Most people admitted to the hospital are grateful if the staff makes them healthy. In President Donald Trump’s case, his doctors and top aides wanted to make him happy. Trump left Walter Reed National Military Medical Center this week even though he’s still sick, vulnerable to a relapse, and spreading the virus with each maskless exhalation. He resents perceptions that he’s frail and weak, and so his team fed the illusion that he’s vital and strong. Advisers arranged a triumphant car trip around the hospital so that he could wave to fans, exposing Secret Service agents to needless risk.
“What he really doesn’t like is being portrayed as ill, weak, or sick,” a senior administration official told me. “He decided to show everyone he was okay.”
By staging photo ops and a video of his premature return to the White House, Trump’s staff again seemed to cater first to the president’s emotional needs, rather than the country’s interests or even his own health. Trump craves adulation, and to succeed in his administration, aides have to make sure he gets it. This practice began on day one with a lie about Trump’s inauguration-crowd size and has become so ingrained in West Wing operations that aides have routinely sent him reports filled with ego-stroking tweets, news stories, and transcripts of cable-news commentary. As the pandemic took hold, Trump denied its severity, and a cadre of advisers indulged the delusion. “Because he was never properly loved, he requires attention and submission,” Mary Trump, the president’s niece and a fierce critic of his, told me. “He requires not ever being contradicted.”