The Health of the President
This is developing into a disturbing situation. Donald Trump has said he will accept foreign interference in the 2020 election. He is taking steps to suppress Americans ability to vote and has already started delegitimizing the outcome. Unless Trump loses by a resounding margin, he is likely to dispute the validity of the result and attempt to retain power. This we already know.
So there is plenty to ponder for those who fear an existential American crisis this November. However, as election season draws near, there is one wildcard that remains in play. Donald Trump may not be very well.
Speculation about the president’s physical and mental health has remained a media undercurrent since he took office, but Trump’s recent difficulties with a glass of water and a ‘very steep and slippery’ ramp at West Point have refocused attention on the wellbeing of America’s leader.
This attention has to put in context. Put plainly, Trump is a weird guy. He doesn’t exercise because he thinks the human body has a finite amount of energy. He believes in eugenics. He appears to think that stealth bombers are actually invisible. The never-ending torrent of ignorance and insanity that this president generates makes it hard to see the line between gaslighting, eccentricity and actual ill-health, but what we know for sure is that we have very little concrete information about Donald Trump’s health.
Trump’s personal physician for nearly forty years was gastroenterologist Dr Harold Bornstein, who issued a gushing letter before the 2016 election touting Trump’s ‘astonishingly excellent’ medical results (in 2018 the doctor admitted that Trump had dictated the letter). In 2017, two days after Bornstein told the New York Times that Trump was taking a hair growth drug, Trump had his personal bodyguard ‘raid’ Bornstein’s office and confiscate the president’s medical files, none of which have been released.
As president, Trump has been attended to by navy physicians Ronny Jackson and Sean Conley. Both have issued reports that – at best – skirt the truth when it comes to matters that are easily apparent, like the president’s height and weight. At the White House, Jackson’s eager dispensing of prescription drugs earned him the nickname ‘the candyman’, and his public statements often had a Trumpian ring to them. In 2018 he told the press that if Trump improved his diet he ‘might live to be 200 years old’, an idea most doctors might not choose to put their name to.
Conley’s diagnoses have continued in a similarly optimistic vein. In early 2019 he released a report stating that not only was the president in very good health, ‘I anticipate he will remain so for the duration of his presidency and beyond’. Forecasting the future is not normally the realm of western medicine, nor is prescribing dangerous drugs – earlier this year Trump said it was at Conley’s guidance that the president was taking a course of hydroxychloroquine, the unproven treatment for COVID-19.
Starved of reliable information, doctors, psychiatrists and journalists have been left to speculate, and while the American Psychiatric Association’s ‘Goldwater Rule’ states that it is unethical to offer an opinion without examining a patient in person, given the stakes many have decided to overlook this convention.
Donald Trump is 74. He was the oldest first-term president at his inauguration. If he wins a second term he will conclude his presidency as the oldest in American history. Trump is obese. His official report questionably states his weight at 244 pounds (111kg). Trump does no exercise except golf, where he takes the cart. His diet is known to be appalling. On the plus side, Trump says he doesn’t drink or smoke, but his mood is routinely described as ranging between angry and ‘volcanic’, which is likely to cause extreme and sustained stress.
And then there is the mental acuity and health of the President. Trump has shown clear signs of cognitive decline on numerous occasions, for example when he was unable to find the word ‘origins’ three times in a row, and instead said the word ‘oranges’. Watch videos of Trump being interviewed in the 80’s and 90’s and you see a man able to speak in coherent, rational sentences. Today, Trump often delivers verbal salads of extraordinarily imprecise and erratic meanderings. When his statements are written down, they reflect what appears to be a worryingly disordered state of mind.
Interviewed on Christian Broadcasting Network last month, this is what Trump had to say about the possibility of a Joe Biden presidency. ‘In terms of religion, in terms of evangelical, in terms of Christians with or without evangelical, in terms of, uh, Jewish, in terms of anything – you’re going to have radical left judges appointed.’
This was Trump speaking at a Students for Trump event in Phoenix, Arizona, also in June. ‘We put a chunk – California – off the record, California was saying, “Please, can we have the wall?” This is California. You know, they didn’t want the wall. They didn’t want the wall. But they wanted the wall, right’. He added, ‘Kung Flu. Covid. Covid-19. Covid. I said “What’s the 19?” Covid-19. Some people can’t explain what the 19 – give me the – Covid-19.’
The ability to speak in coherent sentences is important when you have thousands of nuclear missiles at your fingertips and almost no impediment to arbitrarily ending the human race. Trump’s wellbeing is very much our concern. His lifestyle, weight, age and mental capacity give us ample grounds to worry, and we have every reason to doubt the veracity of what we have been told by his physicians.
Plenty of Presidents have run their administration while dealing with health issues, but this election is the most consequential since 1860, and we’ve never known so little about an incumbent’s health. Trump holds immense power. He has built his brand on strength, yet there are numerous indicators that he may be suffering physical or mental ill health. We deserve to know the truth, but the secrecy and dishonesty of this administration means we will be kept in the dark, unless or until something serious happens.