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The president of the United States plays a doctor on TV. Again.
April 24, 2020

To be honest, my first reaction was: This cannot possibly be true, right? The president of the United States was not, in fact, suggesting injecting some unknown disinfectant like bleach into the human body? Surely, our timeline had not descended that far into madness and parody?

But, as you know, here we are. On the day before we hit the grim milestone of 50,000 U.S. deaths, the president mused from the podium of the White House about the magical curing powers of UV rays inside the body. During his briefing Thursday, he brought in “a top administration scientist to back up his assertions and eagerly theorizing—dangerously, in the view of some experts—about the powers of sunlight, ultraviolet light and household disinfectants to kill the coronavirus.”

And then? Let’s roll the tape:

“So, supposing we hit the body with a tremendous, whether it’s ultraviolet or just very powerful light—and I think you said that hasn’t been checked but you’re going to test it,” Trump said at one point. “And then, I said, supposing you brought the light inside the body, which you can do either through the skin or in some other way.”

Also, there was some talk about the clinical benefits of disinfectants:

“And then I see the disinfectant where it knocks it out in a minute—one minute—and is there a way we can do something like that by injection inside, or almost a cleaning?” he asked. “Because you see it gets in the lungs and it does a tremendous number on the lungs, so it would be interesting to check that.”

I mean what are we talking about here? Clorox cocktails? Suppositories that glow in the dark?

And you thought the Tide pod stuff was stupid?

Imagine, for a moment, being an actual scientist having to listen to this, knowing that you can’t just stand up and tell the drunk at the end of the bar to STFU.

To historians of the presidency, Trump’s performance brought back memories of that time when Woodrow Wilson suggested filling dirigibles with cow farts and sending them over the German lines. Or FDR‘s cunning plan to send infected gerbils into the sewers of Berlin. And who can forget when Abraham Lincoln suggested replacing battlefield nurses with leeches carried on the backs of rabbits . . .

But I digress, because history quails at coming up with parallel moments of pure bullshit.

This sort of thing utterly wrecks satire, because how do you write a parody of a caricature of a hoax about something this stupid? There’s seldom been a time with a greater need for a well-honed sense of the absurd, but admit it: it’s hard to laugh at what we know is ridiculous, but also pathetic and dangerous.

There were few critics who have topped H.L. Mencken’s dim view of political idiocy: “On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last,” he wrote presciently, “and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.”

But it would’ve broken Mencken to describe not just the idiocy of the president but the slavish turd-polishing claque will rush to his defense

Even as we speak, Breitbart has concocted a defense which insists that Trump didn’t say what he actually said because while, yes, the president used the word “inject” he also said that he would leave it to “medical doctors” to come up with the actual process. So see? Everything is cool because the president was only musing out loud. He didn’t release a paper outlining a bleach-injection procedure, so it’s all a hoax.

Other toadies are no doubt beavering away to find some reporter, somewhere, who also said something that was also dumb, so that they can say, “Samesies!” Of course, anti-anti-Bleachism is already a thing. And we should fully expect Salena Zito to magically overhear some swing-state voters talking about how they took the president’s bleach thing seriously, not literally.

But still:

It seems almost futile to point out what we just saw here because in a week—or 24 hours—we’ll have forgotten all about the bleach comments. The people who are willing to acknowledge what Donald Trump is will be right where we are now and the people who insist on pretending that he is not an ignorant, unstable, and dangerous man will continue to do so. After all, their livelihoods depend on it.

We’ll all move on to the next trial balloon, insult, tweet, mangling of scientific facts, and trigger-the-lib moment.

And Americans will keep dying.


Charlie Sykes

Charlie Sykes is a founder and editor-at-large of The Bulwark and the author of How the Right Lost Its Mind. He is also the host of The Bulwark Podcast and an MSNBC contributor.