deaths, 2.2 million people from this…And so if we could hold that down, as we’re saying, to 100,000 — it’s a horrible number, maybe even less — but to 100,000. So we have between 100 and 200,000, and we altogether have done a very good job.”

—Trump, March 29

He probably sent you a postcard, too.

That postcard and what it represents is an obscenity.

Mine arrived on the 25th of March. The same day that, as a resident in the great state of Washington, our 48-hour grace period ended and, at midnight, all non-essential workers were under strict “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” guidelines. And, so, with my family, I hunker down.

And wait.

And worry.

This order from Governor Jay Inslee, a leader leading, comes one month after Trump, the would-be emperor without clothes, assured an incredulous nation that we would soon be close to zero COVID-19 patients. But one month later, the US now leads the world in COVID-19 cases, a record which should appeal to Trump, who measures the greatness of his presidency with ridiculous and empty numbers and records.

15 down to 0.

Now, Trump has again revised the standard of his doing a really great job, upward to only a 100,000 deaths, or, anyway, less than 200,000.

Just as we get his insulting postcard.

And it’s a shame, because it’s not the medium, but the message. No, I love a good postcard, a beautiful, tangible item of mail sent through the actual, physical USPS delivery service, the same system mentioned in the US Constitution. Really, it’s in there (Article I, Section 8, Clause 7), though the Republicans have been trying to kill it off for a while now, even as they are complaining about the assistance the USPS gets in the COVID-19 support bill. A shame that the mail system wasn’t saved for later inclusion in the 2nd Amendment, for then they’d be dying (or, killing) to protect it.

It’s true. I consider myself something of an expert on the postcard, and not just because I see postcards that I mailed magneted to fridges around the world. So let me tell you a thing of two about my history with postcards. Besides using postcards in my day job to teach writing and arguments (they force a person into stating only the essnetials; the internet, not so much), I have lived with them for my entire life.

I still have every postcard sent to me by my grandparents—going back to 1969, just after I was born—as they traveled around the world, first while working for the USAID post-WWII and then, after retirement, traveling on freighters. My grandfather, Kurt Nathan, was one of the last Jews to receive a Ph.D. in the Third Reich (1933, economics, with a focus on shipping). I’m sure this awarding of a Ph.D. to a Jew was a slight Nazi oversight, but they can’t take away your education, I am told. However, they can steal your citizenship. My grandparents left Germany in ’35, once the Nuremburg Laws were passed and—poof!—overnight they were no longer Germans.

After my grandparents passed away, I was lucky to receive my grandmother’s artfully curated collection of pre-WWII German postcards. They are still beautifully displayed in a photo album-style book made especially for postcards. So many beautiful images of churches and cityscapes, all delightfully as yet unbombed.

Postcards have a long and sometimes troubling history in the US. After the Civil War, as lynchings roiled the land, people wanted then as now for any public event to have a record of their participation, whether as bystander or lyncher. A lynching happened, often a white on black crime, and people would gather around the still-hanging body for a photo. The photographer, a professional, would take a picture and then sell the images to those willing to pay. For many years, these violent, disgusting images were turned into postcards and mailed via the USPS. After the postal service banned such picture postcards, the images continued as souvenirs, just not for mailing. This ugly, racist, and very American history is tragically and exhaustively recorded in James Allen’s Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America (Twin Palms, 2000) and Christopher Waldrep’s Lynching in America: A History in Documents (New York University Press, 2006).

I still mail a lot of postcards. I learned a long time ago that any printed photograph is easily made into a postcard, needing only a stamp, an address, and a short note (note optional).

And now I have for my collection Trump’s postcard.

It’s hard to miss the fact that the most important words seem to be “PRESIDENT TRUMP’S.” Luckily, because Trump is delightfully bad at almost everything he is also good at (playful fascism, titanic self-promotion, gross self-indulgence, super-American xenophobia, troglodytic sexism, willful ignorance, and all the many attributes of his presidency for which his followers revere him) the postcard also reads, without too much effort: “PRESIDENT TRUMP’S CORONAVIRUS.” At last, he is taking ownership, one might think. Ha ha, no. We know better, as he said on March 13: “I don’t take responsibility at all.” He also blamed Obama, because, of course.

[Time for the mandatory caveat for all the simplistic Fox News types: No, obviously, Trump did not create this pandemic, but he also did nothing to stop it. Just the opposite. He expedited the contagion in the US by first pretending it was nothing, and, now, while pretending he believes it is something, doing precious little of substance about it.]

The Trump virus postcard is insulting because it is self-aggrandizing, it is too little, too late. It is filled with information that we all already knew a month or more ago, even though the impotent Vice President Mike Pence waves around this same info on a printed sheet of paper at every press conference as if he has a magic wand that will solve everything. This postcard represents a “Get out of Jail Free” card for Trump, he thinks, because when the virus doesn’t magically disappear, he’ll blame us, because we just didn’t listen. He has made this point clear repeatedly: if we die or infect others, it’s our fault because we didn’t follow his too little too late postcard instructions.

Never mind the fact that Pence’s boss actually believes that COVID-19 will magically go away, saying, on February 27: “It’s going to disappear. One day, it’s like a miracle, it will disappear.” Miracles are something Pence can get behind. This kind of hocus pocus no doubt plays well with Trump’s Evangelical base, the same base that he was at first comfortable infecting en masse by sending them back to church for Easter, against all reasonable medical and scientific advice. “I think Easter Sunday and you’ll have packed churches all over our country, I think it would be a beautiful time. And it’s just about the timeline I think is right,” he said.

We know by now that there is a growing call on the right to sacrifice our seniors and immunosuppressed family members and neighbors in order to get the economy rolling again. Dan Patrick, Lieutenant Governor of Texas, an old person himself, no doubt speaks for all senior citizens by stating as much. He argued, essentially, that any patriotic old person should be willing to die in order to save the US economy: “No one reached out to me and said, ‘as a senior citizen, are you willing to take a chance on your survival in exchange for keeping the America that all America loves for your children and grandchildren?[’]…And if that’s the exchange, I’m all in.” Something tells me that, as a government employee with excellent government healthcare (damn socialists everywhere), he wasn’t actually including himself.

Same for Trump and his postcard. It’s a classic “do what I say, not what I do” response to our current crisis. In classic Trumpian leading from behind fashion, it’s of virtually no value at this time for a population that already knows what to do. It acts, then, as a support for Trump’s fragile always-in-charge persona.

Besides the ridiculous frontside—which screams TRUMP but cites in the lower right hand corner the CDC, as if we are supposed to believe that now, finally, Trump believes in science and not what his prodigious gut tells him (I wonder if he’s even seen this postcard)—the backside has a long list of dos and don’ts that Trump and his band of merry men and a couple of women flagrantly flaunt publicly.

A few postcard high points (admonitions from the postcard in bold).

Listen and follow the directions of your state and local authorities. Trump, however, has no need to listen to local and state authorities, or former presidents (who can teach him nothing), and such advice is just for followers like you and me. Governors Cuomo of New York and Inslee of Washington and Whitmer of Michigan (this latter governor Trump resists naming, instead designating her “the young, a woman governor”) and others are pleading for federal help, to which Trump replies that he and the federal government are “backup” for the states. The states should find their own medical supplies. New York doesn’t really need that many ventilators. New York nurses are stealing masks. Trump claims to have enacted the Defense Production Act, but was at first against using it for vague and self-involved reasons. This, despite his characteristically empty yet turgid claim that he is a “Wartime President.” When he did finally activate it (allegedly), it was for but one company (General Motors) and more in reaction to a perceived insult. Some kind of weird Trumpian revenge. Trump may see himself as a war president, but, if true, then he is also COVID-19’s first and most significant wartime deserter.

If you feel sick, stay home. Do not go to work. Even though Trump continues to lie to Americans by telling them that if they need a COVID-19 test, they can get one, curiously, politicians and celebrities can actually get tests on demand. Whether they feel symptoms or not. Rand Paul suspected he might have the virus, got tested, and then, no doubt because he hadn’t yet received this postcard and thus had no idea how to behave, continued to hang out with his fellow senators. He tested positive, righteously infecting who knows how many others.

If your children are sick, keep them at home. Contact your medical provider. In his ongoing war on the American people, Trump is naturally against universal healthcare, even as he has the finest government-provided healthcare our tax dollars can provide. Yet he now pretends that everyone in America has a health care provider. Incredible ignorance? Maybe. I might also think he just doesn’t give a shit.

If you are an older person, or have a serious underlying health condition, stay home and away from other people. Now, granted, we know from Trump’s doctor that “If elected, Mr. Trump, I can state unequivocally, will be the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency.” Obviously, a giant lie. In any case, Trump is an older person, and yet there he is day after day on national TV not staying home and not staying away from other people. He touches everyone’s hand, fondles and strokes the community microphone. Though Trump claims lies that he hasn’t touched his face in weeks and that he misses it, video tells us otherwise. We know with certainty that he has already been around multiple COVID-19 virus sufferers.

Work or study from home whenever possible. Nope, no can do. Trump, who has been robbed of his fascistic political rallies (but for how long?) has turned the COVID-19 podium into his own daily reality show of lies, hatred, recriminations, self-aggrandizement, and facile revisionist history. There is no practical reason he can’t self-quarantine himself, as his postcard tells us we should do, in that big white house he’s squatting in, except that, well, he’s not gonna.

There’s more on his postcard like this, all by itself fine advice, but when critically examined as an artifcact in a larger narrarive, it is something much more insidious. Now that I’ve given a quick glimpse into how to read the (barely even) subtext, this is your homework assignment. Read your own postcard and get back to me. Maybe we can do a national Zoom to discuss.

For the first three years of Trump’s “presidency,” we could all laugh at his foibles in a gallows-humor kind of way: his unbridled egomania, his racism and sexism, his endless willful ignorance (or, maybe it wasn’t all willful, maybe it’s genuine), the sycophantic self-debasement of his Mike Pences and his Lindsey Grahams.

But now, it’s not so funny. The bodies are piling up behind the hospitals in refiregerated trucks.

Trump’s endless dithering and sudden Johnny-come-lately interest, obviously feigned, in the pandemic’s onslaught is literally killing people. Somewhere in his lizard brain, he knows this. Which is why he spends so much time telling us how great he is doing (when asked, he gave himself a 10 out of a 10). While we won’t ever be able to exactly quantify the death and destruction he will have contributed to this global pandemic because of his inaction and malfeasance, he and his postcard are lightyears behind a virus that is expanding exponentially by the day. (But we can begin to extrapolate. New Orleans’ mayor says she did not cancel Mardi Gras because the Trump administration was poo-pooing the pandemic. Now, the city is a hotspot of COVID-19 with a growing body count. Thanks, Trump.)

Before the virus ever appeared, in an orgy of small government fetishism (well, small government that does not include spending money on his family and at his properties, anyway), Trump fired the experts trained to keep watch on pandemics. And when COVID-19 did arrive, he treated it as something he could tweet away, something he could beat into submission with his usual lies and feigned disinterest. When that didn’t work, he naturally started the blame game. The Chinese/Wuhan virus. The Left. The Deep State (Oh, did he not yet blame the Deep State this time? Well, give him a day or two.) The press. He is even threatening to sue TV stations if they air a political ad which has nothing but his own pandemic-denying words. Everyone culpable. Everyone except The Donald.

And now with this postcard, Trump makes it clear that you and I are complicit when we don’t magically make COVID-19 go away by following the orders he doesn’t even seem to know about himself. “See,” he will say soon, “if only you had followed that postcard I sent you too late, everything would be ok.” Yep, he said it on March 30.

In perhaps his biggest and most repeated lie, Trump claims that no one could possibly have known about such a virus attacking the world, even though countless doctors, scientists, reporters, and federal representatives have been writing about exactly this for years. We even now know that Trump and his sullen band of know-nothings ignored a 2016 report—a report adorned with a big fat seal of the president of the United States—entitled Playbook for Early Response to High-Consequence Emerging Infectious Disease Threats and Biological Incidents (you can read the report for yourself here, but rest assured Trump has not). Those are some big words to Trump, and though he likes to uncomfortably enunciate big words for other people, he doesn’t like to actually do anything with them. Just one more plot against him, he thinks.

After all this and much more which you probably know about anyway, we watch Trump finally making a feeble attempt at caring about the pandemic, not because he cares about the human toll, but because he’s worried it will destroy his presidency and the economy. We all know he lacks empathy of any kind for anyone not named Donald or Ivanka Trump, and when asked the biggest softball question of all time—what would you say to Americans suffering from COVID-19?—he responded by saying that Peter Alexander was a “terrible reporter” who had asked a “nasty question.”

So, my nasty question: How does Trump think that sending this postcard at this late date and filled with demands that he himself refuses to follow will somehow help?

It won’t.

This postcard is but the empty gesture of a ruined man, a man determined to take the rest of us with him. In the end, it’s hard not to draw the conclusion that Trump, who is always trying to cover his ass, is doing just that. But, while protecting himself and not us, he wants you to absorb the narrative that Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin also tells. Talking about the $2 trillion in life support passed by Congress, Mnuchin said this on March 26: “I just think these [unemployment] numbers right now are not relevant, and you know, whether they’re bigger or smaller in the short term…I mean, obviously, there are people who have jobless claims. And again, the good thing about this bill is the president is protecting those people.” Most people have focused on the utter lack of empathy for millions of Americans hurting, out of work, but I saw something else, something mirrored in Trump’s postcard. Mnuchin, like all Trump followers, wants you to know that Trump is protecting the rabble: “…the president is protecting those people.”

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Thank you, Daddy, Trump and Mnuchin want us all to think. Remember George Lakoff and his Republican-as-Strict-Father arguments?

This #Trumpvirus postcard is, I admit, the rare postcard that I am not keeping for my collection. Instead, I will be sending it to the Smithsonian Institution as part of the growing historical record detailing Trump’s betrayal and abandonment of America at its time of great need.


Postscript: From the Department of Here We Go Again. Though checks sent directly to the American people usually have the signature of an unknown civil servant, Trump reportedly wants his own swollen signature on all the COVID-19 checks being mailed out. Which makes sense, because everything is about the empty showmanship with Trump, and the checks are too small to do much anyway. Typical.