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The Weirdest 90 Seconds in Presidential History

Don’t cry for Donnie, America. The truth is, he never left you.
October 5, 2020
The Weirdest 90 Seconds in Presidential History
President Donald Trump salutes from the Truman Balcony upon his return to the White House from Walter Reed Medical Center on October 5, 2020. (NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP via Getty Images)

Donald Trump’s photo op on the Truman Balcony following his return to the White House with COVID-19 is one of the most disturbing, absorbing, foreign images I can recall. It does not appear to be of our time or place, and yet it is. With respect to the great painter George W. Bush’s view of the Trump inauguration, I think this has to be the weirdest shit I have ever seen in my life. If you haven’t seen it, just watch it now:

First, Trump takes off his mask, very strongly, very heavily. This is a man who is still on several experimental medications for a deadly virus that is highly contagious and spreads through the air. I guess he thought he would look “weak” with the mask? I would think that he would want to demonstrate that he has in fact “learned a lot” since contracting the COVID. But apparently when all of the infected geniuses from the West Wing put their heads together (over Zoom) to hash out what the optics of the president’s return should be, “lessons learned” came in a distant second to “übermensch.”

So we get a madman, his face pancaked under a 2mm coat of orange powder, jacked up on steroids, straining to breathe—and not caring a whit about those around him.

And I’ve got to hand it to him: Trump nails that image.

As the mask comes off the first thing you notice is the president’s complexion. After two consecutive video appearances that revealed his Immortan Joe old man pallor, the orangina is back. Trump has an extremely prominent make-up line that goes from his right temple down to his neckline, separating the orange from his peaked, natural tone. This is a change from his au naturel look at Walter Reed, which revealed him to be the sickly senior citizen he is—but also leant him a soupçon of humanity. For me, that was actually an upgrade. But I freely admit that I am not his target demo.

It is unclear how this transition came to pass. Maybe when Trump was airlifted to Walter Reed, his make-up kit got left behind. Or maybe, once isolated, the president didn’t know how to put his own makeup on by himself? I imagine his makeup artist or unfortunate comms staffer, trying valiantly to explain to Trump how to apply foundation over Zoom, while the president fumbles, the whole time bleating about how stupid it was that other people wouldn’t want to touch his face due to his viral load.

Whatever the case, free of medical oversight, the Bad Orange Man was back and his next move on the balcony was to attempt to put his mask in his pocket very aggressively. It took him five or six tries. You can see him wince and get quite flustered.

After Trump successfully disposes of the mask, he takes two deep breaths to center himself before the still shots. Very deep breaths.

Then he points at someone off camera, giving them the get out of here sign. (Ask Chris Christie. He knows all about it.) Then he takes two more deep breaths—with another wince as if he had broken ribs. After that he spends quite a while trying to button his jacket.

The drama builds to one mammoth, labored breath. The type of breath you would take if you were a child who was about to enter into a competition in a swimming pool over who could last the longest underwater without drowning.

That heave gave him the stamina to move into a dramatic extended salute lasting 23 interminable seconds. He salutes with D-list caudillo energy, channeling an aging Pinochet or Trujillo in their last gasps of power. Throughout the salute he holds an aggressive glare. Then he steps back and looks deep into the distance. Fully embracing his posture as the leader of a death cult, Trump turns and enters the White House. Without a mask.

The coup de grâce (for whom, we won’t know for a couple weeks), is Trump moving into an extremely congested, spittle-filled soliloquy—straight to camera—about how our Dear Leader may well now be “immune” from the deadly virus that has killed 210,000 and which is currently inhabiting his lungs, and his White House.

The show must go on.

Where, exactly, the rest of us go from here, I cannot say. What feats Republican senators will be asked to perform alongside Trump to prove their commitment we cannot guess.

But in the words of Jim Jones, “Mr. Trump tried his best to give you a good life. In spite of all that he tried, a handful of our people, with their lies, have made our life impossible.”

Tim Miller

Tim Miller is The Bulwark’s writer-at-large and the author of the best-selling book Why We Did It: A Travelogue from the Republican Road to Hell. He was previously political director for Republican Voters Against Trump and communications director for Jeb Bush 2016.