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The Most Important Patient In The World

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

So he was dubbed by many commentators on TV and the Internet. Finally a large number of independent thinkers agreed with something the patient has long known. He is the most important something in the world.

The vortex we’ve lived in since—was it January or February?—that downward spiral grew and accelerated last Thursday. The pace of events quickened as speculations and plans—all provisional—multiplied. I thought then of what I told my students in March when the coronavirus came to campus. Against a flurry of activity by deans and faculty and staff, I wrote my students that all the plans and instructions issued by those parties on Tuesday could be null and void by Wednesday. The only use the attached PDFs piling up in their mail might serve was to line the bottom of a birdcage. If you don’t have a bird, get a birdcage anyway. For months all the various crises combined and recombined in unforeseen ways as though the crises themselves had their own cunning DNA. Then on Friday October the 2nd the helicopter lifted off the White House lawn with its cargo of ignorance and arrogance and it was one of those moments. Even Trump stopped tweeting for a time.

Watching the chopper levitate slowly I thought of the moment on November the 22nd 1963 when the school janitor Al Parent told our nun Sister Mary Something or Other, “The president has been shot.” We all just watched her. Fascinated as only children can be at the sight of an adult at a loss of what to say or do. I don’t recall now what she said or what we did next. Probably she said we would say a prayer. But I don’t recall. On that day in 1963, for all its uncertainties, even a child knew the world would never be the same.

But for all the uncertainties then and now, there is one glaring difference. Now we know with certainty who the culprit is. And that much was clear long before Friday.

When Trump was stricken by the very thing he had called a hoax, it was an irony that surpassed the many ironies that 2020 had dumped on our front lawn, one truckload after another.

Once the press learned that Trump would soon be flown to Walter Reed, Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany described it all as simply standard procedure. “Out of an abundance of caution, and at the recommendation of his physician and medical experts, the President will be working from the presidential offices at Walter Reed for the next few days,”

By the time Marine 1 had disgorged the patient at Walter Reed, the pundits were sending out their mandatory hearts and prayers to a man whose callous disregard for anyone but himself had caused the deaths of at least 100,000 of his fellow citizens. Then too, as expected, people whose diets include lots of moral fiber began to post preemptive pious warnings to the tens of millions of citizens who welcomed the news of Trump’s illness. Telling them it was morally inappropriate to revel in someone else’s misfortune. Hoping to prevent them from running out into the street and cheering. And why wouldn’t they cheer? At the very least it seemed Trump might be rendered incapable for a day or two of doing something horrible.

When did “inappropriate” become among a certain class a more appropriate term than “bad” or “evil” or “fucked up”? And why is it morally inappropriate to think it is only rough justice that the virus had infected a moral monster who sacrificed according to some health officials about 100,000 Americans because he thought it would bolster his chances of being reelected to downplay the virus and impede efforts to combat its spread? And why wouldn’t rational people still scorn a man who was such a moron that he didn’t realize that in doing so he was actually damaging his chances of being reelected?

Why does this despicable man who belittles everyone from retired generals to Greta Thunberg who have nothing else in common except they didn’t acknowledge him as the most remarkable genius who ever lived, who mocks and mimics people with Downs syndrome and calls soldiers who died in wars both necessary and unnecessary “suckers” and “losers”—why does this cruel and repugnant excuse for a human being merit anything but our enmity and disgust?

The imbecile tried and failed to completely close our borders to foreigners, though he did succeed in closing foreign borders to Americans. And experts knitted their brows and worried aloud would the country be safe without him. Why? The country and the world are safer with him restrained somewhat instead of completely on the loose.

By Saturday the reassurances that Trump’s removal to Walter Reed was simply a precaution, that he was doing just fine, that it was just a ‘tiny’ hospital visit—those reassurances were fast being turned by disturbing leaks into more lining for the bird cage. Which showed that the patient had simply been helicoptered from one asylum to another. Some of the leaks said that by Thursday afternoon, already having symptoms, he had gone to a fundraiser in New Jersey. They said that by Friday his breathing was so poor he had been put on oxygen before his evacuation. That by Friday afternoon he was told he could go to Walter Reed of his own accord while he could still walk or he could wait until they removed him in a wheelchair. Talk about a not good optic. It was said that Friday before boarding the helicopter he was panicky and asked repeatedly if he was going to die.

While things went seriously sideways at the White House, back in the humdrum reality-based world, public health officials emphasized that now more than ever it was important for the White House to be honest and straightforward with the American people. Amazingly enough, some disconsolate left-behind liar in the White House was apparently so distraught that he forgot to lie in his leaks. The leaks must have been true for why would any loyalist make up such things? Some of the leaks were traced to the patient’s Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. Someone in the press corps noted a curious thing about Meadows on Friday. When at his briefing to the White House press corps he gave his rosy not-to-worry account of Trump’s removal, he wore a mask. But afterwards he talked a few reporters without a mask, and a live feed mic that was left on caught words like “critical” and “serious.” Meadow’s leaks showed that the calm words of Trump’s doctor, a post-naval drip named Sean Conley, were—surprise, surprise—more lies.

The house odds now are that Meadows will either come down with the virus or be fired for leaking the truth. Or both. Take your pick.

The mass media played their role now with relish. They were tired no doubt of being abused and used to transmit his lies, bringing on themselves well deserved criticism. After their ten seconds of hearts and prayers going out, they got down to business by running the clips of Trump announcing again and again that the pandemic would be over soon, culminating in a clip of him saying it again on Thursday afternoon when he must have known he was already sick. They knew the rest of the script well. There are genres in news stories just as there are in movies and novels. There is the porch collapse when the extended family gathers on a porch to celebrate the first person in the family to graduate from college. There is the theft of the baby Jesus from the town’s Christmas crèche—don’t leave out the MOS (man-in-the-street interview) in that one: ‘What kind of a pervert would steal the baby Jesus?’ In any event the news for the rest of the weekend followed the classic plot of What Did He Know and When Did He Know It? That plot is tailor-made for 24-hour news. It has so many subplots and variations! What do we know and when did we know it? And if we don’t know that, what do we know? Now to Al Roker on the latest hurricane brewing.

By Sunday Trump was apparently fit to be tied, threatening to go home. Dr. Conley appeased him by allowing him to perform another one of his idiotic stunts. He did what, as someone remarked, what many a tired parent does with a crying infant who will not sleep. He put him in a car and had him taken for a drive. But I anticipate. We’ll come to that spectacle soon. Following the trail of chaos Trump leaves behind him makes a semi-orderly chronology almost impossible. The man creates preemptive chaos. Perhaps Putin will be the only one able to control him. Give him asylum in Siberia. Confine him to a compound atop a piece of melting permafrost with a cell phone hooked up to His Own Private Internet. Constructed to Putin’s specs, it is peopled by bots who respond to his tweets, and feed him a diet of imaginary insults from Hillary and compliments from Sean Hannity and QAnon. While his cell recharges he can bark at the Siberian moon. If you think I’m kidding, hold on.

By Sunday the main story had subplots, one being the chaos and panic in the White House. Irreplaceable flunkies entering hospitals, and possibly underqualified sub-flunkies trying to carry on for them. But unsure of how to make up the deficit of chaos caused by the Master’s hospitalization, they did what anyone would do. They made it up.

By Monday morning we learned that the Attorney General of New Jersey was investigating Trump’s fundraiser there Thursday afternoon to see what laws might have been violated. And son Eric was being deposed at the Office of the New York Attorney General in Manhattan on the finance of the Trump Organization.

 

But the main story Monday morning continued to be Trump, now focused, given his imminent release, on his medical condition. On that topic, all day every doctor questioned mentioned two things that complicated the all-better story. The first was that the powerful cocktail of drugs given Trump were not given to someone on the mend, someone having only mild symptoms. The second thing was his slow parade past his fans outside the hospital. Which was possibly the slowest joyride in history. The doctors used words like “insane” and “reckless” for that. For a doctor who would allow such a stunt, the word used was “malpractice.”

That stunt, it emerged, was part of a video that began with him supposedly working, going through papers at his desk in the presidential offices at Walter Reed. Close inspection showed pieces of paper were blank. Everyone assumed he was signing his name, but it seems ‘Potemkin’ is possible—at Putin’s mischievous suggestion. The joyride of Trump in an SUV waving to admirers in their Trump regalia was the climax of the video. The whole stunt was really just The Upside Down Bible March II, and the optics were similarly incredible and perfect.

Trump was duly released Monday afternoon. Earlier in the day a story by Gabriel Sherman appeared in Vanity Fair with the title “Don Jr. Thinks Trump Is Acting Crazy: The President’s COVID Joyride Has the Family Divided.”

Two Republicans briefed on the family conversations told Sherman that Don Jr. tried to convince his brother Eric, his sister Ivanka and Jared Kushner that they stage an “intervention” with Trump to convince him to “stop acting crazy.” Good luck with that. Eric, Ivanka and Jared all refused. Eric may simply have demurred due to the conflict with his deposition in Manhattan. The one thing they did agree on with Don Jr. concerned Trump’s tweeting. Monday morning he sent out more than a dozen all-caps tweets. Possibly it was the stylistic switch to all-caps that caused general concern. Look, Dad, we aren’t asking you to give up all tweeting. We aren’t even asking you to give up all-caps. We’re only asking you to give up all-caps all of the time.

The article in Vanity Fair also contained an interesting story about Trump’s father.

His father, the real source of much of our present misery, had marched with the Ku Klux Klan in 1927. Sixty-six years later the real estate developer developed Alzheimers. And when he was long gone to the disease he insisted on going to his office in Queens to “work.” One morning it’s said he went off to work wearing three ties. The family instructed everyone in the office to act as though he was still running the business. At the office, his phone only connected with the secretary. And the staff would set blank pieces of paper on his desk for him to look through and sign. For the record, I wrote the above passage about Trump signing blank pieces of paper, and the flight of satiric fantasy depicting him with his own Private Internet before I read about his father in the Vanity Fair article. Just FYI.

By Monday afternoon Kayleigh McEnany had fallen victim to the virus. That evening Kellyanne Conway and her daughter Claudia did cameos. Kellyanne had announced Friday that she had tested positive for the virus. Since then both her defector husband and her renegade daughter had come down with the virus. Her daughter Claudia was understandably angry. In one of her posts the 15 year-old wrote, “im furious. Wear your masks. dont listen to our idiot fucking president piece of shit. protect yourself and those around you,”

At that point those in the White House still standing may have looked back at the tax story and the debate as the good old days. Tuesday supplied an epilogue of sorts. Trump’s close adviser Stephen Miller had caught the virus and Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s BFF until he turns state witness, coughed and wheezed through an interview on Fox News, saying—between coughing and wheezing—that medical science and the views of physicians mere “opinions.”

 

Daniel Beaumont teaches Arabic language & literature and other courses at the University of Rochester. He is the author of Slave of Desire: Sex, Love & Death in the 1001 Nights and Preachin’ the Blues: The Life & Times of Son House. He can be contacted at: daniel.beaumont@rochester.edu

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