Donald J. Trump has informed aides to think about day-after-day of his administration as an episode in a television show.
That manufacturing, it seems, doesn’t take sick days.
The president’s diagnosis and treatment for Covid-19 has unfolded as TV drama, a few of it beautiful, some baffling — and a few of it crafted by Mr. Trump’s personal producers, in a surreal however attribute try and attempt to wrangle management of actuality via photos.
On Friday night, viewers noticed presumably essentially the most placing helicopter liftoff from the White Home garden since Richard Nixon’s after his resignation. Broadcast and cable cameras strained for an angle as Marine One collected the president, affected by the illness that has paralyzed the nation below his management, and carried him via the golden-hour gentle to Walter Reed Nationwide Navy Medical Middle.
Inside hours, the White Home started counterprogramming. At 6:31 p.m., Mr. Trump’s Twitter feed — eerily silent since his announcement early that morning — posted an 18-second video of the president, in swimsuit and tie, thanking well-wishers.
The message of the video got here not a lot within the phrases the president mentioned than in the truth that he was standing whereas saying them. Whilst Mr. Trump was evacuated to Walter Reed, photographs had been prime of thoughts. An administration official said that it was higher for Mr. Trump to board that helicopter on Friday, whereas he may very well be seen strolling on his personal, than later, when he may want help.
The remedy of the president for a doubtlessly lethal illness would, for any administration, be a public-relations problem in addition to a well being disaster. However that’s exponentially extra so for a reality-TV superstar who has constructed his political picture on claims, nonetheless questionable, of machismo, vitality and vigor.
That is the president who, in 2016, contrasted himself with Hillary Clinton by continuously touting his “stamina”; who went on “The Dr. Oz Show” to boast about his testosterone ranges; who informed his workers to take off masks because they looked weak; who tagged his opponents with epithets — “low-energy,” “liddle,” “sleepy” — meant to model them as weak and thus him as an enormous, sturdy man.
Now, within the final month of a re-election marketing campaign, he was hobbled by the very pandemic that he had notoriously played down. How badly hobbled was no clearer after a bobbing-and-weaving on-camera press briefing Saturday by the White Home doctor, Dr. Sean P. Conley.
Had Mr. Trump been given supplemental oxygen in remedy? Not this morning, Dr. Conley mentioned with a decent grin. Had he ever? Not this morning. (He had on Friday, Dr. Conley acknowledged on Sunday, including that he had been attempting to current an “upbeat angle.”) How lengthy had the president been sick? How extreme had been his signs?
Dr. Conley’s responses had been just like the Subtraction Stew in “The Phantom Tollbooth”: The extra helpings he served, the extra starved we had been for solutions. It didn’t assist that he was contradicted by the president’s chief of workers, Mark Meadows, in off-the-record remarks that he started by asking to go off the file in front of live TV cameras.
As a substitute of readability, we received extra photos. Saturday night on Twitter, Mr. Trump posted a new video, seated open-collared and maskless at a desk with neatly organized binders and papers.
He was paler than standard and at one level appeared to gulp down a cough or spasm, however he spoke for 4 minutes, thanking his medical workers and seeming to defend his conduct — typically mocking Covid precautions — earlier than changing into contaminated.
For a president identified to observe replays of his TV appearances with the pontificate, the props had been extra essential than the textual content. A desk, not a mattress; a collar, not a robe; binders, not medical charts.
Later that night time, the White Home launched extra official photographs of Mr. Trump soberly trying on the identical array of papers in two totally different rooms. “Nothing can cease him from working for the American folks,” his daughter Ivanka wrote, posting one photograph on Twitter. “RELENTLESS!”
It isn’t clear what Mr. Trump was signing, in the midst of the web page, in a single photograph, or if the papers had been the truth is even official paperwork. However you could possibly not dispute that he was at work, as a result of for this president, creating photographs has all the time been the work.
Mr. Trump’s chief enterprise success — playing the role of a businessman on “The Apprentice” — was produced with the information that the signifiers of labor (a soundstage boardroom, stage-designed conferences) had been extra highly effective visually than precise work.
He carried this lesson with him after his election, posing with a stack of manila envelopes at a information convention to symbolize the paperwork concerned in his enterprise, posing at a Mar-a-Lago concierge desk, Sharpie in hand and staring into the center distance, “writing my inaugural address.”
Late Sunday afternoon, the president tweeted one other video. Within the upbeat type he as soon as used to introduce “Apprentice” challenges, he described his hospitalization like an investigative task — “that is the true college; this isn’t the let’s-read-the-book college” — and promised a shock.
Shortly after, he was briefly driven past a crowd of cheering supporters outdoors the hospital, a present of enthusiasm that appeared as a lot for the affected person’s profit as for the guests’. (And definitely not for the advantage of the protecting element contained in the presidential S.U.V. with a Covid affected person.)
Even in a severe well being disaster, the president is hewing to the assumption that it’s higher to look good than to really feel good. His profession is proof that photographs are highly effective. However they don’t seem to be antiviral. They could stave off the political penalties of a virus and its dealing with. However they don’t imply something to a pathogen with out eyes or ears, nor can they substitute for details about it.
For the remainder of us, watching the fog and hypothesis of an unsettling weekend, actuality nonetheless issues. All of the appearances and pictures solely underscored how a lot we didn’t learn about what the president’s precise medical situation was. And naturally, given the capricious course of this illness, we can not regardless know his prognosis but.
However in illness or in well being, the present should go on.