In America, you can get away with venality and hypocrisy and wantonly disregarding human life for stupid and selfish reasons — but you can’t get away with being owned. Just days after mocking Joe Biden for wearing a mask in the first presidential debate, our big wet president’s lungs are dampened with the same big wetness that surrounds his face. OWNED! After months of spreading dangerous misinformation, downplaying the pandemic (which he admitted to Bob Woodward), incoherently peddling miracle disinfectant injections, slapdash attempts to reopen the economy, bum-rushing inconvenient answers from experts, disbanding the pandemic response team, brutally duffing any chance for contact tracing, abandoning plans for a national testing strategy, bullying staff into shedding their masks during White House meetings, and sacrificing Herman Cain to hold a sparsely attended rally in Oklahoma, Donald Trump tested positive for COVID-19 — most likely from the unmasked Amy Coney Barret nomination ceremony in the Rose Garden. This isn’t cosmic justice or Trump meeting some poetic fate; this is a perfectly stupid thing to happen to a man who has lived his life inside a curdled and childish belief that he can do whatever he wants, without consequence, forever. It is what it is. Down double digits in national polling a month from Election Day, Trump’s last resort might involve spending the next debate trying to give Joe Biden a literal kiss of death.
After a year of quarantine and a uniquely terrifying systemic collapse, it would seem like a hack joke to fantasize about Trump contracting COVID and mutating into a plague carrier infecting his inner circle of cringing sycophants and other various vampires. But there was no other way Trump’s relentlessly plummy and anxious presidency could’ve ended. There’s something both sickening and perversely gratifying about witnessing the uncomprehending pursuit of an idiot king’s vinegary whims. The day before he tested positive, Trump held at a rally in Duluth, Minnesota, tossing smallpox blanket hats into a crowd of hooting buffoons before traveling to Bedminster, New Jersey to bob and leer through a gaudy buffet full of $250,000 donors. BEHOLD, the kamikaze tendencies of capitalism embodied in an unrepentant super-spreader realizing his destiny.
At this moment, it is impossible to confirm the severity of Trump’s condition, in part because this is a continuing story and also because the information we’ve received is suspect. Any actuarial model assessing a refrigerator-shaped man who eats gristle for three meals a day would’ve projected him to croak at least a decade ago. The official dictum from the president’s doctor is that Trump is, indeed, swell. Stiff-necked Fox pundits have delivered luxurious adjectival filigrees about Dear Leader getting and beating the coronavirus to flex his leadership prowess.
Trump was treated with Dexamethasone, a potent immunosuppressant used in serious COVID cases. Mark Meadows, Trump’s Chief of Staff, purportedly murmured off the record to New York Times reporters on Saturday, saying, “The president’s vitals over the last 24 hours were very concerning and the next 48 hours will be critical in terms of his care.” The following day, Trump’s doctor wouldn’t disclose when Trump last tested negative or if his lungs are being churned into the consistency of a Cinnabon. He went on an amphetamized, tantrum-swept Twitter rant urging people to vote for him in all-caps. Trump, against all medical advice, wanted out of Walter Reed Hospital because he was sick of watching TV about his bedridden state; he has said as much, and has overtly jeopardized the lives of his staff, and his own, so he could triumphantly return to the White House to the greeting of whirring cameras, where he peeled off his mask and gasped for air. Then, while clearly tweaking from his weird steroid cocktail, he psychobabbled about not allowing COVID to “dominate you.”
Also, this isn’t the most important development by a longshot, but it is hilarious that after a full term in office, Trump still thinks that Conducting Presidential Business means sitting near a bunch of blank paper with a giant marker in his hand making an “I’m shitting” face.
It should go without saying that if this administration was even somewhat competent, all of this would’ve been under wraps. The Trump White House is a sinking ship of leaks full of ice-chewing psychopaths running their own insane, idiotic pyramid scheme. Melania Trump’s friend leaked tapes of a conversation between the two, where the first lady lamented her duty of hanging Christmas decorations across the White House — though, in her defense, the Grinch was president of Slovenia for many years. Kayleigh McEnany looks less like a dignified press secretary and more like a grifter who wants to start a vitamin company for Evangelicals. Trump spent four years running down anyone in his administration who was insufficiently supplicant, and this wasn’t just a chaotic betrayal of basic management principles by a president who branded himself as a successful businessman. His glaring hostility created a dysfunctional pipeline of incoming C-Listers with rote and sour un-integrity and pure servile instinct. Beleaguered careerists would eventually depart, looking to resuscitate their reputation with salacious tell-all memoirs of how they were the voice of sanity during an unmitigated dumpster fire.
At this stage in his increasingly evident cognitive decline, Trump isn’t really capable of very compelling misdirections or tactical elisions or even passably convincing falsehoods. His presidency has mostly careened from one clammy fib and ploy to the next. Instead of broadcasting a cohesive narrative of the president’s speedy and triumphant recovery, this past week has been a manic output of uncanny and befuddling and preposterous contradictions — a sort of Schrodinger’s president phenomenon surrounding a man who currently looks like a toddler who made himself sick by eating too many cookies. What’s next? Incoming leaks about Trump escaping the White House by shimmying his dumptruck ass into a ventilation duct? Maybe he disguises himself as a candy stripper and spirals into hysterical conversations with Jeffrey Epstein. Trump has staked his political reputation to a fragile economy and Making The Numbers Go Up, so fittingly, he assumes it soothes the stock market and improves national morale to have numerous officials spewing obvious discordant lies about his health, and then releasing a deep-fried video of him looking embalmed at 11:44 PM on a weeknight.
It is true that, from a public health perspective and a political one, this president could’ve done any number of things to fight a pandemic that’s still spreading unchecked across the U.S. But Trump did none of these things because he is incapable of perceiving any challenge as anything other than stubborn and inconvenient abstractions that are less interesting or important than his personal gratification. Trump could not wear a mask because doing so would signal that he could get sick like everyone else. He could not tell the truth about the grave severity of this pandemic because it would interrupt the garbled story he prefers to tell about his own success. He could not follow or even accept the advice of epidemiologists because it would be a tacit admission of their knowledge of science being greater than his supreme understanding of it. Most importantly, Trump does not care about what the pandemic does or the people it kills because he is pulled by his own preposterous vanity and insecurities back toward the only thing he cares about, which is himself. His life was an aspirational lie, and now it’s a poisonous one.
The nature of this country, its economic and political depravities, the realities of Trump’s wealth, and the structural forces that protect people of similar fecklessness and similar means have conspired to sustain this presidency for this long. Trump’s only move here was to push irritably and impatiently through the unrelenting realities of this disease. Admitting any kind of error or demonstrating any kind of vulnerability would entail not just wimpy surrender, but a sort of ego death. You’ll soon see news clips of aids entering the Oval Office in full hazmat suits to alert the president, who is obviously levitating and blinking at hummingbird speed, that everyone online thought his tremendous Twitter video was “unsettling.” None of this will register to anyone within his fantastical, lunatic orbit. His immediate bootlickers and his broader base have trailed behind this multi-year death march, not so much in denial as in defiance of external forces ever applying to them. This is because MAGA chuds are deeply unwell, yes, but it is also because the facile distinction between themselves and others is a load-bearing one. It props up the whole gilded edifice until it collapses under the immense pressure of its own delusions.
Earlier this week, Trump went on Twitter (before reversing course) to announce to an economically battered population that a second round of stimulus checks would not be issued before November — but will arrive in due time if he is reelected. This reflexive and amoral avarice is the perfect type of braindead politicking that a moron like Trump would do, thinking it would prompt more reasonable Americans to vote for him, obviously without accounting for his opponent offering more generous relief. He takes the implicit promises of vote for me, and I’ll make your life better and lends them a heavyhanded force; he turns subliminally suggested premises into screaming, bolded text. It is the purest acid satire. This kind of ignoble blurting worked for low-brow race-baiting, mostly because that’s more repetitive button mushing than anything more Machiavellian. At some point, though, personal finance takes precedent over obtuse SCOTUS nominees and wildly far-flung, shape-shifting grievances. The fact that Republicans allowed Trump to effectively take responsibility for mass suffering, even for a brief moment, suggests they’ve all but officially written him off as an expended force.
From Mitch McConnell’s standpoint, with tax cuts and the Supreme Court secured, a plummeting and incredibly polarizing incumbent, and the growing likelihood of a Biden White House and a blue Senate majority, the best course of action may be to sit back and let Democrats flail for four years. The GOP doesn’t have much to fear from Democrats substantively altering the dynamics of power or shifting popular perceptions of what government can do, because they won’t — either from ineptitude or corruption. McConnell will continue his various standard-issue skullduggeries and obstructions of any halfhearted attempt by the Biden administration to fix any of the myriad critical systemic failures that are flashing red. Meanwhile, the GOP machine will blithely scoop up the politically expedient flotsam from the wreckage of Trumpist revanchism and QAnon conspiracies and attach it Ship-of-Theseus-style to the official party platform, just like how they absorbed the Tea Party cranks. This all hinges on the wager that it will sweep Republicans back into power in 2024. To keep this all in perspective, Biden is failing upward to the presidency on the heels of Trump repeatedly getting his dong stuck in the same toaster each day of the previous six months.
“I play to people’s fantasies,” Trump “wrote” in Art of the Deal. “People may not always think big themselves. But they can get very excited by those who do. That is why a little hyperbole never hurts.” If Donald Trump was anything more than a tabloid cartoon of a 1980s rich person, maybe he could’ve been the vanguard of an ideological reckoning with a flagging political apparatus. But the shiny false certainty of Trumpism was always a photo negative of itself. Because its figurehead is avaricious and joyless and paranoid and unrelentingly aggrieved, the basic promise was diffuse. If you’re with him, you’ll never have it as bad as the people on the other side. There is nothing behind the fleeting feeling of impunity and cruelty that Trump sells, just a bottomless idiotic appetite and unstinting demand for petty tyranny. Trump is a witless and grandiose scam artist with a howling and unreflective void at his core — he cornered himself into this whimpering, pathetic position because of his abject stupidity and petty self-interest. He never possessed the stirring vision to change American politics in any meaningful way outside of perverting rhetoric and degrading democratic norms and shitposting on Twitter. The steepness and rapidity of Trump’s decline raise some serious questions about just how sturdy his bulletproof shamelessness and annihilating selfishness were to begin with.
Given that he routinely lumbers into press briefings with toilet paper on the soles of both his shoes, it can be difficult to remember that Donald Trump’s default position in all things is that he has never been wrong. There could’ve been something to Trump, but he would’ve had to have been anything other than a heartless reality-TV dumbass of pure spectacle. But Donald Trump couldn’t have had any political valence without being a heartless reality-TV dumbass. He is the apotheosis of conservatism, the final arc in the circle of epistemological closure that hermetically seals off Republicans from mutual reality. So you can disregard the feigned indignation of right-wing crybullies who have giddily harangued over the criminality of unarmed Black Americans needlessly executed by law enforcement, thier I’m just sayin’ rationales implying They Had It Coming without explicitly expressing it. You can also ignore the liberal schoolmarms’ finger-wagging and calls for performative decency, for they remain deliriously, delusionally convinced there is an existential reward for obeying the rules of civility. Trump contracting COVID is almost as hilarious as if Ronald Reagan had gotten AIDS. Whatever party or candidate you support, wherever you stand on one issue or the next, if you care about America and want to see it flourish, you have to admit that all of this totally owns.