As you may vaguely have heard, the US president and his wife, Melania, have tested positive for the novel coronavirus – which feels untimely given that, mere hours earlier, Trump had been declaring: “The end of the pandemic is in sight.” Perhaps this is a one-last-job movie. Alternatively, picture a Wuhan bat staring pensively into the fireplace as its butler suggests not thinking too hard about Trump’s motivations. Some poorly facepainted men just want to watch the world burn.
Still, let’s stay on track. God knows, it’s excruciatingly hard to chirp “Get well soon!” to this particular patient, but … get well soonish. Those of us who want to escape the cesspool Trump has helped drag the world into will wish him a better time with the virus than the one to which he blithely condemned so many of those he was elected to serve. Each to their own, but I’m against all forms of the death penalty, karmic or otherwise.
Jokes, though? Oh, jokes are very much permitted at this stage. I consider myself deeply pro-joke, for moral reasons. I appreciate that the Old Testament isn’t exactly a gagfest, but I believe in a joke for a joke, you know? And no one – NO ONE – has told more jokes about the coronavirus than Donald Trump. He’s the Covid Joker, if you’ll permit another Gotham callback. He would surely want us to follow his lead.
The very last thing Trump would wish to imply is that his life is worth any more than the lives of all those people who were dying when he was joking about masks, joking about Joe Biden and masks, joking about Biden being practically dead … to say nothing of all those times past when he joked about Hillary Clinton’s pneumonia, or had his proxies joke speculatively that she had suffered a stroke, or was afflicted by dysphasia, or had secretly suffered a serious brain trauma … I’m sorry, I’m running very low on space here. The point is, this is what he’d WANT – because he loves the lulz. Please honour him thusly.
Anyway, as Trump pointed out last week, the virus “affects virtually nobody”, and has currently only affected 200,000 American nobodies to death. Arguably the real victims here are the president’s MAGA disciples, who are devoted to him but also don’t believe the virus even exists. Trump being officially diagnosed with it is category 5 cognitive dissonance – a logical contradiction so intense it could crash their circuitry, causing them to immediately lay down their assault rifles and open a chain of abortion clinics.
And so to the political implications of Trump’s Covid diagnosis, which I couldn’t predict less accurately if I were picking through some sacrificed goat entrails. Joe Biden is already under pressure to suspend his campaign, just as Trump totally would if the boot were on the other foot. Then again, who knows – maybe the boot is on both feet?
On Tuesday, the world watched the ancient esoteric ritual whereby leadership of the tribal land of America is decided by two septuagenarian males spending 90 minutes spraying spittle at each other, apparently after drinking ayahuasca. A somewhat primitive society, all told, though supposedly it’s culturally insensitive to point that sort of thing out these days.
Perhaps there’s a certain neatness to the conclusion that virtually all reality TV elimination formats now look more sophisticated than the US election. It could really only elevate the contest if Trump and Biden were forced to battle out the rest of the campaign in isolation in a multi-camera McMansion, or on a specially adapted tropical island, or atop an abandoned karaoke soundstage. Unfortunately, the entire planet has to keep watching the show for the age-old reason. Namely, that when America shits the bed, the rest of the world has to lie in it. (That’s actually not one of Henry Kissinger’s famous adages, trivia buffs, though I’m happy for it to be included in The Little Book of Realpolitik.)
On a personal level, meanwhile, it’s not clear how President Trump will cope with the standard Covid isolation lifestyle: holing up in front of endless hours of TV and communicating only by social media. He famously cheats so wantonly at golf that it’s reasonable to imagine him continuing to notch up record-breaking scorecards at his various courses while never leaving the White House. And while Melania says he’s not feeling below par, this isn’t the same as saying he has no symptoms. We know, for instance, the virus can affect one’s taste, suggesting Trump could order all his properties to be stripped of all animal print and reproduction gilt.
Alas, the news has brought the first serious snowflake fall of the autumn, as people intensely relaxed about very young children being separated from their parents and held in cages at the border now wet their pants over a few aperçus about a man whose own wife says he is “feeling good”. According to the White House physician’s statement, “the president and first lady are both well at this time”. (Having said that, according to a 2018 White House physician’s statement, the president was 6ft 3in and weighed 239 pounds, placing him in the same physique category as a number of 30-year-old current pro athletes.) It’s quite a spectacle, anyway, watching people who only a couple of months ago were threatening revolution over their constitutional right to get a haircut or something, but are now calling for the smelling salts over mere discussion of the president’s health.
Then again, it was only a couple of weeks ago that Trump was asked if he wasn’t worried about Covid spreading at his indoor rallies, eliciting the deathless reply: “I’m on a stage and it’s very far away.” Yet another reminder that all populists hate their people, some less secretly than others. This morning, it emerged that the White House had been aware of his aide Hope Hicks’s symptoms when Trump flew to a New Jersey fundraiser, where he was in much closer contact with his own supporters at a roundtable. No doubt it would be honour to be infected by him, and all that.
As for the 4D chess grandmasters suggesting the whole “diagnosis” is a fake-news hoax by Trump designed to buy him two weeks of fairly uncritical coverage during the final crucial month of the election campaign …. well, it’s one conspiracy theory. There are a lot of conspiracy theories doing the rounds today – always the sign of an unhealthy democracy. (Trust us Brits on that front, because it takes one to know one.)
Whichever way you slice it, though, all news media will now spend a good 23 hours a day talking about Trump and Covid – a considerable part of which is likely to zone in on his handling thereof. So … the most audacious ruse to own the libs of his entire presidency – or a simple case of severe acute respiratory syndrome? And will we ever make it out of the rabbit hole where these questions are routinely asked?
• Marina Hyde is a Guardian columnist