A photograph purporting to show Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte in tears, having lost all hope over the coronavirus toll in his country, made its way around cyberspace earlier this week. It turned out the photo wasn't of Conte, but of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, and he wasn't crying about losses due to coronavirus in his own country, but remembering a knife attack he suffered in 2018 during a speech he gave last year.
This article first appeared in Salon.
The photo of a national leader crying spread so widely because it was believable that the Italian prime minister might have broken down as he spoke of the huge number of deaths in his country. But we all know we'll never see a photo of Donald Trump crying. Even if one is faked, it would be unthinkable, because no one can imagine that Trump would shed a tear over anyone but himself.
Trump won't mourn for those suffering and dying from the virus, but he'll accept the sympathies of the fawning suck-asses he surrounds himself with at the daily thank-a-thon that substitutes for the rallies he can no longer hold.
"Thanks to your leadership, Mr. President," Vice President Mike Pence will typically begin, as he rolls out a list of dubious statistics for masks delivered or ventilators suddenly discovered hidden away in some warehouse. "Thank you, Mr. President … we all thank you … the nation thanks you," another toady will parrot, likely some "acting" department head or secretary-of-something-or-another Trump's thinking about going through the motions of nominating so he can keep another former lobbyist at the top of another important government agency.
Trump stands there, eyes unfocused, looking like he'd rather be on the 13th tee at Bedminster as he soaks in the praise. All of that praise is due him, he said at the Wednesday thank-a-thon, because "we're the ones that gave the great response, and we're the ones that kept China out of here, and if I didn't do it, you'd have thousands and thousands of people died — who would have died that are now living and happy." The Wednesday thank-a-thon was filled with self-congratulation and chest-pounding, but it was no different from Tuesday's, or Thursday's for that matter. Trump spent 25 percent of the time he spoke in self-congratulation or blaming others for the difficulties he has faced, or the obstacles he has overcome, according to a study of his Wednesday remarks by the Washington Post. "These passages constituted about 25 percent of all the words Trump spoke — more than 1,500 words out of about 6,000 spoken. That is more time than he spent conveying details about the coronavirus response," the Post reported.
When he wasn't congratulating himself or accepting the thanks of the Suck-Ass Chorus, Trump was on Twitter lamenting the slings and arrows he suffers daily from his "nasty" enemies in the "media." "The LameStream Media is the dominant force in trying to get me to keep our Country closed as long as possible in the hope that it will be detrimental to MY election success," he tweeted. "The real people want to get back to work ASAP. We will be stronger than ever before!"
Someone in the White House press corps should have asked Trump about the "real people" in overcrowded hospitals in New York, in understaffed clinics in New Orleans, in panicked waiting rooms in Detroit, and lying on soaked sheets in their own bedrooms in every state in the union. They aren't lining up to go back to work. They're dying in numbers that are doubling every 24 hours.
Instead, Trump was asked how tariffs had affected our ability to import needed medical equipment from foreign nations, which sent him off on a meandering tangent that seemingly touched on every slight and hurt he had suffered since taking office: "It's a very terrible thing that has happened," Trump explained. "Some of the people that took the biggest advantage of us are our allies. They took advantage of us in so many ways, financially and militarily."
This was the thank-a-thon briefing on the coronavirus, remember. But not for Trump. He wanted us to know that it was all NATO's fault, somehow. "If you look at NATO … now, because of me, they are paying a lot. Now they paid $125 million more and then ultimately Secretary General, who I think would say is my biggest fan …we got them to pay an additional $400 billion. And then there's trade …"
Because of me … MY election success … the greatest country in the world … we're winning the battle … we're going to win the war … a war like you've never seen...
That's what Trump was telling us about on Wednesday evening from the White House press room. He wanted us to know who his "biggest fan" is, that he's solved the whole NATO problem, despite the fact that NATO thinks the problem he solved is the one he created. None of which had anything at all to do with fighting the coronavirus. But never mind. The next thank-a-thon awaited.
"Beautiful day. Look at all those empty seats," Trump began on Thursday, smirking at the thinly populated press room, reporters scattered here and there thanks to social distancing. One White House reporter has reportedly contracted the virus, which must have delighted Trump. "Never seen it like that. Oh boy, how the world has changed."
And he was off, for some reason praising his favorite quarterback and slamming the "fake news" media: "I like Tom Brady. Spoke to him the other day. He's a great guy. But I wish the news could be real. I wish it could be honest. I wish it weren't corrupt. But so much of it is. It's so sad to see. Just so sad to see."
Then he threatened Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington, who had reportedly challenged Trump during a conference call earlier in the day for not leading the national response to the coronavirus. "A little wise guy," Trump called him. "Not so much anymore. We saw to it that we won't be so much anymore." That's what insufficient adulation will get you with Donald Trump. I don't like you, so you know who's going to suffer? Your whole state. Same with the woman from Michigan. She calls and we don't call her back.
He was speaking of Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who must have done something to piss him off, like giving insufficient thanks for ventilators or failing to praise him during an appearance on CNN.
Then he lifted off again on his airship of self-love, slamming the Obama administration and telling a mega-lie about his failure to get testing for the coronavirus up and running while we still had a chance. "An empty shelf. We took over a very depleted place in a lot of ways," Trump said, repeating the lie that somehow Obama had damaged the CDC before he took office. "As you know, the testing is going very well. That was obsolete and we fixed it and it has been going really good …we're doing a good job in running this whole situation in dealing with the virus. I think they feel that. I think they feel myself and the administration are doing a great job. There is a great fear and a lot of good things are happening. The mortality rate is in my opinion … it's way, way down, and that takes a lot of fear out."
Yeah, they're not really dying out there, and the "fear" is going down because Donald Trump is doing such a fantastic job, and if you don't believe me, just listen to Pence and Doctor Shoulder Scarf and Mnuchin and the rest of them heap shovelfuls of praise on him, as he heaps praise on himself.
Meanwhile, back on Planet Earth, a friend posted this on Facebook on Thursday:
And then I learned that one of the women for whom I ironed and talked and cleaned was taken to Mt. Sinai West with obvious symptoms of the virus. Her daughter tells me that the hospital was like Calcutta, only bloody. People crying and screaming in hallways; staff running about heroically trying to aid everyone. And NO TESTS, although it was obvious to the staff that people were exhibiting symptoms of the virus. My friend, 86 years old, died in a hallway, with her helpless daughter by her side.
There have been 1,693 deaths due to the coronavirus in the United States as of Friday night. (There will be more by the time you read this.) Statistics are dry, contained, unseeing, unfeeling, profane. They're just there, numbers on paper or on a screen. But people aren't numbers. They are flesh and blood, and when they die hooked up to respirators, or in ambulances on the way to emergency rooms, or in hospital hallways awaiting treatment, they leave behind enormous holes in the national firmament.
But not for Donald Trump. For him, the "fear" is gone, except for his re-election prospects. The "mortality rate" is "way, way down,"except for all those people who keep dropping dead of the coronavirus out there. Things are so fucking peachy in the thank-a-thons at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, "thanks to your leadership, Mr. President," that everyone is going to be put back to work before Trump even issues a nationwide stay-at-home order and closes nonessential businesses. He's content to leave those distasteful details to the governors while he yells at them on national TV for not thanking him loudly enough.
This is the country we live in, folks. "Fifteen, and it's going to zero," was how Trump described the number of coronavirus victims just a month ago. Today we're at 104,000 infections, 1,700 dead and counting. Please, someone deliver us from this monster — not from the deadly virus but from our even more deadly president.