Patient Donald Trump’s sunny outlook casts shadows
Three days after he quietly slipped away toWalter Reed National MilitaryMedical Center for treatment of his COVID-19 infection, President Trump returned homewith his sunny side up.
“We’re going back towork. We’re going to be out front,” Mr. Trump said in a video shot immediately after his return and then posted online. “As your leader, I had to do that. I knew there’s danger to it, but I had to do it. I stood out front. I led. Nobody that’s a leader would not dowhat I did. And I knowthere’s a risk, there’s a danger, but that’sOK. And now I’m better and maybe I’m immune, I don’t know. But don’t let it dominate your lives.”
Is he nuts?
Not in his view. He sees his presidential role quite sanely as the nation’s “cheerleader.”
Well, sometimes cheerleaders are good to have but, to carry his metaphor just a little further, it seldom brings us much cheer when the cheerleader is supposed to be the quarterback.
As Dr. Sean Conley, the WhiteHouse physician, acknowledged on the day of the president’s early release, he “may not entirely be out of the woods yet.”
The doctors refused to reveal when he had his last negative test or discuss scans of the president’s lungs, which could mean he has pneumonia. That’sworrisome when dealing with a disease known to take unpredictable turns for theworse.
A sunny attitude is no substitute for a troubling absence of information. It leads instead toworrisome rumors, speculation and misinformation, particularly in today’s conspiracy theory-saturated social media culture.
In fact, with internet rumor mills floating the almost inevitable conspiracy theories that maybe Trumpwasn’t even ill or in the hospital at all, Trump probably might say hewas performing a public service with his impromptu Sunday motorcade for a vigil of supporters outsideWalter Reed in suburban Bethesda, Maryland.
“See?” he could say. “I’m alive!”
Unfortunately, such stunts bring little comfort to Secret Service agents and others whose lives also are put at risk.
But Trumpwants his public defiance of the virus’ danger to be seen as acts of strength and courage, not recklessness. He grandly flouts public health guidelines by holding campaign rallies andWhiteHouse events without masks or social distancing— and mocks those who do, especially if they’re Democrats or journalists.
He continued to do so even as the number of people in the president’s circle who tested positive for the virus after attending the Supreme Court nomination ceremony at the WhiteHouse lastweekend grew. They include first lady MelaniaTrumpandTrump’s press secretary, KayleighMcEnany.
Trump is by no means the first president or administration to be less than candid about the state of the president’s health.
I’ll never forget, for example, howPresident Ronald Reagan concealed the fact that he had been shot. Hewalked past news cameras under his own power and collapsed inside the emergency room doors, before theworld found out that hewas bleeding under his jacket.
Trump, by comparison, has been the P.T. Barnum of ill presidents. He unabashedly wants to make everybody feel good, even whenwe have good reason to feel badly about the dangers the coronavirus still poses.
But closer than P.T. Barnum, Trump himself has said, is Norman Vincent Peale, the NewYork pastor famous for the bestselling “The Power of Positive Thinking.”
Peale’s optimistic advice (“Adopt the ‘I don’t believe in defeat’ attitude” and “Never entertain a failure thought”) sounds like a theme that runs through Trump’smost breathtaking exaggerations, from his InaugurationDay crowd size to the coronavirus being “like the flu.”
I don’t knowa lot about Peale but one of his more popular quotes jumped out at me: “Keep your heart free from hate, your mind fromworry,” he wrote. “Live simply, expect little, give much. Scatter sunshine, forget self, think of others.’ Try this for aweek and you will be surprised.”
I amwaiting to be surprised by Donald Trump taking that advice seriously.
President Trump gives a thumbs-up Monday upon returning to the White House fromWalter Reed National Military Medical Center.