Worried about Donald Trump? I’m not, but if for some reason you are, his supporters want to reassure you. “President Trump won’t have to recover from COVID,” tweeted Representative Matt Gaetz of Florida. “COVID will have to recover from President Trump.” Ivanka Trump, ever the loyal daughter, called him a “warrior.” Fox News contributor Greg Gutfield said the president only got sick because he was brave. “He didn’t want America to hide from the virus. He was going to do the same thing, he was going to walk out there on that battlefield with you,” Gutfield insisted.
By “battlefield” Gutfield presumably means “parties in the Rose Garden” or “the Tulsa rally that killed Herman Cain.” Trump isn’t exactly a modern Charlemagne, but appearances must be kept. Enemies must be cowed. The president is a man, by God, and he’s going to punch the virus to death.
Trump’s virility is terrible to contemplate. Unfortunately, it’s also very important to him and his followers. The act of “owning the libs” assumes that someone is capable of doing the owning; that they’ve got the will, and the upper-body strength, to put someone back in their place. The president’s core supporters are still mostly white men who see him as a champion.
Wealthy enough to deserve veneration, powerful enough to fend off feminists and Black Lives Matter activists, Trump’s crude masculinity has always been key to his appeal. It tracks with his fixation on “the racehorse theory” of “good genes,” and for his nepotistic tendencies. (Trump believes he is that racehorse, the sire of a line of super-children.) The simple truth is that you cannot be a weak authoritarian; it’s right there in the name, strongman.
But Trump’s overconfidence may yet undo him, and others, too. He disdains mask-wearing as a display of weakness — a reason to needle Joe Biden, and to berate aides who took precautions around him. Once he finally got sick, he’d left himself only one way to react. What’s a president with a warped sense of masculinity and a potentially deadly disease to do? Pretend that everything’s normal, of course. Trump announced that he’s leaving Walter Reed at 6:30 p.m. Monday, and is living proof that Americans should not “be afraid of Covid.” Considering his previous need for supplemental oxygen, steroids, remdesivir, and experimental antibody therapy, Trump’s claim that he beat the virus is difficult to accept. It’s easier, perhaps, to believe that he is secretly a shape-shifting alien whose COVID-19 diagnosis is all part of a ruse to take over the Earth, as Vice reported on Monday.
Trump can’t admit the truth, which is that he was, and possibly still is, seriously ill; that he repeatedly put in danger his security detail, his aides, and however many essential workers were unfortunate enough to enter his vicinity. (Again, you cannot be America’s big strong daddy when you don’t even get the benevolent paternalism right.) So the virus must remain a minor inconvenience and Trump must stage his blank-paper signings for the cameras and everyone whose livelihood depends on him has to call him a warrior. It’s all very stupid and thus not very difficult to understand. The danger won’t end just because Trump says it’s over.