O Trump, Thou Art Sick!

Why does the president keep lying about his health? And why does the media let him get away with it?

A MULTI-SEASON storyline on The West Wing involves Jed Bartlet’s health. The president suffers from MS, a condition he did not disclose to voters during the election; his wife Abigail, the First Lady, doubles as his personal physician, complicating matters. Much drama is wrung out of this, but the show’s writers make two key assumptions: First, that the jackals in the White House press corps would jump on such a story; second, that the American public would strenuously object to being lied to by POTUS about his health.

Real life, alas, is not a deluxe boxed set of West Wing DVDs. Aaron Sorkin gave us Jed Bartlet, a paragon of wisdom and compassion, wrestling with his crisis at the National Cathedral; in real life, we get Donald John Trump tweeting about slippery ramps. Bartlet had the formidable C.J. Cregg as press secretary, as brilliant as she was decent; we have a meretricious succubus from Fox News, expectorating falsehoods like she’s being compensated by lie-count. When presented with such a stick-of-dynamite story, our press corps has not jumped—nor have the American people demanded the truth about Trump’s health, let alone objected to him lying about it.

On Saturday, Trump gave the commencement address at West Point. The event required the graduating cadets to return to campus and quarantine for two weeks—and, worse, to have to stand and listen to their idiot-in-chief slur through a terrible, uninspiring word-salad of a speech. No doubt the purpose of this was to create more footage for the insipid Trump 2020 campaign videos. What better way to project strength, after all, than to have the president address white-gloved young military officers?

The gambit backfired bigly. Far from projecting strength, Trump had difficulty forming words. The teleprompter flummoxed him. When he paused to drink a glass of water, his right hand was not up to the task, and he had to use his left to help out. This called to mind another Nazi sympathizer in government (albeit a fictitious one) with an errant, mind-of-its-own right hand:

When he finished the speech—to applause that was humiliatingly tepid, like he was a stand-up comic who’d bombed rather than the presumptive leader of the free world—Trump had enormous difficulty descending the ramp. A military officer escorted him down, in case he fell, and the president shuffled slowly along like a ghoul from Night of the Living Dead. He was still embarrassed by the bad optics 24 hours later, because he tweeted out a lie to explain away his plain-as-day physical weakness:

But Trump’s challenge with stairs and ramps is neither new nor confined to slippery surfaces at West Point—recall two years ago, when he had to clutch on to poor Theresa May for dear life. So, like, what’s the deal?

There are those who believe that Trump suffers from frontal-lobe dementia, a genetic complaint that befell his father. My friend Tom Joseph (@TomJChicago) is convinced of this, as is Gregg Schneider (@SpiroAgnewsGhost), and plenty of others. But Noel Casler argued on these pages that Trump doesn’t have dementia; rather, decades of drug abuse and poor diet have caused his deterioration. I have no idea what the underlying cause is for the president’s symptoms…but that right there is the problem. Trump is unwell, as the hashtag says, and we don’t know why. (And no, Senator Duckworth, this is not ableism. The issue is not with Trump’s infirmities, but with his lies about his infirmities.)

Trump has lied abut his health for years, of course, ever since his father bribed a Queens doctor to diagnose him with bone spurs, so our brave Commander-in-Chief could avoid military service in Vietnam. When asked years later which foot the bone spurs were on, Trump could not recall.

Casler also told me that one of Trump’s nicknames on the set of Celebrity Apprentice was “Captain Valtrex.” Valtrex is the brand name of valaciclovir, a drug used to treat genital herpes. As Casler explains, Trump “sent his secretaries to the CVS on 57th Street to pick up his scripts for that herpes treatment. He used the name ‘John Barron’ on some of these prescriptions.” To be clear: lots of people have herpes, and there should be no stigma attached to the condition. There’s nothing wrong with having herpes. There is something wrong with having herpes and not disclosing it to your sexual partners, especially if you’re routinely having unprotected sex, especially if you’re having unprotected sex with porn stars, whose livelihood would be adversely affected if they caught herpes from a deceitful partner, and especially if you’re a serial rapist.

This is who’s in charge of our nation’s coronavirus response. We expect Trump to wear a mask? He wouldn’t even wear a condom.

“If elected, Mr. Trump, I can state unequivocally, will be the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency.”

So ended the 2015 statement of Dr. Harold N. Bornstein, an internist and gastroenterologist at Lenox Hill Hospital who was reportedly Trump’s personal physician. Even in the moment, the letter sounded ridiculous. The healthiest individual ever? Barack Obama played pick-up basketball with NBA players. George W. Bush was a fitness nut. Heck, the reanimated corpse of Andrew Jackson could come out of the grave and kick Trump’s ass in any athletic endeavor we can concoct—even sports that didn’t exist in 1845 (Old Hickory’d go hard in da motherfucking paint).

Bornstein’s 2016 medical report was a bit more professional, although the claims were no less head-scratching, the lies demonstrably false: Trump is not six-three. He has not weighed 237 since he was dancing with Epstein. Those numbers were likely chosen because any less height or any more weight would have had him classified as “obese.” Later, we learned the truth: Trump had written parts of the 2015 letter himself, and intimidated Bornstein into signing it. The doctor claimed that two of Trump’s goons burst into his office and made off with the president’s medical files. He told NBC News he felt “raped, frightened and sad” by the “raid,” which took place in February 2017.

Does anyone doubt the veracity of Bornstein’s story? Does anyone think that a mobbed-up president would not send a little muscle to intimidate this poor guy? The West Wing writers would have rejected this premise as being too preposterous to be believed. But it really happened—and that story, which would have ended any other presidency, was out of the news cycle in a matter of hours. Not days—hours!

As president, Trump’s physicians have been…less than trustworthy. If Casler is right about Trump’s alleged drug abuse—and there is ample evidence of the president appearing like he’s on something these last three-plus years, either sniffing or slurring, his pupils dilated, as he struggles to find words—who has been supplying the drugs?

Last November, Trump was rushed to Walter Reed Medical Center. We were told this was the first part of his annual physical, which all sentient humans immediately knew was a lie. If not for a physical, why did he go? Wherefore the urgency? Casler has an inkling:

Because the date of the Walter Reed visit corresponds to the date of the first known covid-19 case in Wuhan, there is a conspiracy theory floating around that on that visit, Trump was given special antibodies, or some sort of vaccine, to immunize him from the virus. This is patently ridiculous, but until the real—and certainly more benign—reason for the visit is disclosed, the conspiracy theory will persist.

Which brings us to the more exigent problem: this compulsive liar, who’s fed us obvious lies about his own health for decades, somehow finds himself in charge of the country during the worst pandemic since the Spanish Flu of 1918. Out of vanity, he won’t even take the basic precautions—social distancing, no shaking hands, wearing of masks indoors—that experts universally demand. Why should we believe a word Trump says about our health, when he’s lied for years about his? The majority of Americans don’t trust this lying sack of shit to be honest during the pandemic; MAGA, which does trust him, should not. What began as little fibs about his height and weight has now exacerbated a public health crisis.

The writers of The West Wing recognized that Bartlet’s debilitating condition was a national security issue. For some reason, the real-life mainstream media does not understand this—even during a global pandemic. Our pretend journalists, alas, demanded more of our fantasy presidents. (Some exceptions apply, of course):

After Saturday’s #Rampgate debacle, newspapers have finally started to pay attention. They must not let the story drop until the truth comes out. The health of our nation is at stake.


Photo credit: President Donald J. Trump and First Lady Melania Trump disembark Air Force One at the NASA Shuttle Landing Facility Wednesday, May 27, 2020, in Orlando, Fla. (Official White House Photo by Andrea Hanks)