David Frum’s assertion that President Trump is one of the “least physically capable” Presidents only shows that his knowledge of the Presidents is an inch deep and about as wide….or, in the alternative, that he knows what he is saying is false but is counting on the public’s ignorance of history and CNN’s complicity in gratuitous Trump bashing to get away with it. Well, at least on Ethics Alarms he’s not going to get away with it.
Let’s look first at Trump’s predecessors after FDR. Recall that Frum’s statement was that Trump is “the least physically capable president since Franklin Delano Roosevelt was in a wheelchair.”
- George H.W. Bush, tough old bird that he was, dealt with more health issues as President than Trump. He suffered from bleeding ulcers, arthritis, atrial fibrillation and the autoimmune disorder Graves’ disease.
- John F. Kennedy was a sick man throughout his short term in office; he just had his staff and reporters cover it up. His 1947 diagnosis of Addison’s disease, an incurable disorder of the adrenal gland, was kept secret until well after his death. JFK’s chronic back pain caused him to develop an addictions to painkillers, stimulants, and other medication; historians suspect that he made important decisions while “bombed out of his mind.”
- Dwight D. Eisenhower had three major medical incidents during his two terms in office: a heart attack, a stroke, and Crohn’s disease. Saying Eisenhower was more “physically able” than Donald Trump is either gross ignorance on Frum’s part, or a lie. Of course, Stelter couldn’t correct him, because he’s an idiot, and wouldn’t correct any false attacks on President Trump anyway.
Going back before Franklin Roosevelt (who was beyond question the least physically able President in history when he won his final term in 1944, since he was dying of heart disease and worse, knew it; it had nothing to do with his whellchair) we have a veritable Presidential intensive care unit. Let’s skip over Harding, who suffered his whole life from anxiety and emotional problems, and who had undiagnosed heart problems that ultimately killed him, and go to the runner up champ of physically disabled Presidents, Woodrow Wilson. Afflicted with untreatable (then) hypertension, Wilson was plagued by chronic headaches and double vision until he had a series of strokes. One affected his right hand, leaving him unable to write normally, then more serious strokes rendered Wilson blind in his left eye, paralyzed on his left side, and eventually unable to discharge his duties as President. This was hidden from the public and Congress, with his wife and his doctor handling most of Wilson’s presidential tasks.
President Taft, as we all know, was morbidly obese at well over 300 pounds, and as a result suffered from sleep apnea (he dozed off during meetings), high blood pressure, and heart disease. Teddy Roosevelt managed to exude health with his ostentatiously vigorous lifestyle, but he wasn’t healthy. TR battled clinical depression his whole life, and despite what you will often read, he never overcame his childhood asthma. He was also diagnosed with a heart murmur, and advised to live a sedate life. He did not.
This may well have contributed to the fact that he was dead shortly after his 60th birthday.
In addition to being the second most obese President, Grover Cleveland suffered from many maladies while President, most notably cancer, necessitating a secret operation that replaced his upper palate with a rubber prosthetic. My favorite obscure President, Chester A. Arthur, was ill during his entire three years in office, and died shortly after. He had progressive kidney failure from Bright’s Disease.
Before Arthur, the previous physically-limited President was, surprisingly, Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln was another depressive, but his symptoms probably had a physical cause: likely permanent brain damage from being kicked in the head by a horse when he was young. Lincoln also had malaria flare-ups, and got smallpox during the Civil War. He may have suffered from mercury poisoning from pills that were frequently prescribed at the time. Abe’s photographs indicate drmatic weight loss and muscle wasting during the war, and some doctors believe he was afflicted with multiple endocrine neoplasia type 2B (MEN2B) or Marfan syndrome, rare genetic disorders, although he lived longer than either of those conditions usually permit.
Two Presidents before Lincoln we had poor, broken Franklin Pierce in the White House, perhaps the most disabled of all. He spent his entire, disastrous term in office in deep depression following the horrible death of his young son before his eyes in a train accident as his family headed to Washington after his election. Pierce’s wife Jane was never the same after teh accident, and Pierce’s alcoholism became intermittently debilitating.
Donald Trump, as you probably know, is a lifetime abstainer from alcohol.
Jumping past Presidents Taylor and William Henry Harrison, neither of whom were sufficiently physically able to last a single term before succumbing to illness (Taylor less that a year and a half, Harrison about a month), we finally reach the all-time champion of unhealthy Presidents, Andrew Jackson.
When he finally won the Presidency at the age of 62 (after having been robbed of victory four years earlier), Old Hickory was plagued by the lingering wound from two of his less successful pistol duels. One bullet was lodged in his arm, where it festered and gave him chronic pain. ( This bullet was finally removed when Jackson was President) A second bullet, lodged in his chest near his lung and heart, was considered inoperable. It caused serious pulmonary problems and caused Jackson to cough up blood periodically. The bullets also caused lead poisoning.
Jackson was seriously underweight, and there was a good reason for that: his digestive tract was permanently damaged. He suffered from recurring flare-ups of malaria, typhoid, typhus and dysentery, progressive heart failure, and some sources say he had tuberculosis as well. Like Lincoln, Jackson was poisoned by mercury pills given to him by his doctors.
I think I’ll stop with Andy, the President that Trump most identifies with, and justly so. There is more than sufficient evidence that David Frum didn’t know what he was talking about, and that CNN allowed him to misinform its viewers by adding fake history to its usual fare of biased and fake news.