Read: The probable outcomes of Trump’s diagnosis
Trump’s silence and the rapidly changing descriptions of his condition only underscore his sudden absence from view. The president has made himself such a consistent presence in American lives, tweeting through every controversy, at all hours, and never missing a chance to weigh in—that the roughly 14 hours of silence (as of this writing) feel monumental. (When Trump went 46 hours without a tweet in June 2017, it made headlines; his posting frequency has actually increased since then.)
Even when Trump is in his personal quarters, he tends to tweet incessantly. He seldom sleeps for long. Many reports have said he likes to sit in bed watching TV and tweeting. If the president is on bed rest, he isn’t using it on his normal pastime.
The silence is all the more remarkable because Trump so values the appearance of vigor. At several moments in the past year, the president has appeared physically shaky—struggling to drink out of a glass, or to descend a ramp—at times when he is, ostensibly, healthy. Trump has bristled at any questions about his health, in part because he has invested a great deal of effort in spreading the message that his opponent, Democrat Joe Biden, is not fit enough to hold the office. (Voters seem to have largely rejected that message.)
David A. Graham: Trump’s denial has now produced what he feared
Trump also has a long history of issuing dubious claims about his health. As my colleague James Hamblin writes, the president has released next to no substantive information about his health. In November 2019, he made a sudden and still-unexplained trip to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. A recent book by the New York Times reporter Michael Schmidt stated that Pence was told to be on standby to assume the powers of the president. (In response, Trump denied having a series of ministrokes—a claim Schmidt had not made, which only drew attention to the possibility.)
During the 2016 campaign, Trump released a letter from a doctor assessing his health that would have made the North Korean news agencies blush. The doctor who signed it later said that Trump had dictated the letter himself. In 2018, Trump’s physical listed his height as an inch taller than the year before, a number that combined with listed weight to place him just below the threshold for obesity.* An announcement of the results by Ronny Jackson, a Navy officer and the White House physician, was so over-the-top that it raised new questions about how true it could be.
Jackson has since left that role (after a failed nomination as the secretary of veterans affairs and allegations of questionable conduct), and is now almost certain to enter the House as a Republican from Texas next year. Apparently without reexamining Trump, Jackson tweeted that the president was “asympto[ma]tic” and “has NO comorbidities.” News reports swiftly cast doubt on the first claim, and the second appears at odds with the public record.