For his entire life, Donald Trump has stayed one step ahead of disaster, plying his gift for holding reality at bay.
He conjured his own threadbare reality, about success, about virility, about imbroglios with women, even about the height of Trump Tower.
. . . . , he has created a bubble within his bubble, keeping out science and anything that made him look bad. He has played a dangerous game of alchemizing wishes to facts, pretending that he was a strong leader, pretending that the virus will magically disappear and that it “affects virtually nobody,’’ pretending that we don’t have to wear masks, pretending that dicey remedies could work, pretending that the vaccine is right around the corner.
Now, in a moment that feels biblical, the implacable virus has come to his door.
This was the week when many of the president’s pernicious deceptions boomeranged on him. It was redolent of the “Night on Bald Mountain” scene in “Fantasia,’’ when all the bad spirits come out in a dark swarm.
Upsetting as it is to see the president and first lady facing a mortal threat — and the glee and memes from some on the left were vulgar — it was undeniable that reality was crashing in on the former reality star.
Remarkable new reporting in The New York Times exposed the hoax of Trump, master businessman. Even as he was beginning to swagger around “The Apprentice” to the tune of “For the Love of Money” by The O’Jays in 2004, he was filing a tax return reporting $89.9 million in net losses. The gilt barely covered the rot.
“The red ink spilled from everywhere, even as American television audiences saw him as a savvy business mogul with the Midas touch,’’ the Times reported, adding: “the show’s big ratings meant that everyone wanted a piece of the Trump brand, and he grabbed at the opportunity to rent it out.
Tuesday’s debate pierced another reality that Trump had been hawking on Fox for months — that his opponent was an addled husk who would need performance drugs to stand at the podium, and that Trump would stride in like a colossus and clobber him in a trice.
Instead, the ugly reality was there for all to see: Trump was truculent, whiny and nasty, and Joe Biden was fine. Trump was indecent, on everything from white supremacists to Hunter Biden’s addiction, and Biden was decent.
And, in the end, the con man in the Oval Office could not con the virus. He was a perverse Pied Piper of contagion, luring crowds to his rallies and events on the White House lawn, even as he mocked the safety measures recommended by his own government, sidelined and undermined Dr. Anthony Fauci, and turned the mask into a symbol of blue-state wimpiness.
It seemed inevitable that Trump would get infected, given his insouciance on the issue of protective measures combined with his age, weight and ambitious travel schedule. He seemed oddly intent on tempting fate. Certainly, he put a lot of his fans, especially older ones in the most vulnerable demographic (like Herman Cain, who died of Covid after attending a Trump rally in Tulsa, Okla.), at risk with his dismissiveness about the virus, laxity on testing and tracing, and his insistence on continuing rallies.
Even for Trump, it was an astonishing act of hubris, asking his base to choose between paying homage to him or protecting their own lives.
How will a White House shrouded in secrecy and lies deal with a sick president who specializes in secrecy and lies?
The public never found out what happened that Saturday last year when the president was whisked off to Walter Reed medical center, a visit that was raised again this weekend, as reporters noted that we might not even know all Trump’s underlying conditions.
With the West Wing in a panic, and with Republicans feeling the White House and Senate slipping away, the Democrats made moves on two fronts.
Pelosi thought the Republicans might be more amenable to the bigger aid package that she has been pushing, now that Covid had become scarily real to them.
It also could change the dynamic of Mitch McConnell’s hypocritical push to get Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court nomination crammed through the Senate, because she will have to do more of her meetings with lawmakers virtually. The Democrats now hope to slow down the rush to appoint the conservative judge who, according to news reports this week, signed a newspaper ad in 2006 that called Roe v. Wade “a barbaric legacy” and supported overturning it.
The pictures from the Rose Garden last Saturday, where President Trump nominated Judge Barrett, scream superspreader. There’s a maskless Trump and maskless Republican lawmakers and a maskless president of the University of Notre Dame and lots of hugs, kisses and handshakes. Mike Lee and Thom Tillis, both Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee, were there; on Friday they said they had tested positive for the virus, as did John Jenkins, the president of Notre Dame, and Kellyanne Conway,
It’s impossible to know how — or even whether — this illness will change the president. But hopefully it will change his skeptical followers and make them realize that this vicious microbe really is contagious, that President Trump is not invulnerable and that therefore they are not either, that crowding together at rallies is not smart, that wearing a mask is important, and that it’s not all going to disappear like a miracle.
Should Trump become seriously incapacitated or worse (the same goes for infected congressional Republicans), I find it hard not to think that just perhaps, if one believes in god, god has intervened to throw a wrench into the works of those who feign religiosity yet are the opposite of what a godly Christian should be.