What If He Dies?

We're not supposed to talk about it. But we're all thinking about it.

WHEN I FIRST HEARD the news that the President and the First Lady had tested positive for covid-19, my initial response was to call bullshit. Donald John Trump has spent the last four years—actually, the last 74 years—lying to us. Why should we believe him now? There must have been some angle he was working, I figured, some narrative he was trying to create.

But no: for once in his life, Trump was telling the truth. The tweet storms, the green-screen infomercials, the proof-of-life videos, the bizarre press conferences from an osteopath who looks like a clean-shaven version of The Simpsons’ Dr. Nick Riviera, the half-truths, the rumors, the conspiracy theories, the Superman t-shirt, the Walter Reed photo op, the short drive to wave at the Proud Boys, the rambling, steroid-enhanced rantings and ravings to Limbaugh and Hannity, the insistence that he is well, that he is cured, that his own blood IS the cure—this is what it looks like when a compulsive liar is forced to come clean about something that he considers embarrassing.

Even so, there’s much we still don’t know. Given the White House’s staunch refusal to tell us the date of Trump’s last negative test, it is difficult to construct a definitive timeline. Best as we can tell, the President was positive, and infectious, well before his September 29 debate with Joe Biden—when, thank God and Chris Wallace, the candidates were not made to shake hands. During that fateful period, Trump himself appears to have been a super-spreader, passing the novel coronavirus on to his senior advisers, his debate prep team, his wife, his donors, his staffers, his military brass, his campaign chairman, and at least three of the Senators he needs to install Amy Covid Barrett on the Supreme Court (Lindsey Graham would make four).

It also appears that Trump has undue influence over his doctors, particularly the star-struck Sean Conley—that he, not they, have the final word about his health. This part is no surprise. Trump has coerced doctors to lie about his physical fitness since his Queens podiatrist, his father’s tenant, conjured up phantom bone spurs to get him out of Vietnam.

There has been much talk these last four years of the 25th Amendment, with the fantasy of the Vice President and members of the Cabinet removing Trump permanently, in what MAGA would certainly describe as a coup. But the actual intention of that piece of legislation was to establish a clear chain of command should the President be incapacitated for a finite length of time—as when George W. Bush was knocked out for a few hours to have his colonoscopy. Upon showing symptoms of the virus, then, a responsible leader would have said, “Under the dictates of the 25th Amendment, I am ceding power to Mike Pence for the next two weeks, so that I can concentrate on my recovery from this deadly disease.” A responsible VP would have insisted upon this as well. Instead, we have a sick man desperately wanting us to believe he is Kal-El, threatening to kiss every man and “beautiful woman” in the house, and a lickspittle #2 who held a rally at a freakin’ retirement community in Florida, with Boomer cultists packed in like sardines with a death wish, and nary a mask in sight.

Covid-19 operates on a timeline that would be right at home in a horror movie. A few days after you are infected, you develop symptoms. If the symptoms get bad, you go to the hospital. After a few days, you feel better—like you could doff your jacket and tie to reveal a Superman costume underneath. But, like the killer from the slasher film, The Nineteen is not done with you. Sometimes it comes back! And when it does, it kills you. This is what happened to gone-but-also-forgotten Herman Cain, who contracted the disease at a Trump rally in Tulsa:

Trump tested positive for covid-19 on October 2, exactly three months after Herman Cain. As the timeline shows, he is now in what, for Cain, was the “improving/ doctors seem happy” phase. Given his age, his shitty diet, his stress level, his drug abuse (the alleged Adderall addiction and the steroids he’s been lately popping), and his morbid obesity, Trump remains a prime candidate to be the first sitting president since FDR to die of illness while in office. “Four more years of President Donald Trump!” Mike Pence promised at the debate—but the grim reality is that, like it or not, we may only get four more weeks. It may well be that he’s recovered, as he claims, but if Trump is on the “Cain train,” he won’t be around for Halloween.

No one is talking about this, at least not publicly, but everyone is thinking about it—you and me, Jared and Ivanka, Mike and Karen Pence, Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un, all the criminals in his orbit waiting for their pardons: everyone. Will he make it? Will he not? And: which outcome is preferable?

If Trump beats the virus, he limps into the election with cratering poll numbers, a burgeoning Second Wave he helped exacerbate, and a Republican Senate that refuses to pass an urgently-needed relief bill. Chances are, he loses in epic fashion, with Joe Biden approaching 60 percent of the popular vote—as high as it gets in a true democracy. But there’s still the possibility, remote though it may be, that he pulls it off. If, however, he succumbs to his infirmity, then the Trump presidency is over, forever. The reign of plunder and ineptitude of the worst leader in our nation’s history, a mob money launderer installed by a hostile foreign power to wreak havoc on the United States, ends, full stop.

Like watching a championship game in which you despise both teams, it’s win-win, but also lose-lose. And in this Trump vs. Rona Super-spreader Bowl, we are all mere spectators. Me, I would rather he survive, at least for the next three weeks, so he can know the humiliation of a historic ass-kicking at the ballot box. (“I don’t want him to die as the president,” Lincoln’s Bible told me). The risk of him winning in November is one I’m willing to take, so that justice may prevail.

But, like, what if he doesn’t make it? What if the virus he called a “hoax” claims him? The ripple effects are enormous:

With 21 days until Election Day, and tens of millions of votes already cast, it is too late to remove him from the ballot. Voters would have to choose between two defenders of democracy in Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, and, in Trump and Mike Pence, a dead despot and his soulless lackey, a poltroon too pusillanimous to even try to stop the spread of the virus he was charged with stopping.

The vote would be closer, I think—although, one hopes, not by much. The Democrats could talk incessantly about how Mike Pence, who presided as governor over a major HIV outbreak in Indiana, presided as head of the White House coronavirus task force over a bungled pandemic response, and killed a quarter of a million Americans—including his own boss. If there were time, we could revisit Nick Ayers, and Pence’s deleted AOL emails, and the Ukraine imbroglio he was also part of, and the fishy Mike Flynn stuff. Some anti-Trump Republicans would probably hold their noses and vote for that piece of human flypaper. On the other hand, Pence has no truck with the QAnon/Proud Boys/MAGA crowd, which might stay home. So: Biden would likely still win, but we would sweat it out a bit more.

But there’s more than just the election that would be effected. Trump being Chief Executive has put the kibosh on any number of state and federal criminal investigations. All of that protection and deference to the office immediately goes away. Tax documents are turned over. Presidential privilege goes out the window for the likes of Don McGahn and John Bolton. NDAs become less meaningful. Cy Vance is free to indict Eric, Ivanka, and Don, Jr. The details that emerge of the various crimes, pay-for-play schemes, and treasonous activities will make it difficult to muster sympathy for these traitors, who would face justice. The fact that US marshals didn’t take John Wilkes Booth alive didn’t make it any easier for his conspirators, who were hung by the neck on a scaffold built at what is today Fort McNair.

We would enter the “lame duck” period under the stewardship of Mike Pence, who, desperate to salvage his unsalvageable political career, would not be as generous with the pardon pen. Indeed, the House Democrats would have no reason not to impeach the interim president immediately, for his role in the same Ukraine scandal that Trump participated in, and could certainly threaten to do so unless he behaved himself. So: Pence has zero incentive to save Roger Stone, Paul Manafort, Mike Flynn, or their seditious ilk. Superseding indictments may be unsealed on all of these felons, to moot their sentence commutations by Trump.

During the town hall debate in 2016, one of the participants asked, inanely, if the two candidates would say something nice about the other. Thus Hillary Clinton, prepared for everything but that, had to divine a positive thing to say about a man devoid of positive attributes. (I’m still angry about this!) In the event of Trump’s demise, the media may have to take the same tack, struggling with nice things to say about our departed racist, rapist, plague-spreading, selfish, piece of shit president—although I’m sure Maggie Haberman would manage.

Trump would want a funeral full of pomp. He wouldn’t get it, not now. How many of those 210,000 victims of covid-19 died alone, unable to be in the presence of their loved ones, saying goodbye on FaceTime? How many funerals were done remotely, or without leaving the car, or not at all? How many hugs were denied the bereaved? American politicians and world leaders both would use the pandemic as an excuse not to attend the funeral—a gathering that would, at last, make his paltry, flaccid inauguration crowd look as big and robust as Trump vainly insisted it was.

One last thing: Trump always wanted, like the dictators he so admires, to be President for life. This would grant him his wish. Donald John Trump would be dead. Irony would not.

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Photo credit: Nikolav10 via Wikipedia. A impression from the Donskoy monastery cemetery, Moscow (Russia).