Sunday Pages: Acts of the Apostles

The fate of the prideful Herod Agrippa & the future of the President.

Dear Reader,

One week ago, the New York Times published, at long last, a bombshell about Trump’s taxes, which show the president to be a highly-leveraged fraudster who paid a mere $750 in federal income tax in 2017. We had been waiting for this particular bombshell for four years, and the revelations therein did not disappoint. And yet, when I went on the Narativ Live “After Show” on Friday night, the story only came up at the very end, when I remarked on how incredible it was that we’d done an entire hour without once mentioning it.

Donald John Trump is sick. His campaign manager is sick. The head of his party’s national office is sick. His senior advisor is sick. His pants steamer is sick. His debate prepper is sick, perhaps critically. Three of the senators he needs to ram through his SCOTUS nominee are sick. That SCOTUS nominee—lauded by the right, ludicrously, for being “pro-life”—may well have been the White House’s Patient Zero. The president was dispatched to Walter Reed Medical Center as a precaution—while he could still walk under his own power, per the Washington Post. As one Twitterer had it, that first video Trump released, his face unslathered with orange gunk, had the eerie look of a farewell. Now the nation has ground to a halt, as the entire news apparatus, professional and otherwise, attempts to figure out, in the absence of anything resembling transparency from the White House, what the fuck is going on with the president’s health.

The ripple effects are as enormous as they are unknowable. The president may well recover, but given that he already shows symptoms, the likelihood is that, with the election 30 days away, he will be out of commission for weeks. Even if he bounces back, there will be no more rallies, no more airport stops. Will he be healthy enough to debate? Is it safe for Joe Biden to be in the same room with him and his superspreader crew? What about Kamala Harris in the vicinity of Mike Pence, who is headed to a rally himself, despite every national security expert in the country warning him not to? Will people feel sympathy for Trump—despite his own glaring lack of that emotion? Will his own MAGA cult see him as weak, infirm, unworthy? Or will they try and equate his suffering with Christ’s? (Don’t laugh—that wackadoodle narrative is already taking shape).

The irony here is so obvious that sophomores in Zoom high school can easily point it out. Trump desperately wanted to deflect attention from the pandemic, which has already claimed over 200,000 American lives, and infected some seven million Americans. He tried furiously to downplay it, mocking the wearing of masks. Now he and covid-19 are forever linked. (And I know that my sophomore knows what irony is).

A president has one essential job to do: defend the country. In this, Trump has failed as spectacularly as one can fail. He could not even safeguard himself, his closest aides, or the well-heeled boosters he met at the campaign event in New Jersey. How can he protect the rest of us?

That’s the worst part: Trump knew, when Hope Hicks became infected, if not sooner, that he had been exposed, but kept up his schedule. He went to fundraisers. He shook hands. He mingled. And we’re still not sure if he was infected when he spent 90 minutes indoors with Biden, his family sitting in the debate hall not wearing the required masks, the better to see their slack-jawed faces. Almost certainly, the White House hoped that they could keep the whole thing quiet, as long as the president did not develop symptoms. But he did.

I think back to the early days of the pandemic. Trump, who knew damned well what we were facing but intentionally minimized it, forced the states to vie with each other for scarce PPE, and for ventilators. He seemed to delight in the suffering his grotesque mismanagement caused. He seemed to believe that the virus would never affect him, that he was somehow immune. Indeed, his brazen disregard for protocols led many to speculate that he’d already gotten covid, or had received a secret vaccine during that mystery visit to Walter Reed in November, right around the time the outbreak started in Wuhan. But no. He was all hubris and ignorance and cruelty—on brand, as always.

This recalls a passage in Acts of the Apostles, 12:18-25, in which King Herod Agrippa—grandson of the very Trumpy Herod the Great—receives emissaries from the coastal cities of Tyre and Sidon, whose leaders were concerned that Agrippa would put an embargo on imports, which would cause the citizens to starve. The king was a megalomaniac, who demanded pomp and pageantry and the proper obeisance—the sort who would claim that his coronation crowd was the biggest of all time. This is what went down:

Now Herod was very angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon. Their country depended on the king’s country for food, so they came to him with a united front to make peace—they’d been able to win over Blastus, the king’s personal aide. On an appointed day, Herod dressed himself in royal clothing, sat on the throne, and made a speech to them. The people shouted, “The voice of God, and not of a man!” Immediately an angel of the Lord struck him, because he didn’t give God the glory. He was eaten by worms and died.

Note that the worms ate him before he died. What this means is that the Lord struck Agrippa down with a grave illness—because he was prideful, and incapable of humility, and more than willing to starve residents of two coastal cities to get his way.

I hope that Trump recovers. I want him to hold on until the election, at least, so he can bear witness to the humiliating loss awaiting him. I want him to panic during the “lame duck” period, when he knows the jig is up. I want him to know the terror of waiting for indictments to drop. I want him to watch as his real estate empire collapses, as his assets are seized. I want him to feel the popular revulsion, to understand how much people loathe him.

But if his condition deteriorates and he succumbs to the virus—if the “worms” do their dread work—who am I to question the Will of God?