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writing for godot

Donald Trump, the Trumpidemic2020©, and His Magical Thinking, Part 1

Written by Steven Jonas   
Thursday, 30 April 2020 08:58

By Steven Jonas, M.D., M.P.H. (Note to the reader: this is the first Part of a 3-part series)


"Either this nation shall kill racism, or racism shall kill this nation." (S. Jonas, August, 2018)


"To announce that there must be no criticism of the President . . . is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public. Nothing but the truth should be spoken about him or anyone else. But it is even more important to tell the truth, pleasant or unpleasant, about him than about anyone else."

Theodore Roosevelt, Editorial in The Kansas City Star May 7, 1918


"Experts on Reopening the Economy: Testing is the Key," (Newsday, front page headline, April 21, 2020). Yet since COVID-19 first appeared on Donald Trump's personal radar sometime in January 2020 he has been against testing and the numbers it produces and would/could produce. He has done everything he possibly could to prevent the development and implementation of a national program for testing and contact investigation for this highly infectious virus. He has consistently downplayed the reports of numbers and numbers of potential spread. He has consistently attempted to use the numbers that are available to shift the focus on and the blame for the current dreadful situation, dreadful both in terms of the disease and what the outbreak has done to the nation's economy, away from himself and onto anything or anyone else he and his governmental and media and ruling class supporters/facilitators can think of.

This column attempts to explain how the kind of thought processes and the ways of functioning that is has produced --- ones that have governed the way Trump has operated for his whole life --- have gotten him and the nation for which he is the Chief Executive Officer (I will not say "leads," because he doesn't) to where we are today.

I recently published a column entitled: "Donald Trump, his Magical Thinking, and the Trumpidemic2020©." (A version of it will be re-published in this space in the next week or two.) In it, I postulated that since childhood Donald Trump has led a charmed life (duh!).As is well known: he is not very smart, except for street-smart; he is not at all inquisitive; he has never taken responsibility for anything he has done that might have harmed others (personal, political, financial, or in his business). Then I further postulated that he has achieved this through the use over time of what I call his "Box of Magic Tricks."

There are six personal and procedural factors/elements/components of it which have, over the course of his life, created this charmed life for him, at the end of it enabling him to gain a position for which he is uniquely unqualified. With his magic box he has been able to say to himself, over-and-over again, "this is going to work for me, I can make this work for me," regardless of what the objective reality is, regardless of how very few, if any other folk, could make it work in the same circumstances. And the Magic Tricks have worked for him, over and over again. They of course are not really magical, for as no better authorities Penn & Teller will tell you, there is no such thing. But that is, in the real world, what magical thinking is.

And so, as noted above, in Trump-world, there is magic, because he has been able to get out of one failure after another, personal, financial, and business, for the whole of his life, since childhood, and move ever further onwards, as if each of his failures had been a victory. And indeed, given what he has accomplished over the course of his lifetime, they were.

And so what are these "magic tricks" (discussed in some detail in the previously referenced column):

1. He has always had one or more protectors and enablers, either personal, or financial or both.

2. For decades he has had a standard operating procedure when he faces an adversary of any kind. He learned it from Roy Cohn (who learned it from Joseph McCarthy): "Always attack; Never defend." (Just watch him deal with "Die Luegen Presse" in his daily campaign speeches.)

3. Also learned from Roy Cohn is the mantra: "when you run into a problem, just sue." You may not win, and it may cost you some money. But a) you might win and b) with the endlessness with which civil litigation can be drawn out in the U.S. legal system, that other side may just get worn out.

4. In the whole of his business life, Trump has never been responsible to anyone else, either above him (except for Dad, of course) or even alongside.

5. Trump has lived his life surrounded by enemies, whether in business, in his personal life, in his banking and financial life (except for a select few, like Deutsche Bank), certainly in politics, and not just at this time. In dealing with them his "Art of the Deal" has not been deal-making, but attempted opponent-crushing. Negotiation is just not his thing.

6. Finally, Trump is history's greatest con man (a subject to which I have devoted a whole column).

So, one or more of these magic tricks has always worked, to get him out of any bind that he has been in, most times somehow coming out on top, or at least seeming to come out on top. BUT, and this is a big "but" for Trump. The adversary this time is neither a person nor an institution. It is a virus. Now Trump is very poorly educated and he doesn't read. He likely has no idea what a virus is. Recall, for example, the report by Bill Gates that Trump didn't know the difference between HIV and HPV. Except that he knows that this thing, whatever it is, is very small, moves around on its own very quickly, can make lots of people very sick, and thus can cause him lots of trouble, beginning with the fact that he did/does not have the foggiest idea of what needs to be done (in this case also needed to be done) in order to deal with it effectively.

BUT (and again this is a big but in this case), Trump does know numbers. Since his father started giving him those large allowances when he was a youngster, Trump has known how to count. And so, we come to how he understands, or comprehends, in his own way, the virus. That comprehension does not comprehend, how, for example, people get sick from it and how once sick they can easily make other people sick, which is the way many people start off in their understanding of the virus. Trump just sees it and what it does in terms of a number, in this case the number of cases, and what that number can do to him. The more cases and deaths that are counted, the worse things are (for Trump). The fewer cases and deaths that are counted the better things are (for Trump).

And as far as reopening the economy is concerned, Trump definitely wants to steer as far away as he possibly can from this kind of policy recommendation (April 20, 2020):

" 'What we need to do is much bigger than most people realize,' wrote the authors of [a new] study conducted by Harvard's Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics that was released this week. 'We need to massively scale-up testing, contact tracing, isolation, and quarantine together with providing the resources to make these possible for all individuals [emphasis added]'.

" 'We need to deliver 5 million tests per day [emphasis added] by early June to deliver a safe social reopening,' the report states. 'This number will need to increase over time (ideally by late July) to 20 million a day [emphasis added] to fully remobilize the economy.' Since February, the U.S. has administered 4.2 million COVID-19 tests."

Under Trump, this is very unlikely to happen (and that is an understatement). And in the analysis of how the man has lived his whole through the magic tricks in his Magic Box we have the answer to the paramount questions about why and why not? Why he is doing and not doing what he does and does not do? Why has he been so dead set against having any comprehensive, very large, very well-organized, very well-funded, national system of testing and contact tracing from the beginning right up to the present? Why has he been in constant state of denial of the true seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic? Why has he been trying to magically make it into something it isn't?  He has done that by keeping the numbers down as much as he can through inhibiting at every turn the implementation of a truly effective, national, testing program?  And he continues to do so, purposefully.

A) because it is only through numbers that he sees the virus and the havoc it has caused, is causing, and will cause (first and foremost for himself).

B) because he knows that none that of the elements of his box of magic tricks that have served him so well for all of his life, can work against this virus.

And C) then of course he knows that the bigger the reported numbers get, the lesser his chances of re-election are. In the current pandemic it is his chances for re-election that for him count as number 1. And there is no No. 2.

And so, this is why this man has worked so hard, and will continue to work so hard, against the creation and implementation of a truly comprehensive national testing program (which is absolutely essential if we are to bring this plague under some kind of control). As noted, the box of magic tricks that has worked so well for him for his whole life, that has gotten, totally unqualified as he is, to the Presidency of the most powerful nation in human history, has this time around totally failed him. To repeat, that is because none of them magic tricks can work for him in this situation, because the enemy is a virusnot a person or persons. He knows no other way that he can possibly squeeze out of history his current paramount goal, getting that second term. So, he will deny the counts and the counting, the only way the virus and what it produces are real to him, and continue to do so for as long as he is able. That's all he can do.


An earlier version of this column was published at: your social media marketing partner
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