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Update: Yes, we are aware that Donald Trump is being taken to Walter Reed Hospital, and we're monitoring the situation like you are, in our beds. Stop hogging the covers, you.

Donald Trump, we're always told, is a transactional thinker, a narcissist whose sole motivation is what's in it for him. If it's not going to help him get money, or adoration, or power (which is good only insofar as it brings money or adoration), he's not interested. Say what you will about his complete venality, but at least it's an ethos.

Which still leaves us wondering why he would do anything so disastrous for the country and himself as ignoring the science on a deadly virus, a continuing series of terrible decisions that have all but guaranteed he won't have another four years in office, and may even endanger his life now that he's been diagnosed with COVID-19. He's 74, has a shitty diet, and doesn't exercise. Those are all risk factors, though as Liz wrote this morning, some of us want him to get through this so he can lose the election to Joe Biden fair and square and reap his brain-breaking humiliation. The best thing Donald Trump could have done for himself (and purely as an afterthought, for the sake of 207,000 Americans who've died, and hundreds of thousands left with serious health effects) would have been to listen to science, organize a national response, and actually help the nation get through the pandemic. He'd be the big fucking hero he loves to think he is — and if not guaranteed to be on the path to reelection, then at least not on the way to being remembered as the great cautionary tale of the 21st Century.

So why just fly in the face of all the best science America still had, even after budget cuts, and choose a course of action that's objectively bad for Donald Trump? (And, incidentally, the rest of us, not that we matter.)


That question will no doubt be a popular topic for dissertations by future students in Trump Studies programs, assuming that in the next 30 years there are any history departments left, or colleges. We aren't sure we have the answer, but we have some guesses.

The biggest reason, to our thinking, is that even if Trump likes to think he always acts in his own interest, he doesn't necessarily know how to do that. Which would explain how he converted a billion dollars in fraudulent gifts from his father into a considerably smaller fortune, going bankrupt in the casino business and continually losing so much money that the only upside is that he could avoid paying taxes year after year. (Haha, can you believe that story literally broke less than a week ago, in a previous century?) Donald Trump likes to feel successful, but he's really pretty shit at actually being a success. Merely fucking everything up doesn't seem to have ever made him think he needed to listen to advice, and he stumbled along, moving from enabler to enabler who helped him feed his own myth. (Mark Burnett has a lot to answer for in history.)

And of course, Trump has managed all through what we may as well call his "career" to substitute image for reality. He's a billionaire and a great deal maker because he says he is, and others are willing to tell him he is, because look how shiny. So again, actual substance is purely immaterial in Trump's version of success — even as a reality TV show host. Jonathon Braun, an editor who worked on "The Apprentice," told the New Yorker that Trump seldom paid any attention to the details on "his" show:

Trump was frequently unprepared for [the end-of episode "you're fired"] sessions, with little grasp of who had performed well. Sometimes a candidate distinguished herself during the contest only to get fired, on a whim, by Trump. When this happened, Braun said, the editors were often obliged to "reverse engineer" the episode, scouring hundreds of hours of footage to emphasize the few moments when the exemplary candidate might have slipped up, in an attempt to assemble an artificial version of history in which Trump's shoot-from-the-hip decision made sense.

Even the TV fantasy version of Trump the great business guy was mostly created by other people. So of course he had no idea what would constitute good performance with a pandemic.

Then there's Trump's — and the Republican Party's — general distrust of experts, in virtually every area of governing. Consider climate science: While there's every reason in the world for people in the fossil fuel industry, and their pet politicians, to ignore science that says we need to stop burning the stuff, opposition to science has also become like a religion to rank and file conservatives who don't necessarily have any economic stake in preserving Big Oil beyond seeing their huge pickups as avatars of Liberty. (Yes, it also fits into the long American tradition of anti-intellectualism, too.) Or look at George W. Bush and the Iraq War and occupation. Just about the only thing that disqualified someone from a role in planning the invasion or running the occupation was if they had any diplomatic or academic expertise in the region, because those folks just didn't get what George Bush wanted to do.

In Trump's case, it's even more sociopathic. He didn't just ignore science, he considers flouting it (and embracing quack cures) a matter of loyalty. You talk too much about reality, and you're not just disagreeing, you're betraying the Great Leader.

So when a pandemic comes along, nobody in the Trump White House knew or cared that there were plans for dealing with pandemics that had already been prepared by the Bush and Obama administrations. (Bush wasn't trying to avenge his father's failure to vanquish a virus, so in that case he let the experts do their work.) Even looking at the pandemic plans of prior administration would be succumbing to the Deep State. Trump certainly wasn't about to give Obama a win by using his shitty plan. Besides, Trump was a business genius who didn't need a bunch of scientists sitting around on the payroll. Especially not if they said things that might tank the stock market.

And that's where Trump's need to be a winner really fucked us all: Trump couldn't listen to CDC scientists who warned things would soon get very bad, because look at the stocks! So if you just make the scientists shut up, things will get better. if you don't test, the case numbers won't increase. Actually dealing with the crisis would have been hard, and required difficult choices, and planning, and worst of all, it would have cost taxpayer money, even if in the long term it would have resulted in controlling the virus and making a safe reopening possible.

Donald Trump can't even do self-interest very well, is the problem. It's a lot easier to just keep living in a fantasy where if you say the crisis it over, it's over, and you can do karaoke in a crowd if you want.

Besides, early on at least, most of the people getting sick and dying were in states that didn't vote for him, plus, those most seriously harmed were Black or brown, so not citizens of his America. Why go to a lot of trouble and expense helping them? It stopped being a crisis for Trump, because hey, not his people.

This has been my essay about why Donald Trump threw away America's health and economy, as well as his presidency and legacy, the end and OPEN THREAD.

[Atlantic / New Yorker / Atlantic]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.

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