This isn’t the post I thought I’d be writing.
I was going to write about how there was no doubt in my mind that Trump and his cronies, like the obsequious toady Bill Barr, were concocting an October surprise to spring on the country in the waning days of the election. I was expecting them to try to arrest Joe Biden on spurious charges, or start a war for no reason, or send their fascist militias into blue cities to shut down polling places in the guise of preventing “voter fraud” (in Republican eyes, Democrats voting automatically constitutes fraud).
And any of those things still might happen. But now there is an October surprise, and it came from a completely unexpected direction:
On early Friday morning [Oct. 2], President Trump tweeted that he and the first lady, Melania Trump, have tested positive for the novel coronavirus. The announcement followed news from Thursday that Hope Hicks, one of Trump’s senior advisers and someone who traveled with him this week, had also tested positive.
It appears that Trump was infected at a White House event to introduce Amy Coney Barrett, his ultra-right-wing nominee to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court. As Skepchick points out, that gathering now looks like a classic superspreader event:
Chris Christie, President Trump, Melania Trump, Hope Hicks, Kellyanne Conway, Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC), Bill Stepien, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), Ronna McDaniel, and President of Notre Dame Rev. John Jenkins can all be traced to through contacts to that event and all have tested positive for COVID-19.
It was an event that contradicted non-partisan recommendations from the CDC and Trump’s own COVID-19 Task Force. People did not wear masks, they sat shoulder-to-shoulder on the Rose Garden lawn, and they kissed and hugged before and after the ceremony. It was a painfully predictable case study in virus transmission. With a mortality rate of 11% in people >70 years old, it may become a case study in statistics, as well.
In the days since his sickness was announced, Trump’s health has been as stage-managed as a Kim Jong Un rally. He was whisked to Walter Reed, where he received not just a cocktail but a whole punch bowl’s worth of experimental drugs, including a monoclonal antibody therapy by the biotech company Regeneron, the antiviral drug remdesivir, and the steroid dexamethasone (recommended by the WHO for “severe and critical” cases).* This doesn’t sound like the course of treatment for a person with a mild illness.
Yet his handlers and doctors have kept up a happy face in public, enthusing about his rapid recovery. Trump’s head physician lied about him being on oxygen and offered vague non-replies to reporter questions about Trump’s lung scans. The White House released two photos of him “working” in different rooms and wearing different clothes, but which were taken ten minutes apart based on photo metadata. He took a limo ride, exposing his own Secret Service agents, just to wave to supporters.
There’s been a huge outpouring of glee and schadenfreude among progressives, and I don’t blame them. As one very clever person on Twitter pointed out, the basic outline of events – as a deadly plague sweeps the land, the rich and powerful gather in their fortified mansion to celebrate, believing themselves invulnerable until they discover too late that they aren’t – is uncannily similar to a famous tale of the macabre:
a wealthy ruler who throws a big party in his huge mansion during an epidemic for his asymptomatic friends while the peasants die and then the virus shows up and tears through his fancy guests is beat for beat the plot of Edgar Allan Poe’s “Masque of the Red Death” https://t.co/0xQ8NDRUXr
— Anthony Oliveira (@meakoopa) October 3, 2020
After all the devastation that Trump has wrought and the callous cruelty he’s shown to others, it’s an especially sweet form of poetic justice that he’d be laid low by his own hubris. For his entire life, his wealth and privilege have protected him from the consequences of his actions. In the coronavirus, he’s finally met an adversary that can’t be tricked, lied to, bought off, or bargained with.
It’s not out of the question that he’ll die – and wouldn’t that be the ultimate verdict on his gross incompetence and failure? – but I wouldn’t count on it. Even among sufferers of Trump’s age, most survive, and he enjoys the very best socialized medicine on the planet. It’s more likely than not that he’ll pull through.
However, what seems probable is that he’ll be effectively disabled until the election. Stricken by pain, fever, extreme weakness, coughing and shortness of breath, he’ll be unable to travel or attend rallies or give speeches. He may have to tender a humiliating withdrawal from the remaining debates. More than anything, he hates appearing weak or vulnerable, and the virus has shattered the facade of invincibility he’s tried to construct around himself. The home stretch of the campaign was the absolute worst time for him to have caught this.
I’m really trying not to get my hopes up. Optimism has been a painful luxury these past few years; and if nothing else, we know that Trump and his sycophants have been scheming to steal the election. But Biden’s lead has been strong and consistent (and it nearly doubled to 14 points after the first debate, where a GOP focus group panned Trump’s “crackhead” performance). And this story seems likely to deepen the hole Trump is in, as polls consistently show that huge majorities say it’s his fault for being reckless and not taking precautions against COVID.
Voter suppression can make the difference in a close race, but it can’t save you from a landslide. If Trump does lose, and if our national nightmare of the last four years comes to an end in November, this will be viewed as the coup de grace.
* What, no hydroxychloroquine? No bleach injections?