On Friday evening, Americans will get to watch President Donald Trump undergo a “medical evaluation” on television, during—what else—Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show. So far, what we know about Trump’s health has come from his doctor, Sean Conley, who has admitted to purposefully downplaying his illness. The public has otherwise been left to make guesses based on Trump’s appearance in public addresses and his behavior in tweets, as well as data and first-hand knowledge from 212,778 nationwide deaths on how a COVID-19 infection can be manageable and then suddenly become disastrous.
You probably know better than to take Trump’s word—or the word of a carefully orchestrated media appearance on Fox News—that he’s doing just great. The evaluation will reportedly not even happen with a doctor who is with Trump in person. It can’t possibly involve much more than some questions! (Update, 8:43 PM: It was just some questions, if you will, an interview.) Marc Siegel, the medical doctor leading this stunt, knows better, too. Before he went on to become a Fox News contributor who downplays the pandemic, he once wrote for Slate on the very topic of how Trump’s health issues will probably be obscured.
Even if something rough were happening to Trump, “it doesn’t mean that we the public will know everything about it,” wrote Siegel back in January 2017, just before Trump was inaugurated. “In fact, we almost certainly won’t.” Siegel offered a convincing illustration that quite a lot can be kept from the public when it comes to the president’s health, noting that “there is a long history of camouflaging presidential health issues.” In 1919, for example, President Woodrow Wilson had a stroke that left him partially paralyzed, partially blind, and bedridden—all without the knowledge of the American people, thanks in part to the White House doctor who “participated in the cover-up,” Siegel wrote. Other covert maladies included John F. Kennedy’s secret steroid injections, along with Franklin Roosevelt’s surgeon correctly predicting he’d die in office.
One of the problems is simply that a person with access to stylists, makeup artists, and other professionals can look in better shape than they actually are. “Certainly, he appears on video to be healthy,” Siegel said on WYNC’s The Takeaway in fall 2016, when Trump refused to release his medical records. “But look, that’s part of the problem. I don’t think diagnoses or diagnostic impressions or speculations should be made [based] on video.”
Siegel concluded in his piece for Slate that “if [Trump] does experience health issues, despite the brightest media lens, we still aren’t likely to know the full scope of them, at least not right away.” You heard it here, from the man who will be wearing the doctor coat tonight.
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