Trump lies about a lot of things. But we need to know the truth about his health

The tradition of releasing the medical records of presidents exists for a reason – to assuage fears of electing someone unfit for a relentlessly demanding position

Hannah Selinger
New York
Monday 18 November 2019 17:15 GMT
White House denies issues with Trump's health

Over the weekend, President Donald Trump was admitted to The Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for an unscheduled visit. The president – who has also lied an unprecedented number of times since taking office (The Washington Post estimates the current count to be around 13,500) – asserted that this visit was an ordinary part of his annual check-up regimen. But officials close to the White House have argued that an unannounced medical visit from a sitting president is far from ordinary. As CNN reported, this visit "did not follow the protocol of a routine presidential medical exam, according to a person familiar with the matter."

Why does this matter? In some ways, it's just another lie in a pool of many, and to distinguish this dishonesty from all of the president's other ones is to distinguish it as somehow more important. But Trump's lack of transparency about his health is more important than many of his other failings of truth.

For one, Trump has a history of manipulation when it comes to disclosing his medical past. When he ran for president, his personal physician, Dr Harold Bornstein, pronounced his health thusly: "If elected, Mr. Trump, I can state unequivocally, will be the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency." This was an obvious lie. At the time, Mr Trump was nearly 70-years-old and visibly obese. Given the fact that the average American male lives to 78, it stretches credulity to trust that Mr. Trump could have possibly been the healthiest of 45 American presidents, since he was also the second oldest to be elected.

Now, as we round the bend on another election year, the American people deserve to know if their incumbent president suffers from issues regarding his acuity or, more seriously, any of his major organs. Our lives depend on his ability to make decisions on our behalf, and his decisions depend on his body and its ability to survive. At his age – 73 – Mr Trump is susceptible to all manner of ailments, from dementia to cardiovascular disease. Any major health issue is sure to factor into his daily work life. And when your daily work life includes running the most powerful country in the world, the citizens who elected you (and those who didn't) deserve to know about it.

President Trump does not believe in disclosing anything about his personal life to the American people, which he has made clear time and time again. Unlike most presidents before him, he failed to release his tax returns. Now, under compulsion to do so by the House Oversight Committee (and a federal judge), he has opted for appeal over revelation, which speaks volumes about his dedication to candor.

And although he should release his tax returns, what those returns inevitably reveal may be far less important than what his medical records do. If the president has laundered money, or avoided paying his taxes, or committed a criminal act, those are all serious issues – and we deserve to know about them, too. But, at the end of the day, Mr. Trump's financial dealings do not affect his decision-making in any fundamental way. His financial dealings, as unethical as they may be, do not inform the everyday workings of the presidency. Hauntingly, his health does.

By now, we already know Donald J Trump to be the president who disregards presidential tradition. Some of his supporters are most entranced, in fact, by the president's unorthodox approach to politics and the American rules of governance. The truth about his medical life, however, paints a far darker portrait about the dangers of dishonesty in public office. How can we possibly know that we are safe in the hands of our leader when we know nothing about our leader's capabilities? How can we trust that the throes of disease – either mental or physical – will not compel him to make a terrible decision that influences every single one of us?

This is why the grand tradition of releasing medical records exists: to assuage the fears we hold that we may be in danger of electing someone unfit for the demanding, relentless position of the presidency.

Is the president healthy as a horse, as his camp consistently suggests? As much as I dislike his politic and policy, I certainly hope so, for nothing is more dangerous than a weakened force that speaks for a nation. Still, it bears repeating: Trump's lack of transparency when it comes to his own health should concern every single American, for our lives are touched by the decisions he makes, both in sickness and in health.

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