Answer: Spectacularly ignorant and misleading.
As you know, I love fake history about the Presidents, a specialty on CNN. Add to this the feature that Atlantic contributor and former Bush speechwriter David Frum–he’s also a prominent NeverTrumper, as are virtually all former members of the Bush camp—had his gratuitous ad hominem attack outburst on CNN’s “Reliable Sources,” fake media ethicist Brain Stelter’s reliably unreliable bias-fest, and debunking Frum’s blather is like Christmas morning for me.
Let’s get to it, shall we?
Here’s what Frum said:
“One of the ideas that Donald Trump tried to spread in 2016 is that Hillary Clinton was somehow physically incapable of managing the presidency. It’s audacious, Donald Trump was the oldest presidents ever, one of the fattest presidents ever, the least physically capable president since Franklin Delano Roosevelt was in a wheelchair…He can’t pick up a ball, never mind throw it. But he was able to put in the minds of tens of millions of people the idea that Hillary Clinton, who is a very vigorous woman in good health, was somehow too sick to be president.”
First up, Frum’s mischaracterization of Hillary’s health issues. She had episodes of uncontrolled coughing fits throughout the 2016 campaign, and actually collapsed during a 9/11 event in New York while suffering a bout of pneumonia. Then she lied about it, until video made it necessary to admit she was ill. When a candidate tries to cover up the truth about her health, her health becomes a legitimate issue. This would be true no matter who the candidate was.
Another easy one is Frum’s absurd remarks about how Trump can’t pick up or throw a ball, wherever that came from. This is the kind of statement that would be defamatory if it wasn’t about the President—I’m up on my defamation law after having to defend myself against a defamation suit for the past two years. That’s the kind of inherently slanderous allegation that suggests unrevealed sources or evidence that the listener has no access to, when in fact such evidence doesn’t exist, because the claim is malicious and false. The President is constantly criticized for playing golf—and he cheats at it, according to Mike Bloomberg’s billboards—but he can’t pick up a ball? What proof does Frum have that Trump, who played baseball as a young man, can’t throw a ball now? Frum made all that up.
Now comes my favorite part, Frum’s claims about where Trump fits in the spectrum of Presidential health. As a starting point, all that matters is that a President is healthy enough and able enough to do his job, and by the evidence of the results so far, that’s not a problem. The health of other Presidents have been a problem for them in discharging their duties, as we shall see.
The oft-stated point that Trump was the oldest President at the time of his election is true, but misleading. He was 70 when he was elected, but the significance of age is relative, as well as what constitutes “old” in our society. The average life expectancy of a white male in the US today (and in 2016) is just under 80; if you make it to 70, your life expectancy jumps into the mid-80s. Many Presidents before Trump were well over the nation’s life expectancy for their demographic group when they were elected, including all of the 19th century Presidents, who were relatively “older” than Trump.
In fact, it wasn’t until 1920, when Warren G. Harding was elected, that a President wasn’t over the average mortality age, and Harding was right at it: 54. He also died in office, three years later. Herbert Hoover became the first US President to be elected at a younger age than the average age of death for white males, in 1928. After that, no American President has been elected after he reached the average morality age.
Is Trump one of the fattest Presidents? No doubt about it, but he’s also in a group of hefty Presidents who were all about the same degree of obese. Here is a chart of the fattest Presidents as measured by their body mass index, which admittedly is a blunt instrument, not distinguishing between muscle mass and fat:
So it is fair to say that Trump is in the top 25% of overweight Presidents, and who cares? Of the porky POTUSes on the list, only Zachary Taylor wasn’t able to complete his term, and there is no evidence that his weight had anything to do with his demise. Among the Presidents ahead of Trump on the fat list is Theodore Roosevelt, who nobody ever dared call “fat” when he was running amuck across the political landscape, not while he was climbing mountains and seemingly in perpetual motion. In short, that part of Frum’s rant is pure cheap shot.
I’ll debunk the best part of Frum’s garbage in Part 2.