Opinion: Donald Trump's troubling vital signs

Doctors have been searching for precise indicators of the health of their patients at least since the early 1600s, when a professor of medicine, Santorio Santori, helped perfect devices to measure body temperature and pulse rate. His goal, as Fabrizio Bigotti wrote, was “medical mathematics.”

© Win McNamee/Getty Images WASHINGTON, DC – OCTOBER 05: U.S. President Donald Trump stands on the Truman Balcony after returning to the White House from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on October 05, 2020 in Washington, DC. Trump spent three days hospitalized for coronavirus. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Today, caregivers in hospitals measure such vital signs every few hours. President Donald Trump’s doctor, Sean Conley, provided fragmentary information on his patient’s vital signsthis week as he briefed reporters in front of the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. But he was far from transparent about the full nature and course of Trump’s Covid-19 illness.

Conley has served as Trump’s publicist in a white coat, reassuring Americans at every turn that Trump is doing well, while leaving out conspicuous details,” wrote James Hamblin, a doctor, in the Atlantic.

Conley wouldn’t say, for example, when Trump last tested negative for the virus and refused to describe the condition of the President’s lungs (the disease typically attacks the lungs early in infection).

As David Axelrod pointed out, Trump only disclosed his illness after Bloomberg reported Oct. 1 that his adviser Hope Hicks had contracted the disease. “The 74-year-old President has been about as forthcoming with his medical records as he has his tax returns and there are many reasons he would have wanted to stifle his Covid test in the final weeks of a tough reelection campaign,” Axelrod wrote. “To admit he had Covid-19 would undermine Trump’s downplaying of the virus, dismissal of masks and expose as irresponsible his insistence on holding large in-person events.”

© Provided by CNN

With a presidential election three weeks away, Trump’s vital signs are of more than historical interest. In fact, they are becoming entwined with key questions about where America is heading in a perilous time, when he is far behind Joe Biden in the polls and refusing to commit to a peaceful transition of power, should he lose. Trump himself declared in an interview with Maria Bartiromo Thursday, “I am a perfect physical specimen and I’m extremely young.”

© Marshall Ramsey

But Trump’s infrequent and staged appearances, his raspy voice, his motorcade around Walter Reed and his rip-off-the-mask return to the White House has left many doubtful that he’s fully recovered — and in a position to make presidential-level decisions.

Dr. Chris Pernell, who works at a New Jersey hospital, lost her father to the coronavirus in April. When she thinks of the impact on her family and countless others, Pernell wrote, she can’t help but conclude that “the President of the United States is a clear threat to public health. He mocks infection prevention guidelines, including mask wearing, and taunts those who believe in the science of public health…”

The President lives in an alternate bubble. In his world, he has unhindered access to medical care. He has physicians who are willing to spin details about his condition to keep the public guessing. He receives experimental drugs, including an antibody cocktail, which was approved for compassionate use and is unavailable to most Americans.”

No help from Washington

Trump abruptly called off negotiations with House Democrats on a new stimulus bill, only to indicate a short while later that he wanted to reach a deal after all. “Trump is prone to making surprise announcements out of the blue and often looks for ways to stir public reaction with extreme actions,” wrote Michael D’Antonio. Amid speculation that “steroids, like the dexamethasone he’s currently taking,” could be responsible for his shifting moods, “Trump’s personal history suggests something deeper may also be at work…from an early age he exhibited a kind of unruliness that could veer toward self-destruction.”

© Clay Jones

Writing for Vox, Aaron Rupar pointed out that, “while it might be tempting to surmise that Trump’s compromised health has resulted in his odd behavior since his coronavirus diagnosis — including a number of bizarre photo ops and incoherent, angry binges of posting on Twitter — the truth is all of this is more or less on brand for Trump.”

For Cheryl Esposito, a makeup artist in New York, the stalled negotiations hit home. She hasn’t worked since March 10.

“I am one of the millions of Americans in desperate need of another stimulus check. I am one of the many whose daily lives the President seems not to care about as he plays politics with our survival,” she wrote. “Stories like mine are playing out all over this country.” Esposito says she is still trying to figure out how to pay for the second half of her June rent payment. “I live alone. I am a freelancer, and I am as small of a small business as you can get … I’m angry, tired and grieving.

Fareed Zakaria summed up the economic predicament facing the US: “We are not providing nearly enough economic relief to the tens of millions whose lives have been devastated not because they ran their businesses poorly, not because they acted irresponsibly, but because of a pandemic.”

Share your thoughts

SE Cupp and CNN Opinion are teaming up for a special project on what happens after Election Day, regardless of who wins. We’d like to hear your thoughts. Respond to the form in Cupp’s op-ed: America is hurtling toward a crossroads on Nov. 3. What comes next?

It’s all one big story

Increasingly the election and the pandemic are merging into one story. In a CNN poll that showed Trump 16 points behind Biden, 60% percent of Americans disapproved of Trump’s handling of the coronavirus, with even more saying they didn’t believe he acted responsibly in dealing with the risk of infection to those around him. Trump is far behind Biden with older voters and with women.

“A little more than an hour after President Trump, infected with the coronavirus, made a rash and reckless return to the White House,” wrote Errol Louis, “Democratic challenger Joe Biden made clear at a televised NBC town hall why he is leading Trump in every national poll and in most top battleground states as well. The leading issue in the November 3 election is the federal response to Covid-19. Biden has checkmated Trump on the issue,” by acknowledging the scope of the crisis, showing empathy and proposing a common-sense plan to deal with it.

Trump’s “recklessness knows no bounds,” wrote Jeffrey Sachs. “Even on Monday, with all of the dangers he has caused to himself, his wife, his staff and his fellow politicians, and with all of the suffering and deaths across the nation, he tweets, ‘Don’t be afraid of Covid. Don’t let it dominate your life.'”

The choice is not between an effective response to the pandemic and saving the economy, Sachs noted. “Trump and his minions can’t seem to understand the most basic point: the way to control the pandemic is through systematic public health measures … such as wearing face masks, bans on large events, physical distancing, contact tracing, quarantining, monitoring of symptoms at workplaces and transit areas, limits on travel and more.”

Trump’s approach has had consequences, wrote Peniel Joseph. “The President’s pathological behavior, personal mendacity, flouting of the rules of Covid-19 precaution and overall endangering of democracy encourages the conspiracy-wielding, coronavirus-denying Americans among Trump’s base who embrace a distorted version of reality that has corrupted our politics and corroded our national identity.”

Frida Ghitis wondered about the Sept. 26 Rose Garden ceremony where Trump announced the choice of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to succeed Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: It was “a shocking spectacle of hubris …”

“Those of us who watched the crowded, mostly mask-less nomination announcement, could barely believe our eyes — the crowds, the hugs, the kisses. It only made sense that it became a likely super-spreader event … Why weren’t they wearing masks, indoors or outside the White House? Because Trump apparently thinks masks undercut the image of normalcy that will help him win reelection. It’s a foolish and immoral strategy. Americans know this is no normal time.

© Mike Luckovich

Miles Taylor, who served as chief of staff in the Department of Homeland Security in the Trump administration, wrote, “sadly, we will look back at this episode and see photographs of White House aides, top officials, and elected leaders gathered together, hugging, laughing, and sitting shoulder-to-shoulder at mostly mask-less events, mere feet away from the President — all during a global health catastrophe.

© Warner Bros/Kobal/Shutterstock

“This is not the image of an administration rushing to contain a biological threat. It’s the image of it carelessly spreading one.

For more on the election:

© Nick Anderson

Joseph J. Ellis: Four words can save America: Donald Trump, you’re fired

Oren Cass: Biden and Trump are failing the American worker.

Celine Gounder: It’s concerning that President Trump got so sick so quickly

Peter Bergen: How President Trump wound up in the hospital

Richard L. Hasen: A key fix for an unthinkable election disaster

Jonathan Wackrow: Former Secret Service agent: I’m stunned by what I saw

Sean Penn and José Andrés: President Trump, embrace your duty as a wartime President

John Avlon: Joe Biden’s Gettysburg address is the best of his campaign

Harris v. Pence

Vice-presidential debates don’t usually determine the outcome of elections, but this year’s version, pitting Vice President Mike Pence against Sen. Kamala Harris, at least drew a bigger than usual audience. Each side claimed victory, while a CNN poll of debate watchers gave the edge to the California senator.

“On style, substance and strategy, the clear winner of the debate was Kamala Harris,” wrote Raul Reyes. “She seemed simultaneously passionate and relaxed as she prosecuted her case against the Trump administration.”

In contrast, Scott Jennings argued that “Pence conducted a masterclass in how to prepare for and execute a clear, winning debate strategy. He sliced and diced his way through taxes, fracking, the Green New Deal, and which ticket is best to handle America’s future recovery, winning every exchange on those topics. Pence did what Trump failed to do in his debate against Biden — recognize his opponent’s mistakes and then clearly drive home the winning point.”

Watching the debate “through the eyes and ears of White suburban women — not just because I am one, but because those voters may very well determine the fate of the election,” wrote SE Cupp, “what I saw was a man who talked over not just his female opponent but also the female moderator. He mansplained and condescended. He ignored the rules, the format, the questions, and moderator Susan Page’s attempts to cut him off. It wasn’t as buffoonish as President Donald Trump’s performance last week — Vice President Mike Pence remained calm, avoided petty insults and stuck mostly to talking points — but that was, in a way, worse.

For more on the debates:

Jill Filipovic: With a virtual debate America would win and Trump would lose.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson: Harris’ toughest debate opponent wasn’t Pence but a stereotype.

The Amy Coney Barrett hearing

The high-stakes, high-pressure hearing on Trump’s nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett for the US Supreme Court begins Monday, amid Republican eagerness to cement the court’s conservative majority and Democratic rage at the expedited process in the midst of a presidential election.

“Moving forward with the nomination at this time and speed tramples on transparency, democracy and respect for the will of the millions of people already voting throughout the country,” wrote Jeremy Paris, who served as chief counsel for Nominations and Oversight of the Senate Judiciary Committee from 2008-2013, when the Democrats were in charge.

Hovering over the Barrett hearing is the question of how Democrats would react if they won the presidency and control of the Senate. Some have suggested that a Barrett confirmation — along with Republicans’ refusal four years ago to even consider President Barack Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland — constitutes the “theft” of two court seats and should prompt Democrats to “pack” the court.

In The New York Times, Jamelle Bouie wrote that for Republicans, Barrett “represents victory, the culmination of a generational struggle to reshape the courts in their favor. From the point of view of Mitch McConnell and his conservative activist allies, she is worth losing the White House and risking the Senate for. She is worth the chaos and disorder of the Trump administration, worth the scandal and controversy, worth the racism, cruelty and indifference to human life.”

“To allow the American people to govern themselves, to rein in the judiciary and break a would-be reactionary super-legislature — to show Republicans that they cannot keep the ill-gotten gains of the Trump years — Democrats will need to expand the courts.”

Plot against Gov. Whitmer

The FBI arrested six men and disclosed an alleged plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and to overthrow state governments.

“This was not some inflated, FBI-generated sting and it went well beyond idle, fantastical chatter or pumped-up bluster,” wrote former prosecutor Elie Honig. “According to the complaint’s allegations, the charged defendants held actual ‘field training exercises;’ created and detonated a test explosive device; possessed and trained with firearms; purchased a Taser for use in the attack; and conducted coordinated surveillance, during the daytime and at night, of Whitmer’s vacation home. Any sane person shudders to think what they might have done if not caught.

As Honig noted, the FBI recently warned of the danger of right-wing extremist groups. The Whitmer kidnap “complaint proves, in stark and chilling detail, that the FBI was absolutely correct to sound the alarm.”

The right cheesesteak

In 2003, Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry ordered a cheesesteak “with Swiss” in Philadelphia. He wound up narrowly winning the state but for some, his decision to replace the obligatory Cheese Whiz was unforgivable, noted David Thornburgh, the son of a former Republican governor of Pennsylvania and the head of a nonpartisan good government organization. When it comes to local customs, “as a Scranton native, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden would seem to have an advantage here,” Thornburgh wrote.

After 2016, most Americans know that the winner of the national popular vote isn’t automatically guaranteed to win the presidency: state electoral votes determine the winner. So, our political commentary team, headed by Yaffa Fredrick, is putting a special focus on the swing states that will likely determine the outcome.

Swing state voters aren’t a special species of Americans, wrote Justin Gest. “Despite the high stakes that bring these swing states to everyone’s attention, three major political dynamics reveal the way they are just as extreme, just as polarized and just as interconnected as the rest of the country.” The voters there aren’t necessarily more moderate, undecided or demographically distinct from other Americans.

These states just happen to have fairly equal numbers of partisans from each side.

Here’s more on the swing states:

Kathleen Dunn: Trump’s Covid failure is top of Wisconsin Democrats’ minds

James Wigderson: Trump’s one hope to win Wisconsin

Christine Flowers: Why many Pennsylvania voters still like Trump

Michael A. Nutter: Why Pennsylvanians should support Biden

Robert Alexander and David Cohen: How Donald Trump could win the presidency — and have Kamala Harris as his VP

Don’t miss

Thomas Lake: The grocery manager, the anti-maskers, and the one thing he wouldn’t say

Richie Hofmann: Nobel reminds us why Glück’s poetry matters now

John Covach: One minute and 42 seconds of Van Halen’s guitar transformed music

Kate Andersen Brower and Kate Bennett: ‘First Ladies’ recap: Michelle Obama, the one and only

Kate Andersen Brower: Professor FLOTUS? How Jill Biden would redefine what it means to be first lady

Issac Bailey: Lindsey Graham’s big political miscalculation

AND …

The Candidate

These days Robert Redford has been thinking about the 1972 film “The Candidate” and the character he played.

“Bill McKay is running for the US Senate from California,” Redford wrote for CNN Opinion. “At the end of a televised debate, McKay is prompted to give his closing statement. He veers off script — casting aside the careful messages his consultants had crafted — and speaks from the heart. ‘I think it’s important to note what subjects we haven’t discussed,’ he says. He mentions race, and poverty and urban blight. ‘We haven’t discussed any of the sicknesses that may yet send this country up in flames.'”

Those words resonate in 2020, he noted.

“Maybe it’s too much to suggest, at the peak of a presidential campaign, that we have a serious discussion about burning rainforests or understaffed long-term care facilities. Complex problems don’t make great campaign issues. They don’t rally your base; they don’t get people to the polls (or the post office). But these are not subjects that are going to patiently wait their turn, that are going to hang back in line until we’re ready to talk about them.”

In addition to its insight into the dynamics of a campaign, “The Candidate,” had a killer closing line (spoiler alert). McKay, the idealistic son of a former governor, is guided by advisers to soften some of his views and comes from behind to beat an incumbent senator.

“When the campaign merry-go-round finally stops,” Redford wrote, “when the cycle of charges and countercharges finally ceases, we can turn to the subjects we haven’t discussed. And we can begin to answer the question that my character, Bill McKay, asks at the end of the movie: “What do we do now?”

Continue Reading