President Donald Trump’s inaction, self-involvement, and corruption in dealing with the coronavirus doesn’t come out of nowhere. Trump’s reaction to America begging for help is the essence of Trump and it has many precedents, including this bit from the life of Citizen Trump.
Late September 2017, audio surfaced of Donald Trump on a July 16, 2008 airing of the Howard Stern Show. The future president tells Stern and his crew a Larry David-esque story about an 80-year-old man falling off the Mar A Lago ballroom stage. Rather than retell Trump’s tale, here’s Trump in full:
Trump: So, you have all these rich people and a man, about 80 years old, a very wealthy man, a lot of people didn’t like him. He fell off the stage. So, what happens is this guy falls off right on his face, hits his head and I thought he died.
And you know what I did? I said, “Oh my god that’s disgusting” and I turned away. I couldn’t, you know, he was right in front of me. I turned away. I didn’t want to touch him.
Now the Marines, he’s bleeding all over the place. I felt terribly, you know beautiful marble floor didn’t look so good. It changed color, it became very red. And you have this poor guy, 80 years old, laying on the floor unconscious and all of the rich people are turning white. “Oh my God, this is terrible. This is disgusting.” And you know they’re turning away. Nobody wants to help the guy. His wife is screaming. She’s sitting right next to him, she’s screaming.
What happens is these ten marines from the back of the room, they were so far back, you know, it’s a huge ballroom. They come running forward, they grabbed him. They put blood all over the place. It’s all over their uniforms. They’re taken it, they’re swipe.
They ran him out – they created a stretcher – they call it a human stretcher, where they put their arms out, like five guys on each side. They ran him out – I never saw it – they ran like…
Howard Stern: You would never do that.
Trump: I was saying, “Get that blood cleaned up. It’s disgusting.” I forgot to call, the next day. I forgot to call to say, “Is he okay?” He was okay. It’s just not my thing.
Throughout the telling Trump is animated yet rehearsed. It sounds like he’s told this story before. He is also playing for laughs, though, unlike Larry David, Trump doesn’t ask us to laugh at himself. Trump is directing us to laugh at the old man who “a lot of people” don’t like. It’s tempting to read irony in Trump feeling terribly about the blood staining his “beautiful marble floor,” but there is no humor or self-awareness in his voice, only grievance and irritation.
As per custom, Trump uses third parties to cloak his feelings. “A lot of people” didn’t like the old man. The “rich people are turning white,” says the billionaire with a “huge ballroom.” “They” think the scene is “terrible” and “disgusting,” yet they “turn away.”
When Trump invokes the Marines, his voice courts pride, as if he is responsible for the soldiers’ actions, Yet, when the Marines “put blood all over the place,” Trump’s tone goes flinty. He closes with a demand that his staff clean up the “disgusting” blood and a chuckle over neglecting to check in on his guest’s condition. “It’s just not my thing,” you see.
Watch Trump during the COVID crisis – or any time during his presidency – and this scene from Mar A Lago is familiar. A hurricane heads towards Puerto Rico and Trump tweets “Puerto Rico is one of the most corrupt places on earth. Their political system is broken and their politicians are either Incompetent or Corrupt. Congress approved Billions of Dollars last time, more than anyplace else has ever gotten, and it is sent to Crooked Pols. No good! And by the way, I’m the best thing that’s ever happened to Puerto Rico!”
Governors ask for Federal aid in fighting COVID-19, Trump calls them “greedy” and berates them for “complaining.” Then Trump whiplashes praise those who “appreciate” him and manufactures video so that he is praised.
With COVID-19, America has fallen and lies on the floor bleeding. Trump sees our sick and is disgusted. We are dying in his ballroom and that is just “disgusting,” or so “a lot of people say.” And, why should Trump help? He might get blood on his hands. No need to check on us. We’ll be “okay.” And besides helping, even asking about the welfare of others, it’s just not Trump’s thing.
Image atop: Honoré Daumier Gargantua (1831)