The only thing of which we can be fairly certain about President Donald Trump’s mysterious Saturday afternoon trip to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center is this: The White House is not telling the truth when it claims the president was there “to begin portions of his routine annual physical exam.”
We know this because — well, because those people lie about pretty much everything.
And the compulsion of Trump and his team to contradict the obvious reality that we see with our own eyes is particularly egregious where the president’s health is concerned.
Who could forget the fables from his personal physician, Harold Bornstein, who released a letter in 2015 assuring the nation that an overweight 70-year-old man with a lifetime of bad eating habits and an aversion to strenuous exercise would be “the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency?” (Bornstein later said Trump himself had dictated the letter.)
Then there was the miraculous growth spurt that occurred between the issuing of his driver’s license in 2012 and his physical in 2018, which reportedly added an inch to his height. That exam also allowed him to come in exactly 1 pound short of being classified as medically obese at a reported 239 pounds. By 2019, however, Trump had added another four pounds and crossed the line.
So now the oldest president in U.S. history claims the purpose of his two-hour medical visit, which was not on his public schedule, was to conduct “phase one of my yearly physical. Everything very good (great!). Will complete next year.” Phase one? What does that entail? Has anyone else ever taken a routine physical in installments spread out over months? Has he signed up for some kind of quirky flexible spending plan with his insurance?
There is, of course, a long history of presidents being less than honest with the country about the state of their health. Grover Cleveland had secret surgery aboard a yacht in the summer of 1893 to hide the fact that he had a tumor on the roof of his mouth. Americans had no clue that Woodrow Wilson’s 1919 stroke was so severe that his wife, Edith, was effectively running the country. In the summer of 1944, the Democratic Party nominated Franklin D. Roosevelt to an unprecedented fourth term, despite the fact that only weeks earlier doctors had written a letter predicting he would not survive to see the end of it. (He died nine months later.) In 1957, a press aide in Dwight Eisenhower’s White House told reporters that his stroke had been a “heart attack of the brain,” a phrase the press dutifully reported, as though that was somehow less alarming. Nor did the nation know in real time that the youthful and vigorous John Kennedy had a life-threatening case of Addison’s disease, or how close Ronald Reagan came to dying by an assassin’s bullet in 1981.
But medical privacy is something that should not be granted the most powerful person in the world.
As Trump embarks on his effort to convince us that he deserves another four years in office, Americans should demand something more than what they are getting, starting with a briefing from the physicians who treated him at Walter Reed.
“Oh, the rumors are always flying,” his press secretary Stephanie Grisham said Saturday night on Fox News. “He’s as healthy as can be.” Could we please have a second opinion on that?
Karen Tumulty is a Washington Post columnist covering national politics.