All good con men master the art of deceit. President Trump is a very good con man.
Prior to contracting the virus himself, the president had all sorts of remedies to offer the American public: Try “light inside the body,” he said. Take hydroxychloroquine “before you catch it,” he said. Injecting disinfectants is “interesting,” he said.
None of these are recommended treatments for COVID-19. In fact, it’s very possible each of them could kill you. At the time, doctors and scientists pushed back. So Trump pushed back harder: “If we stop testing right now, we’d have very few cases,” he said. “I don’t wear masks like him,” he said.
It’s always been hard to know where the lies end and ignorance begins. Even prior to the novel coronavirus, the president and science have never been best buds. In recent years, they don’t even seem to be distant relatives. From Sharpiegate, to climate denial to staring directly at a solar eclipse, Trump has a long history of refuting expert advice. He almost seems to take pride in it. He once condescendingly remarked, “I’m not a doctor. But I’m, like, a person that has a good you-know-what.”
Well, it’s true — Trump is not a doctor and his “good you-know-what” landed him in the hospital.
It’s during this time, while he was incapacitated, that Trump engaged in something unfamiliar. There were no 3 a.m. Twitter rants. No press conferences talking over journalists. No pious campaign rallies or playing down the virus. With every gasp for air, the lies stopped. For the first time since he took office, Trump trusted the experts to save his life.
Watching Trump stop flapping his gums long enough to receive medical care has served as a sort of fifth vital sign. If the president feels well — flap, tweet, flap. But when he feels sick, the quackery stops. After years of sowing public distrust in experts of all kinds, this should serve as a wake-up call to every American: The president of the United States is a hypocrite.
Only now, when it is his life on the line, has Trump sought help from the very doctors he has questioned, mocked and berated. When it comes to his medical care, gone is the long list of snake oil cures. He didn’t insist on taking hydroxychloroquine. He didn’t refuse oxygen and the recommended therapeutics. When push came to shove, he trusted the experts. Anyone still on the fence in this election should ask themselves why the president would choose one standard for himself and another for the American people. If he trusts them to save his life, why doesn’t he trust them to save yours, too?
The irony is palpable. No matter how many times Trump bullies his doctors, short of not slipping him an extra Jell-O cup they will treat him just like any other patient who is the president of the United States — which is to say the president has unlimited access to the best medical care in the world, a compounding hypocrisy as thousands of the citizens he willfully misinformed have little to no access. (They are, however, paying for his world-class medical care with their tax dollars as Trump’s $750 didn’t go very far.)
Like all good con men, Trump hasn’t worked alone. He’s had a cadre of henchmen swindling faithfully at his side for years. Even now, as the virus wreaks havoc within Republican ranks, they remain loyal, testing positive be damned. Here, too, Americans should pause to consider why they would trust Republicans to protect them, when clearly they can’t protect themselves.
Particularly intriguing is Trump’s immediate reversal to old habits of denying expert advice upon improvement. This is not a man who saw God. This is a man who, on the very real chance he had to meet God, wanted one last vanity motorcade at his Secret Service’s expense. Narcissism truly knows no bounds.
The president remains, at least for now, a living and (labored) breathing example of what not to do. The lesson is as easy as watching one of the most powerful men in the world become bedridden on experimental therapeutics. The virus is real. Science is real. To say “to hell” with precautions is to risk death for yourself and others. He was never invincible. You are not invincible. You cannot trust a man who peddled bleach injections as a cure. You can, and should, trust the experts.
To this end, doctors still recommend wearing a mask and physically distancing. These work more effectively than any treatment for COVID-19 to date. Science is an excellent tool, but it can’t fix everything. Don’t take my word for it — take the word of a man who, when he thought he might die, turned to science, too.