From the medical point of view, the White House is a Covid-19 outbreak site: this is now confirmed. Not only Donald and Melania, but also the closest advisors to the president, Kellyanne Conway, Hope Hicks, Bill Stepien, along with three Republican senators. Mike Lee from Utah, Thom Tillis from North Carolina and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin have tested positive for the virus. The infected include the president of Notre Dame University and a number of staff members. (The virus had already claimed the life of Herman Cain, a former presidential candidate who died a few months ago after attending a Trump rally in Oklahoma.)
The heart of the Empire is as virus-ridden as an Alabama retirement home.
Now, the world wonders what will happen, but, of course, no one can answer: it all depends on Trump’s condition, which could easily worsen (he is 74 years old, weighs over 240 pounds and may have high cholesterol), but could also improve thanks to the excellent care he enjoys.
What is certain is that his campaign will stop for at least two weeks, and there could not have been a worse time for him: there are less than 30 days until the elections, and in many states voting by mail has already started. Of course, his collaborators will continue to run the propaganda machine, but Trump has always been a one-man-show, a celebration of the cult of the strongman, a mystical connection with the crowd. And this has always been the reason why he has refused to wear a mask: nothing should affect the image of physical strength of the strongman. However, as Marco Belpoliti wrote about Berlusconi, “the body is also a destiny, and not just a propaganda weapon,” and fate caught up with Trump at the very moment when he needed the body most.
A strong, energetic body, a full head of hair, even if fake, a dominant stature: in the history of American presidents, being taller than average has always been an advantage since the time of George Washington, who towered over his contemporaries with his six feet two inches.
Trump’s entire entrepreneurial career has been based on exploiting his name: his skyscrapers were called Trump Tower, his golf courses were called Trump Golf Course, and the fake university where he cheated the naive by promising to turn them into successful businessmen was called Trump University (an adventure that cost him $25 million between fines and refunds for the scam). But what interests us here is the fact that since 2015, he has turned his body into a political icon, the ostentatious symbol of energy and health that only grew in contact with his supporters.
First as a candidate and then as president, Trump never stopped looking for direct physical contact with his fans, offering himself as an embodiment of their values, their problems, their contempt for a corrupt and quarrelsome political class (Giuseppe Mammarella talks aboutthist in his new book Dove Va L’America). This physical contact, together with Twitter, has revolutionized the stale rules of American electoral campaigns, which used to be based on TV commercials and lukewarm messages addressed to the average voter. The 2016 campaign showed that you can insult not only opponents, but also women, ethnic minorities, the disabled and even war heroes, as long as you do it in the name of “real Americans,” obviously male and white.
And this year, Trump not only ignored or minimized the epidemic, but continued to refuse to wear a mask, to keep his distance from other people or to follow the rules on public meetings: even in last Tuesday’s debate in Cleveland, his sons and co-workers sat in the room without masks. The social cost, to date: 210,000 Americans dead and millions infected.
Naomi Klein said that the White House should now be treated as a “crime scene,” the place where a massacre took place, in which the perpetrator was also the victim in the end.
In 1025, Conrad II, King of Italy and Emperor, threatened the inhabitants of Pavia, who, on the death of his predecessor Henry II, had looted the palace, which had remained without an owner because the king was no longer there. Corrado answered: “The king is dead, but the kingdom remains, just as the ship remains when the helmsman dies.” It was perhaps the first and clearest expression of what would later be called the “king’s double body”: a mortal physical body and an immortal political body. But later, Mussolini and Hitler identified their bodies with their regimes, which uncoincidentally collapsed within a few days after the physical deaths of the Duce and the Fuehrer.
The right-wing leaders of our century, from Bolsonaro to Boris Johnson and Trump, did the same, showing off the identification of physical health with political fortune, bragging about their achievements, exhibiting wives and lovers, producing children as a certificate of virility (Bolsonaro has five, like Berlusconi, Boris Johnson and Trump). But biology has its rights, and Covid-19 came threateningly close to taking its toll on the first three: we will see what will happen to the fourth, by far the most dangerous of the group.