More than 3,000 American died from the coronavirus on Wednesday, when Rudy Giuliani walked out of Georgetown Hospital flashing a thumbs up, looking better than the last time we’d seen him, sweating hair product. He resisted going in, but says the president told him, “Don’t be stupid. We can get it over in three days if we send you to the hospital.”
For once, he wasn’t stupid and joined Chris Christie and Ben Carson, both a little old and out of shape but who, nonetheless, miraculously recovered. There could be others among the 53 infected in the White House hotspot, but they are too discreet or embarrassed to say so.
It’s not divine intervention that saved Rudy. It’s Trump’s medical pardons at work. For the chosen, there’s no waiting for care. At the first symptom, you can check into the hospital of your choice. Others, gasping for air, face overwhelmed facilities where they might linger for hours on a hallway gurney, or, in places like Reno and El Paso, qualify for a bed in a numbered spot in a converted parking lot. But Friends of Trump, after arrival, are offered a presidential cocktail of scarce monoclonal antibodies administered in hospitals intravenously.
It took Rudy to reveal the two-tiered system, although it was obvious to those already grappling with scarcity. The New York Times reported that in Utah, administrators have developed a ranking system, like the ones for organ transplants, of those most likely to benefit from Regeneron’s monoclonal antibodies. But who would that be: the leader of the free world, for sure. A Cabinet secretary, a former governor, or mayor? Donald Jr. or Eric? A less slippery slope exists at the University of Colorado hospital, which adopted a lottery. Dr. Arthur Caplan, one of the country’s leading bioethicists, said dispensing the antibodies is simple: “It shouldn’t be whether you’re Trump’s friend or you’re rich. We already have a system that favors them. It should be (about) who needs it most.”
An ideal world is blind, but in the one in which we live, the powerful and the rich—who’ve become $931 billion richer since the virus arrived—are different from you and me, with second homes, tutors, staff to brave exposure doing errands, and jobs that can be done anywhere, including the beach. The not-so-rich are totally exposed, suffering, while Republicans in the Senate have such fear of giving incentives not to work to the unemployed that they don’t want to give them any help at all. Our two-tiered society creates another problem: the privileged lead others to risk infection with their show-off behavior, spreading the myth that the virus is no big thing, because—look at them—it isn’t! They’re in the pink of health in a few days’ time.
But taking behavioral cues from the president and his coterie with their concierge care is foolish. Go to Sturgis on a motorcycle, to church to sing, to Thanksgiving dinner for 20, and you’re on your own. Trump sets the worst example, crowing how easy it was to beat COVID in the interest of not letting COVID beat his beautiful economy.
Wednesday night, although everyone must know by now what a superspreader Trump is, hundreds gathered inside, faces bare, droplets spraying as they talked over the roar of the crowd, ready to eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow they won’t die. Trump says so. It didn’t disturb those celebrating Hanukkah that after attending similar festivities there last Friday, Giuliani’s assistant Jenna Ellis, the lawyer from Fox TV and traffic court, tested positive. I doubt she’s getting the Trump treatment— six degrees of separation is about five too many for the president to cross.
She’s likely coping on her own like another group, the unwilling exposed: the valets, Secret Service agents, drivers, housekeepers, and military aides who have jobs, not positions, in and around the compound. As with anyone stricken, Ellis and Rudy deserve our sympathy, but with this one tiny caveat: They asked for it. The day before he fell ill, Rudy was in full denial, haranguing a lawyer next to him at a hearing to remove her mask. He scolds politicians for closing bars because “COVID-19 is a treatable disease,” and for him it is. That’s part of the job, and he feasts on it. The West Wing waiter, the first to get COVID in the White House, asks only to serve the president his cheeseburgers and have his test return negative in the morning.
By Thursday Rudy was back in Georgia trying to overturn the election, having eluded the virus that’s taken the lives of 290,000 others. Trump’s damage is incalculable; nearly a hundred 9/11’s that we don’t have walls high enough or parks large enough to memorialize, nor a president who notices.
The mystery of Republicans like Marco Rubio and Susan Collins and Rudy is that they used to be somebody. For government to work, people have to do the right thing when it’s not in their immediate interest, when doing so may be their only reward until history weighs in.
I shadowed Giuliani for a week after 9/11 when he (mostly) did the right thing. One day he asked for socks and so many socks arrived, he said to send money instead, but the socks kept coming, that’s how much the country wanted to follow him. Hard to believe but workers pulling double shifts got a second wind when he visited. By the time we’d get up to St. Vincent’s, hundreds of people would be trailing behind him. He hosted the fall season opener of Saturday Night Live, with a hundred first responders and Paul Simon on stage, and people laughed again. Wouldn’t he, at age 76, having glimpsed mortality alone in the ICU, want to find that person again? He doesn’t have to admit he was wrong all these past four years and especially these past four weeks. Having been granted another day, he only has to recognize what’s right and do it now.