Though it is yet to enjoy the endorsement of the UN, or the approval of the Supreme Court, the greatest human right of all is the right to self-abuse. Mankind, divided in so many ways, is nevertheless bound together by its desire to ride lawnmowers at speed, or take selfies on cliff edges, or eat bats, or jump from appalling heights out of planes.
The right to self-abuse, as costly as it is, will never be legislated out of existence. It cannot be willed away either. It is exercised by the wise and the ignorant in equal measure; by the poor, the slightly less poor, and the rich too. As long as there are human beings, there will be men who find it amusing to eat a cactus.
Does the President have the same right to do the Stupid Thing as the rest of us do? The reaction to Trump’s decision, publicized this week, to treat himself with hydroxychloroquine during the season of the virus, suggests he does not. ‘I take it,’ Trump said of the notorious anti-malarial drug. ‘So far, I seem to be OK.’
Nobody else was OK with it. Joe Biden, having successfully fought off a flock of geese earlier in the week, said: ‘This is absolutely irresponsible.’ Chuck Schumer called the decision ‘reckless’. Nancy Pelosi, wiping ice cream from the corners of her beak, took the opportunity to make a fat joke. According to Vox, the President’s pill-popping was ‘terrible behavior’. The late-night hosts pretended to be upset.
Trump outrage cycles like this one are founded on an enormous lie. It goes like this: the President sets the moral tone for the Republic. As head of state, Commander-in-Chief, and frequent congratulator of college football champions, what the President decides to do, no matter how unimportant, becomes an example to everybody else. Every Boy Scout Jimmy and Girl Scout Jane takes their ethical cue from the White House, and so do their parents. If Trump — or any other President for that matter — jumps off a cliff, so jumps the nation. Republicans did this with Bill Clinton in the 1990s, now Democrats do it with Trump. It’s nonsense.
In fact, it’s a textbook failure to understand how citizens relate to their heads of state. After all, do the good people of Thailand look to their moral disaster zone of a King to guide their every action? Did Frenchmen learn to keep mistresses from the residents of the Élysée Palace, or are residents of the Élysée Palace usually bog-standard Frenchmen? Nobody in Britain — not in 900 or so years of hereditary monarchy — has ever thought it a good idea to ape the habits of whichever foreign gang has temporarily seized the throne.
Really, the proper way to judge the success of a head of state is how much colorful copy they generate. Trump, like George IV, or the Emperor Commodus, has done wonders for his nation’s sense of the ridiculous, the bank balances of its satirical performers, and the wider public’s appetite for scandal. Those in politics and the media who believe that Trump, or any other president is a role model, rather than a glorified zoo animal, are being deliberately obtuse. This presidency is a joke they don’t understand, which means the joke’s always been on them.
More than a world leader or a role model, Trump is, of course, a billionaire. Here is the proper context for his use of ‘the hydroxy’. The bizarre proclivities and flagrant self-abuses of America’s billionaire class will be written about by some future Seutonius in the manner of his The Twelve Caesars. As power magnified the weirdness of the emperors, wealth multiplies the strangeness of our capitalists.
Elon Musk’s eccentricities are legend. There is every chance he will be the first man to boldly go to Mars, then die of starvation there. Jeff Bezos, richer than any other person in history, has squandered his zillions on surgeries and sartorial choices that have left him looking exactly like Pitbull. Peter Thiel drinks blood and owns most of New Zealand’s South Island. So many ultra-wealthy people want to vault over death via cryonics that figures as different as Woody Allen and Don DeLillo made art out of it, 40 years apart. Dropping the ’droxy is actually at the normal end of the billionaire scale.
The White House produced a letter from Sean Conley, physician to the President, which didn’t even explicitly say that Trump was taking the anti-malarial drug. It’s entirely possible that he isn’t. But if Donald Trump really is taking hydroxychloroquine, and you don’t understand, that’s OK: it just means you’re not rich enough.
See the full story of Trump’s hydroxychloroquine kick is a billionaire quirk on Spectator USA.