WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump is killing me.
No, really. He’s killing me.
I went for my annual physical last month, and, for the first time in my 49 years, I had to report that I’ve not been feeling well: fatigue, headaches, poor sleep, even some occasional chest pain. My doctor checked my blood pressure, which had always been normal before: alarmingly high!
What could this mean? I don’t smoke, I’m not obese and I swim most days. The doctor hooked me up to electrodes and ran an EKG; it was normal. He suggested I try an ultra-low-sodium diet, and I spent a few weeks living on unsalted rice cakes, undressed salads and unappealing entrees; the pressure dropped a few points, but not enough. We could pretty much rule out sleep apnea and other things that can cause a spike in blood pressure. My doctor had me take a calcium CT scan of my heart, which filled me with enough radiation to melt s’mores but turned up nothing terrible.
At this point, I arrived at a self-diagnosis: I was suffering from Trump Hypertensive Unexplained Disorder, or THUD. For almost five decades, I had been the picture of health, but eight months into Trump’s presidency, I was suddenly ailing. Trump is the only variable, I told my doctor. “He sure is variable,” my doc replied, endorsing the diagnosis.
I know THUD is a real condition because I have a scientifically valid sample to prove it. I told my editor about my new medical state, and he reported that he, too, has been newly warned by his doctor that his blood pressure has become borderline, and things could go either way. Sort of like with the “Dreamers” (although in my editor’s case, dealing with me may be the primary cause of illness).
I also know THUD is real because I performed a longitudinal study to test my hypothesis. I bought a blood-pressure monitor and strapped it around my biceps at various points during the news cycle:
I am spending the evening with friends. Blood pressure: 116/67.
Trump says he is going to respond to North Korea with “fire and fury.” Blood pressure: 150/95.
I’m at home with the kids. Blood pressure: 117/69.
Jeff Sessions says they’re scrapping the DACA program: 137/92.
Trump agrees with “Chuck and Nancy” to avoid a debt-limit fight. Blood pressure: 122/81.
I remember that Trump’s term lasts another 40 months. Blood pressure: 159/97.
I have a strong suspicion that THUD is a widespread phenomenon. Psychotherapists tell me that they are unusually busy and that most clients are talking about Trump, who is exacerbating whatever neurosis, depression or other conditions they had. This is probably quantifiable, but I am too fatigued to do this work. My heart can only take so much.
It stands to reason that THUD is less pervasive in parts of the country that supported Trump: rural areas, the South, the industrial Midwest. Americans here are probably suffering no deleterious effects on their health as a result of Trump’s election. Indeed, they may be feeling much better, collectively, as a recent epidemic of Obama Derangement Syndrome subsides.
Trump may be making blue America sick, but he is not causing health conditions to deteriorate in red America. Barack Obama famously spoke of spreading the wealth. Trump is spreading the health.
This, then, may be the essence of Trumpcare. He isn’t improving health for anybody. But by making health worse for those who live in parts of the country that opposed him, he is equalizing the health of all Americans. He is uniting us in infirmity.
An article published this last week in the American Journal of Public Health finds that life expectancy in the United States closely follows voting patterns in the 2016 election, with Trump winning the most support in counties with the lowest gains in lifespans.
Jacob Bor, an assistant professor at Boston University, found that in counties where life expectancy rose by less than three years since 1980, there was a 9.1 percentage point increase for the Republican share of the vote between 2008 and 2016. In counties where life expectancy rose by more than seven years since 1980, there was a 3.5 point increase in the Democratic share.
Call it the health gap – and Trump is closing it, by making those in blue America ill.
Happily, I have addressed my case of Trump Hypertensive Unexplained Disorder in its early stages, and my doctor has started me on blood-pressure medication. My prescription is renewable until January 2021, at which point I expect it will no longer be medically necessary.
Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter @Milbank.