Pa­tient Don­ald Trump’s sunny out­look casts shad­ows

Daily Southtown - - Opinion - Clarence Page Clarence Page, a mem­ber of the Tri­bune Edi­to­rial Board, blogs atwww.chicagotri­bune.com/ pages­page. cpage@chicagotri­bune.com Twit­ter @cp­time

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.

WIN MC­NAMEE/GETTY

Pres­i­dent Trump gives a thumbs-up Mon­day upon re­turn­ing to the White House fromWal­ter Reed Na­tional Mil­i­tary Medical Cen­ter.

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