Tom Nichols: With each briefing, Trump is making us worse people
Then, in response to a reporter’s question, Redfield said, “I’m accurately quoted in The Washington Post.” He took his seat. The president looked satisfied, leaving us only to imagine the gruesome Oval Office struggle session that must have preceded the CDC director’s appearance in the pressroom.
The next day’s briefing, on Thursday, became an instant landmark in the history of presidential utterance. Instead of counseling “malice toward none” or warning against the “fear of fear itself,” as other—some would say lesser—presidents have done, President Trump let his mind wander over to how the coronavirus might be outfoxed on surfaces with disinfectant and UV rays from the sun. This time he was appearing with a scientist from the Department of Homeland Security who has been studying the subject.
Then Trump had an idea. (It happens.) “And then I said [presumably to the scientist], supposing you brought the light inside the body, which you can do either through the skin or [horrible pause] some other way, and I think you said you’re going to test that too. I see the disinfectant that knocks it out in a minute, one minute. And is there a way we can do something like that by injection inside or almost a cleaning?”
The quote is a bit long to fit on the Trump memorial that—some would say—may one day adorn the National Mall, after the future President Bieber signs the authorizing legislation. But his words had tremendous power nonetheless, sending countless Americans to bed with nightmares of Clorox enemas. And dreams of sunlight too, of course. We’ve all known that President Trump was big on flattery, but it turns out that he really does want to blow sunshine up our ass.
Yesterday’s 5 o’clock briefing started around 5:40 and provided only anticlimax. Maybe the president knew better than to try to top himself. With the vice president and the head of the Food and Drug Administration joining in, Trump released a blizzard of numbers—most of them very happy numbers indeed: declines in new cases, for example, in New York and Louisiana.
Few public speakers reveal their disdain for prepared remarks more than our president; it might be a reflection of his well-known disdain for the written word. With a text in hand, written by some faceless factotum, Trump’s voice falls into a phlegmatic purr and his heavy-lidded eyes remain glued to the page. Only when he wants to throw in his own two cents does his voice take on the more familiar animated tone.
Read: Trump is building a dystopia in real time
I enjoy the obiter dicta much more than the recitation, partly for the mysterious questions they raise, partly for the mental chaos they suggest. “We ask every American to maintain vigilance in hygiene and social distancing and voluntary use of face coverings,” he read sleepily. “It’s exciting to see.” And then whoosh! Out flies the errant, incipient thought: “We have a lot of talent involved, from governors down to people that just stand there and help you with the doors.”