Superman’s Cape

Everyone knows that You Don’t Mess Around With Jim:

You don’t tug on Superman’s cape
You don’t spit into the wind
You don’t pull the mask off that old Lone Ranger
And you don’t mess around with Jim…

Everyone knows the guy:

Yeah, he’s big and dumb as a man can come
But he’s stronger than a country hoss
And when the bad folks all get together at night
You know they all call big Jim boss…

That was amusing back in 1972 and made Jim Croce a lot of money, but it’s not that amusing now. That guy is president. The New York Times’ Annie Karni and Maggie Haberman report on what happened on Saturday:

The White House had not made public the results of President Trump’s latest coronavirus test, which he claims he took on Friday. But Mr. Trump, eager to prove he had fully recovered a week after being hospitalized for Covid-19, appeared briefly on Saturday afternoon in front of hundreds of chanting supporters gathered at the White House.

“We’ve got to vote these people into oblivion,” Mr. Trump said, re-entering the arena with his signature bluster and without any acknowledgment that he might still be contagious to those around him. His short speech, delivered from the Blue Room balcony overlooking the South Lawn, was the first time he has been seen in public since leaving the hospital on Monday.

Mr. Trump, who emerged wearing a white surgical mask, peeled it off as he began his remarks. His voice sounded strong and his aggressive message playing down the threat of the virus was unchanged.

He was, once again, the aging once-blond Aryan authorization strongman, being strong, for an oddly small strange crowd:

“We cannot allow our country to become a socialist nation,” Mr. Trump said, as he tried to infuse his campaign with urgency in the final weeks before Election Day. “We cannot let that happen. That’s what would happen. Or worse.”

One White House official said that about 2,000 invitations had been sent out. But the crowd on Saturday was made up of a few hundred attendees, many of whom were in town for a gathering of the so-called Blexit movement, started by the right wing firebrand Candace Owens, which encourages Black voters to leave the Democratic Party.

Candace Owens imagines she is leading the current or upcoming massive Black exit from the Democratic Party – Blexit – but Donald Trump imagines odd things too:

In late August, Mr. Trump also spoke at the Republican National Convention on the South Lawn, delivering his acceptance speech for the nomination in front of the same balcony where he stood on Saturday, continuing to play down the virus despite its entry into his own orbit.

“It’s going to disappear,” he said on Saturday, after underscoring recent “flare-ups” in other countries. He added that “the therapeutics are going to help a lot” and claimed, without evidence, that a vaccine was coming out “very, very quickly.”

Of course it’s only getting worse, but don’t tell him that:

For days, Mr. Trump has been pressing advisers to let him resume campaigning, and the White House event on Saturday was a compromise from advisers who wanted to delay the president’s re-entry on the campaign trail.

The gathering was also the latest effort by the president to show he was not as sick as news outlets, including The New York Times, reported last weekend, when he was said to have been administered supplemental oxygen. In a Fox News interview on Friday night, Mr. Trump denied that he had experienced any trouble breathing and said he was no longer taking any medications.

He was fine. He’d always been fine. But there was this odd detail from that lost weekend:

In several phone calls last weekend from the presidential suite at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Mr. Trump shared an idea he was considering: When he left the hospital, he wanted to appear frail at first when people saw him, according to people with knowledge of the conversations. But underneath his button-down dress shirt, he would wear a Superman t-shirt, which he would reveal as a symbol of strength when he ripped open the top layer. He ultimately did not go ahead with the stunt.

Maybe you don’t tug on Superman’s cape, but the guy in the Jim Croce song was as big and dumb as a man can come, and maybe Trump remembered that. Or maybe he didn’t. The Washington Post reported this:

President Trump tweeted on Sunday that he is “immune” to the novel coronavirus and “can’t give it,” even though the White House has not released any negative test results and immunity to the virus remains poorly understood.

The tweet was quickly flagged by Twitter, which said it contained “misleading and potentially harmful misinformation” related to the coronavirus. It was the latest example of the social media giant pushing back against the president’s posts on the deadly virus, and it appeared to refer to Trump’s claim to immunity. Some recovered patients with covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, have been reinfected, and experts say many questions remain about immunity, including how long it lasts.

“A total and complete sign off from White House Doctors yesterday,” Trump said. “That means I can’t get it (immune), and can’t give it. Very nice to know!!!”

And that was total bullshit:

Trump’s claim came one day after his physician said he is “no longer considered a transmission risk to others,” in a memo that seemed to clear Trump to return to his normal activities a little more than a week after he announced he had tested positive for the coronavirus. Trump is expected to hold a campaign rally Monday in Florida.

Some experts said the letter provided some reassurance that Trump is no longer contagious, but they noted that there is no way to know for sure so soon after a covid-19 diagnosis.

That’s followed by fifteen paragraphs of what the experts say, the technical truth of the matter, but that’s not the issue here:

Trump, who has been lagging behind Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden in polls, is expected to tout his swift return to work and his administration’s response to the coronavirus at rallies this week in Florida, Pennsylvania and Iowa. A new Trump campaign ad, released Saturday, claims that Trump “tackled the virus head-on, as leaders should.”

That was too much for the little Italian guy:

Part of that TV ad was rebutted Sunday by Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who said the Trump campaign used his words out of context and without his permission.

“In my nearly five decades of public service, I have never publicly endorsed any political candidate,” Fauci said in a statement to CNN. “The comments attributed to me without my permission in the GOP campaign ad were taken out of context from a broad statement I made months ago about the efforts of federal public health officials.”

There have been reports that Trump has been angry and hurt and puzzled by all the polling showing that the public overwhelmingly trusts Fauci on all these matters and just don’t trust Trump at all. Why do the trust him, not me? What’s wrong with these damned people?

This was an attempt to fix that:

The ad includes a clip of Fauci speaking during an interview with conservative Fox News host Mark Levin in late March, during which Levin asked Fauci about the coordinated response of the Trump administration.

In his response, Fauci noted that he is “one of many people on a team” and spoke at length about the long hours that he and others within the administration were working to combat the pandemic.

“There’s a whole group of us that are doing that,” Fauci said. “It’s every single day. So I can’t imagine, under any circumstances, that anybody could be doing more. I mean, obviously, we’re fighting a formidable enemy, this virus.”

Although Fauci did not mention Trump in his answer, the Trump campaign clip is edited to make it appear that Fauci is praising the president’s personal leadership during the crisis.

Fauci was pissed, but his reputation as a good and trustworthy man has always puzzled Trump. After all, is Fauci a multibillionaire total stud, married to his third drop-dead gorgeous trophy wife in a row, a truly manly man? So edit the tape. Ah, now Fauci is in awe of the Real Man that Trump is. Okay, Fauci isn’t in awe, but he ought to be.

Perhaps a feminist should look into this. Kate Manne is an associate professor at the Sage School of Philosophy at Cornell, and one of those, as she says this:

On Monday evening, having just been discharged from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, where he spent three days recovering from covid-19, President Trump stood on the White House balcony and removed his mask. He seemed to be having difficulty breathing, but he wanted to seem unbowed by the virus. “Don’t let it dominate your life,” he had tweeted earlier that afternoon.

The president, a self-professed germaphobe, could hardly have been more explicit about his worldview: This potentially deadly illness is something to dominate or be dominated by. It does not matter whether a person is an essential worker, is in a high-risk demographic, has a chronic health condition, or is simply and sometimes tragically unlucky: Illness is a weakness, and those who succumb are feeble, even pathetic. Those who conquer it are, conversely, strong and morally admirable. This view is a crucial element of toxic masculinity, which festers and causes harm, not just to individual men but to everyone around them.

Set aside that phrase, toxic masculinity, as a bit too glib, and just look at the evidence:

Presidents have long downplayed their medical conditions and cast their health crises in a positive light. Trump, however, seems acutely, personally invested in appearing physically vigorous, to the point of absurdity – and no matter who his pageant might endanger behind the scenes. On Sunday night, he left his room to drive by and wave at a small crowd of his supporters who had assembled outside the hospital. Everyone involved in this publicity stunt was put at risk, much to the chagrin of some doctors. Similarly, Trump’s theatrical removal of his mask Monday underscored his hubris – and it, too, increased the already serious risk to the people around him. “He was so concerned with preventing embarrassing stories that he exposed thousands of his own staff and supporters to a deadly virus. He has kept us in the dark, and now our spouses and kids have to pay the price. It’s just selfish,” a White House source told Axios.

Trump’s toxic masculinity is on display as well in his repeated insistence that his recovery makes him a conquering hero, stronger than ever before – and not someone in a high-risk demographic group whose life has been, and may continue to be, in danger. On Twitter, Trump quoted a fawning description of himself as an “invincible hero” in the making.

He does say those things, and that may be a bit dangerous:

It’s one thing for Trump to hold himself to this toxic masculine ideal. It’s another to insist that the American public not “let” the coronavirus “dominate” – as if it were somehow irrational (or, in the words of the president’s son-in-law, “hysterical”) to be alarmed by the pandemic. “We are not the land of the timid and the home of the scaredy cats,” Newt Gingrich told the Daily Beast. A Fox News commentator blamed the continued economic shutdown on “older people or neurotic people who are timid and afraid and won’t come out of their basements.”

This hyper-masculine worldview holds that any change in our behavior, any restriction on normal activity – no matter how beneficial and rooted in scientific evidence – constitutes an unacceptable “retreat.” Taking precautions against catching or transmitting a potentially lethal disease somehow means that we have allowed the virus to win. When former vice president Joe Biden tweeted an image of himself donning a mask responsibly, conservative commentator Tomi Lahren mocked him: “Might as well carry a purse with that mask, Joe.”

That’s as explicit as it gets:

The Trump administration has allowed the virus to rage in this country not just because of its incompetence, but also because of the president’s toxic masculine ideology, which recasts obstinacy as virtue.

Perhaps so, but while Manne is shrill, Michael Sokolove is casual and precise:

Donald Trump is a self-mythologized version of a man. It has never been a particularly hard act to see through. When it came to Covid-19, his top concern did not seem to be the health of all Americans, or even his personal risk of infection. He was afraid of looking afraid.

But the odd thing is that those who love him didn’t see that at all:

“President Trump won’t have to recover from Covid,” Representative Matt Gaetz of Florida tweeted. “Covid will have to recover from President Trump.”

Kelly Loeffler, the junior senator from Georgia, posted a meme of Mr. Trump beside a wrestling ring, body-slamming a man whose face had been replaced with an image of the coronavirus…

If he has a better-than-average recovery, his access to care will be the most plausible explanation: the helicopter that airlifted him to Walter Reed; the dozen doctors dedicated to his case; the buffet of drug cocktails and cutting-edge therapies that may not have been given, in that combination, to any other American.

But that is not the story that Mr. Trump will tell or that his supporters want to hear. His most persistent theme from the beginning of his candidacy through the sunset of his first term is that America has gone soft and he is the cure for it. He’s the human incarnation of Viagra, applied to the body politic.

That’s not hard to see:

Mr. Trump has advised police officers to stop being so gentle with suspects and mocked concerns about concussions in football players: “Uh oh, got a little ding on the head.”

This worship of what he imagines is strength and masculinity, but what others see as brutality and stupidity, is all part of a piece. It is meant to reflect back on him. Strength knows strength.

And thus Trump knows Putin and Kim and they know him. No one else matters. And that matters:

It is not hard to imagine that Mr. Trump regards those who have died as weak, or certainly as weaker than he is. The disease dominated them right out of existence.

This is the worldview of someone who said, of the former prisoner of war John McCain, “I like people who weren’t captured.”

As a campaign tactic, this is a risky pose. Mr. Trump’s quick and possibly premature exit from the hospital could lead to a new video production: a helicopter ride back to Walter Reed.

That might happen, but Trump’s toxic masculinity is more than a quirk. It infects everything. The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf notes this:

A memorable campaign ad from 2008 urged voters to ask themselves which candidate would perform better in an unexpected emergency: “It’s 3 a.m. and your children are safe and asleep, but there’s a phone in the White House and it’s ringing … Your vote will decide who answers that call.” Franklin D. Roosevelt answered Pearl Harbor. John F. Kennedy answered the deployment of Soviet missiles to Cuba. How would this year’s candidates respond when confronted with an emergency?

Joe Biden has never held the top job, so voters can only speculate. But a pandemic began on Donald Trump’s watch, so no speculation is needed. Trump showed us how he did perform in a crisis: He failed.

And he failed because of who he is:

Trump is obviously not responsible for all of the COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. But the U.S. has fared much worse than the median developed country. And among wealthy nations, its per capita deaths rank in the top five. Trump can’t avoid blame for America’s subpar performance, because voters can identify specific actions he took that contributed to the country’s failures. Especially damning is that Trump couldn’t even protect himself from the disease…

Compare the White House to the NBA. Months ago, the league decided to go ahead with its season by bringing 22 teams into a “bubble” with coaches, trainers, referees, support staff, and media, despite a formidable challenge: Hundreds of young basketball players would run, pant, sweat, jostle for rebounds, huddle together in time-outs, and fill their off hours together, away from friends and family. The league developed sound protocols. Players, coaches, and others executed them competently. And the NBA went months without a positive COVID-19 test, allowing it to salvage a season worth billions of dollars while entertaining the American public.

A presidential bubble is comparatively easy to protect: Trump had all the resources of the federal government, no need for close physical contact, the ability to consult with any expert on optimal protocol, and a Secret Service to enforce whatever he decided upon. Yet he proved unable to stay healthy, not because he was stricken early, when little was known, but because he failed to take the most commonsense precautions, such as wearing a mask or not hosting large events.

But he’s Superman. Commonsense precautions are for the commonplace. So there was this:

The September 26 White House event for the Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett appears to have compromised the health of many important officials. “More than 100 people gathered,” NPR reported. “Guests mingled, hugged and kissed on the cheek, most without wearing masks. An indoor reception followed the outdoor ceremony. Seven days later, at least eight people who were at the ceremony have tested positive.” Someone may die because of the White House’s bizarre laxness at an unnecessary event. And because U.S. senators are among the infected, its consequences could conceivably delay or even derail Barrett’s nomination. Nothing like this could have happened to a president exercising good judgment.

Trump’s failures can be exaggerated. He is not the only public official to err. His defenders are correct when they observe that Anthony Fauci fumbled his early messaging on masks, that various governors failed to adequately protect nursing homes in their jurisdictions, and that public-health officials undermined the culture of social distancing when they put out politicized statements justifying large public gatherings to protest the death of George Floyd. Many officials at the national and state levels behaved in ways that suggest they should not be trusted in future emergencies. But Trump is the only one running for president on his record.

And that makes things easy:

Voters need not speculate as to how Trump might perform in a high-stakes emergency, because he showed us how he did perform: He lied to the American public; he did not avert or quickly correct the federal bureaucracy’s most serious errors; he repeatedly gave false assurances that contributed to many Americans being less careful than they should have been; he responded to catastrophic levels of death by pretending that victory was right around the corner, rather than changing strategies; he presided over a country that was outperformed by much of the world; he failed at the relatively simple task of protecting himself and his wife; and that latest failure threatened the lives of U.S. senators, White House staffers, and many others.

Trump answered a 3 a.m. phone call, and he bungled it. Don’t let him answer another one.

In fact, tug on Superman’s cape. That’s not Superman.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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