Did you know that Donald Trump needs to wear reading glasses?
It's reasonable that you might not know that. The president, who may have both the biggest and most fragile ego on the planet, goes to great pains to hide the fact that, like most people over 70, he can't read printed text without a little magnification. But there's proof, in the form of a video deposition in the Trump University fraud case that the folks at Mother Jones got their hands on recently.
To be clear, Mother Jones reporter David Corn takes the high road in his story, focusing on the facts of the case without even mentioning that Trump must put on his glasses to read the legal documents. I am not so noble. It's just more proof that Trump, who loves to rant in disconcertingly fascistic fashion about his "good genes," is obsessed with presenting himself as some kind of Übermensch who is untouched by the biological realities of aging, even those that people can see with their own two eyes. He has made his doctor deny that he's fat. He has denied having "mini-strokes" — which was very strange, because no one had said he did. He spends an ungodly amount of time and money on that elaborate combover to make it look like he's not balding.
Now the phony Übermensch has COVID-19. While we can expect Trump will do his level best to hide any symptoms, he can no longer pretend that he's somehow above ordinary human weaknesses, such as catching a highly contagious disease.
Trump's ego, coupled with his disgust for any kind of physical fragility — this is the man who sneered about wounded war veterans that "nobody wants to see that" — has been a major reason that the coronavirus pandemic spiraled out of control in this country.
From the very first hints that the virus was going to be a problem, Trump treated the situation the way he treats his faltering eyesight: as an embarrassing weakness to be hidden away, instead of a problem to be dealt with openly and honestly.
In fact, Trump clearly thinks the existence of the coronavirus is a personal insult directed at him, and has turned it into a personal loyalty test for his staff, his supporters and other Republican politicians to act like the pandemic is no big deal.
The results, of course, have been devastating. Because so many Republican governors gave into Trump's wishes to "reopen" their states too quickly, the pandemic exploded across the country. Trump's signaling that he found mask-wearing and social distancing personally offensive has made it worse, by encouraging Republican voters nationwide to shun basic public health measures to slow the virus. The results never fail to be stunning: Nearly 7.3 million infected as of Friday morning, and more than 208,000 dead.
As recently as during Tuesday night's debate in Cleveland, Trump mocked his Democratic opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden, for wearing a mask, sarcastically noting, "Every time you see him, he's got a mask. He could be speaking 200 feet away and he shows up with the biggest mask I've ever seen."
Now we can count not just the president and his wife but a spiraling number of White House aides and Republican politicians among the infected — and yes, Trump himself is to blame for this. A surge of reporting overnight and into Friday morning only underscores how reckless Trump, who always puts his fragile ego ahead of the well-being of everyone else, has been with the health of the people closest to him.
He has held rallies and campaign events that are largely mask-free, and often indoors. He has discouraged his staff from wearing masks around him. Trump knew he had potentially been exposed to the virus through his aide, Hope Hicks, who traveled with him twice aboard Air Force One on Tuesday and reportedly began showing symptoms before testing positive on Wednesday. But Trump went ahead and attended a fundraiser in New Jersey on Thursday, even though he may already have been showing symptoms. His staff failed to contact Biden's staff, even though they had likely been exposed on Tuesday evening. Some reports now suggest that the White House actively tried to conceal Hicks' diagnosis, no doubt because Trump's staffers knew that hundreds of people could have been exposed through their reckless behavior.
In other words, Trump's illness is an almost too-perfect illustration of the consequences of his careless, egotistical approach to this pandemic, an approach that has caused the U.S. to have 20% of the world's cases, despite only having 4.5% of the world's population.
Many liberals remain traumatized from the 2016 election and tend to imagine that Trump has political superpowers, and as such will find a way to turn this news to his benefit. They worry he'll be able to garner widespread public sympathy or that, if he gets well quickly, he'll use that as "proof" that he was right to claim that this virus is no big deal and affects "virtually nobody." Indeed, some people are so certain that this is all part of some dark Trumpian scheme that conspiracy theories have begun to fly suggesting that Trump is faking the diagnosis for political gain.
That's just silly. Trump won't even admit that he wears reading glasses. He's not going to fake catching a disease that he's been minimizing for months.
As I see it, odds are that most Americans will see Trump getting COVID-19 the same way progressive political junkies do, as the direct result of his own carelessness. Furthermore, they'll see his willingness to put other people in danger — even his own supporters, staff and family members — as more proof that Trump puts his ego in front of his duty, as president but also as a human being, to be careful with the health of other people.
The New York Times has already put together a photo essay depicting all the people Trump interacted with over the past week, mask-free and often indoors. Seeing those photos provokes a visceral response, because they look like they come from some alternate timeline, where there's no pandemic and everything is fine.
That, of course, was the point. Trump has been pointedly acting like there's no virus in hopes that, reality TV-style, he could make his predictions that it will "disappear" come true and convince people that the pandemic is behind us. Now the images that were meant to present an image of a carefree, normal America read very differently, as a concrete illustration of how careless Trump is with the health of the people around him.
Trump's base voters, who were already willing to risk sickness and death to support him, will find a way to excuse this, of course. But he needs way more than his hardcore fanatics to win a second term. Looking like Donny Coronaseed in those last photos before he went into quarantine isn't likely to help him.