Alas, satire is dead, as of the second week of July 2020. Irony failed and exaggeration proved impossible when the president of the United States retweeted the medical opinions of former game-show host Chuck Woolery as ammunition in his weird war against National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony S. Fauci.
In 1729, Jonathan Swift satirized the exploitation of Ireland’s poor by offering “A Modest Proposal” that was anything but. Irish babies, he suggested, could be sold as delicacies for the banquet tables of wealthy British diners. Even savage Swift, however, couldn’t magnify the callousness of late-stage Trump. An average of 1,000 Americans dead per day since March 1 from the novel coronavirus. More than 1 million per week out of work, on average. In such a crisis, rather than rely on advice from the longtime head of the national institute on infectious diseases, the president promotes hogwash from the host of “Love Connection.”
Comedian Sarah Cooper caught the last car of the last train out of the dying empire of satire. She posts biting little videos to the Internet in which she perfectly matches her moving mouth to the president’s own recorded voice. Imagine that: The best way to skewer Trump’s mendacity and madness is simply to show his words emerging from the mouth of a sane person. He is the ultimate self-parody.
So I come not to satirize Trump but to note how completely unhinged the president is.
For much of his life, he steered by a polestar: his own naked self-interest. Under the pressure of civic responsibility, he has lost even that. Of all people, Trump should know the pandemic is real. Common sense says the novel coronavirus is costing his company millions of dollars — and may well cost him the White House. Yet while his staff spreads talking points to damage Fauci, Trump endorses the Woolery theory that “everyone is lying” about covid-19: “the CDC, Media, Democrats, our Doctors.”
Let’s stipulate that the finances of the Trump Organization are largely opaque, and often exaggerated. But they are not exempt from the law of gravity, which is pulling violently on just about every sector in which Trump operates. Hotels, high-rises, resorts, conference centers: They’ve all gone off a cliff. A leading authority in the hotel and travel industries put it this way when I asked: “There is not a single positive trend for the assets in the Trump portfolio.”
The Trump Organization’s flagship hotel in Washington — which the family sought to flip in the heady days just before the pandemic — sat mostly empty through the shutdown and remains far less valuable than it had been.
Trump Doral, a sprawling golf resort and conference center near Miami, was sucking wind even before the pandemic. Now, crickets. With Florida’s covid-19 case count soaring past 15,000 per day, businesses just aren’t in the junketing mood. Cratering revenue from weddings and charity balls at Mar-a-Lago forced the Trump Organization to furlough hundreds of workers, while the company petitioned Palm Beach County for a rent reduction at its nearby golf course. The problem of social distancing aboard elevators and in cubicles poses a major threat to the family’s investments in skyscrapers. And the collapse of international travel is a severe blow to their multimillion-dollar gamble on a trophy golf resort in western Scotland.
The president’s impulsive, unserious response to covid-19 has bollixed the nation’s business. Scoffing at masks and flouting social distancing, Trump undermined our best hopes for opening a parachute over the plummeting U.S. economy. Three of our leading economic engines — California, Texas and Florida — are struggling with the consequences of too many people emulating Trump’s reckless example.
And he’s botching his own business in the process. The law firms, financial planners and trade associations that might have booked meetings at struggling Trump Doral won’t be looking to Woolery for medical advice. They’ll be more interested in the views of David De La Zerda, director of the intensive care unit at Miami’s Jackson Medical Center, who told an NPR interviewer that the surge in cases filling his beds is both younger and sicker than his covid-19 cases in the spring.
Before the pandemic, Trump complained — without evidence — that serving as president was costing him “a fortune.” Now it is almost certainly true. By underestimating the problem and by failing to rally the country to a unified, medically sound response, he wrecked the economy and shot himself in the foot. Sadly, that’s no joke.
Read more from David Von Drehle’s archive.