Donald Trump’s gone and figured out one more way in which this election is rigged. It’s perhaps the strategy you’d least suspect, if you’re sane. He’s facing off against an opponent who’s supposedly pumped up on performance enhancing drugs.
This latest absurd claim about Hillary Clinton’s health meshes perfectly with Trump’s now well-established misogyny and offers another glimpse into his dark worldview.
“Athletes, they make them take a drug test. I think we should take a drug test prior to the debate,” Trump told his Portsmouth, New Hampshire crowd on Saturday.
I know something about false accusations of performance enhancement. I’ve called it out before.
I worked as part of Maria Sharapova’s successful defense team, providing evidence to the International Tennis Federation tribunal and then the Court of Arbitration for Sport that explained her medical background and health maintenance regimens. In considerably reducing her penalty for taking meldonium, a popular Eastern European cellular protectant sold without a prescription, the CAS ruled that under no circumstances can Sharapova be considered an intentional doper.
But intense scrutiny over everything you ingest is something professional athletes expect. It’s part of the game. When it comes to politics, allegations about an opponent’s health are almost always bald attempts to divert attention that the electorate should see right through.
The case Trump makes for Clinton’s being “pumped up, if you want to know the truth” puts his own health into more question than hers. Specifically, it’s Trump’s memory that’s faulty. “Cause I don’t know what’s going on with her. But at the beginning of her last debate, she was all pumped up at the beginning. And at the end it was all like, oh, take me down. She could barely reach her car,” he riffed.
Anyone who watched the last debate saw Clinton’s sustained energy throughout, and Trump’s claim she had trouble reaching her car clearly conflates the debate with Clinton’s famous wobble and near-fainting spell after the New York City 9/11 memorial ceremony.
The truth is there’s no performance enhancer that replaces doing your homework. If you don’t know the material, you can’t stand and deliver. Preparation always beats Adderall. That’s why Clinton has won both debates.
Trump, on the other hand, freestyles Clinton health conspiracy theories so much he can’t keep them straight. In a remarkable feat of tastelessness even for him, Trump actually re-enacted Clinton’s wobbling episode on stage. You can see the video here. Clinton had already disclosed her pneumonia diagnosis, completed treatment, and resumed campaigning without incident when that video was filmed. He’s taunting her with the same kind of schoolyard glee he deployed when imitating a disabled reporter back in November.
And that wasn’t the only time Trump mocked someone with a disability. The Daily Beast broke the story that Trump regularly demeaned an Apprentice contestant who’s deaf (the actress Marlee Matlin), making fun of her voice and describing her as “retarded.” Trump even made an insensitive comment to her Matlin’s face while the show was filming. She reportedly came back at him and “stood up for herself.”
That’s free-range Trump, or pre-campaign Trump, his professional handlers used to tell us. No more.
Previously the Trump campaign made attempts to clean up their candidate’s act for more highly produced aspects of the campaign, like meeting Mexico’s President, or delivering an important speech via teleprompter. That’s quite a lot of effort spent packaging someone who’s prone not just to reckless Twitter tirades but on-stage demagoguery that whips up his mobs into punching protestors.
But Trump is now unshackled. Backed into a corner over his degenerate behavior towards women, the whole Trump campaign organization getting into the gutter with their one-in-a-million candidate, future careers be damned.
The campaign’s decision to produce a slick ad centered on their Clinton health conspiracy theory represents a different kind of low than Trump’s typical stream of consciousness rants. A television advertisement doesn’t get made and released without many sets of eyes on it, and probably a focus group or two.
“Hillary Clinton doesn’t have the fortitude, strength or stamina to lead in our world” the ad gravely intones to video of her stumbling and coughing. Text at the end concludes, “Donald Trump will protect you. He is the only one who can.”
In order for the Clinton campaign to strike some equivalence with what the Trump campaign is doing, they’d need to film an ad with stock scenes of white powder in neat rows disappearing to the sounds of Trump’s debate sniffing. “How can Donald Trump lead in our world? He lacks the willpower. He only sleeps for 3 or 4 hours and then starts manically Tweeting at 3AM. Now we know why. Sniff. Trump needs rehab, not the White House.”
The concept that running for president is a contest of cholesterol levels, blood sugars and waistlines must end. We don’t pick our presidents by guessing who’s healthiest. This isn’t a livestock show. Yes you’ve got to be healthy enough to do the job. But everyone who demonstrates the physical ability to campaign across the country, as both candidates have, obviously meets that criterion.
I’m a doctor and I don’t care whether Donald Trump is healthier than Hillary Clinton. Nor should you.
Any president can be struck down by a new or previously undiagnosed condition, or by an accident (or worse, an assassination) at any time. That’s why we have vice presidents and a whole chain of succession.
This election isn’t about Hillary Clinton being successfully treated for pneumonia after embarrassingly collapsing on her way out of a public event. This election isn’t about Donald Trump being overweight, sleep-deprived, forgetful or entrusting his healthcare to a doctor that spent five minutes on his official health report to the nation.
We’re facing a choice between a candidate whose actions are constrained by her concerns for others, and a candidate who views such concerns as shackles. Donald Trump reduces Hillary Clinton to her moments of sickness, or recklessly claims she’s on stimulants, for the same reason he’s fond of assigning numerical beauty rankings to women.
The Trump campaign produced an ad showing the opposing candidate coughing and stumbling for the same reason Trump can’t stand soldiers who were captured, and thinks those who struggle with PTSD or depression must be weak.
Trump mocks disabled people and Hillary Clinton’s stumbling episode for the same reason he walks in on undressed teenage beauty pageant contestants.
Trump is a hollow man who operates not by the customs of civil society but by animal instinct. He grabs what he wants even that means violating another person, because he objectifies people and strips them of their complexity. Trump will elevate you for your beauty as easily as he will step on you for your illness. The man is as empty as his rhetoric.