If Donald trump can be said to believe in anything besides his own enrichment, it is the power of positive thinking. His family worshipped at the Marble Collegiate Church in New York, whose pep-talking preacher Norman Vincent Peale came up with the positive-thinking creed. Trump married two of his wives—Ivana Trump and Marla Maples—in the church; his parents’ funerals were also held there. It’s this unassailable faith in boosterism that has led him to respond to his diagnosis of Covid-19 with a narrative about how he’s learned valuable lessons that will make him an even better president.
On October 4 he tweeted a video in which he said, “I learned a lot about Covid. I learned it by really going to school. This is the real school. This isn’t the let’s-read-the-books school. And I get it. And I understand it.” Bizarrely, he ended the video by saying, “We love what’s happening.” One famous Trump supporter, Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams, went even further, comparing Trump’s illness to the radioactive spider that turned Peter Parker into Spider-Man.
Alas, all the evidence suggests that infection hasn’t made Trump any wiser, let alone transformed him into a superhero. For one thing, he hasn’t become any more honest. The public deserves to know the state of a president’s health when he contracts a potentially lethal disease with no known cure.
Instead the White House offered conflicting and contradictory evidence, which has puzzled not just journalists but also medical professionals. As The Washington Post noted, there followed “a days-long torrent of falsehoods, obfuscation, evasion, misdirection and imprecision from those surrounding Trump as he faces the greatest threat to a president’s health in decades.” He has been touting the restorative powers of the experimental drugs he’s taken, with all the enthusiasm of a quack medicine salesman. Crucially, he’s repeatedly blurred the distinction between therapeutic drugs and cures, as well as insisted, falsely, that a cure is just weeks away.
Trump went on a joyride with the Secret Service and prematurely ended his isolation so he can work in the Oval Office. About the joyride, James P. Phillips, an attending physician at Walter Reed, tweeted, “Every single person in the vehicle during that completely unnecessary Presidential ‘drive-by’ just now has to be quarantined for 14 days. They might get sick. They may die. For political theater. Commanded by Trump to put their lives at risk for theater. This is insanity.”
He has even returned to holding campaign rallies. All of this endangers his staff, the Secret Service, journalists, and the larger public.
To judge by his tweets and interviews, Trump is angrier and more frantic than ever. He’s been sending out a nonstop barrage of threats—including calls to arrest Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Joe Biden. When Trump touches on substantive politics, he’s erratic and unreliable. On the crucial issue of stimulus relief, he’s gone from supporting a deal to saying no deal to claiming he wants even more stimulus funding than the Democrats do.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the target of many of his insults, commented, “Clearly, the White House is in complete disarray.” She also raised the possibility that steroids, which have been prescribed to help strengthen Trump’s lungs, are clouding his judgment. Nor is she alone in this speculation. As The New York Times reports, “Some White House staff members wondered whether Mr. Trump’s behavior was spurred by a cocktail of drugs he has been taking to treat the coronavirus, including dexamethasone, a steroid that can cause mood swings and can give a false level of energy and a sense of euphoria.”
Trump’s situation is dire. He’s sick, drugs are likely affecting his emotional stability, about 40 workers in his White House orbit have come down with Covid-19, and he continues to sink in the polls.
All of which suggests that he feels under siege and is using his Twitter account (even more than usual) to lash out and try to create the illusion that he’s still dominant. The danger is that the more wounded he is, the more erratic and unstable he’ll become. Even if he loses the election—or rather, especially if he loses the election—Trump is going to go down fighting. And he’s not afraid to take all of us down with him.