An Opportunistic Infection

by Robert Magrisso, M.D.

The Republican Party has been a sick, dysfunctional body for a long time. Denying reality and living within a narrative of its own creation, it cannot really participate in national governance and it cannot recognize its own illness. Donald Trump is the opportunistic infection that comes in the terminal phase. A weak bacterium that normally lives innocuously in the colon suddenly becomes a pathogen when the body is so weakened. It is political sepsis we are witnessing. I hope we have the strength as a nation to resist but it will require some painful soul searching on the parts of many who seem to have lost their souls.

Every physician knows that when the body is weakened by disease, very often the final, terminal illness is an opportunistic infection. The immune system, which protects against the myriad of bacteria, viruses and fungi to which we are routinely exposed, but can easily fight off, is so weak, that otherwise innocuous bacteria becomes potentially lethal.  In the 1970s when I was doing my internal medicine residency, one rotation was at a VA Hospital.  The veterans who had started smoking during World War II had so much lung cancer that there was one ward just for lung cancer patients.  It was always full and there would be deaths daily. As trainees, we routinely did so called “fever work ups” on patients with a fever.  This included blood cultures, which were looking for bacteria in the blood stream.  Almost everyone who died of lung cancer, had positive blood cultures terminally.  They technically died of sepsis due to pneumonia rather than the lung cancer itself.

I bring this up because Donald Trump has seemed to me to be an opportunistic infection, infecting the Republican Party and, by extension, our entire body politic.  The Republican Party has been ill for a long time.  One could date the nomination of Sarah Palin for Vice President of the United States as one clearly visible sign.  Her incredible unqualifiedness, born out by subsequent history, was like seeing visible skin rash reflecting deeper pathology.  President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney may go down as the worst executive pairing in modern history.  The Tea Party wing of the party is reactionary in the extreme, having no ideas to meet the challenges of the 21st century, interconnected world in which we live but simply reacts against anything the Democrats support.  Ungrounded in basic facts, lost in narrative of their own creation, they have nothing constructive to offer any thinking person.  The business wing seems only interested in preserving and extending its power and using that power to keep intact or extend its share of the pie.  The disconnect between what the party says, its rhetoric and its actions is so great as to make one seriously wonder if mental illness diagnoses apply.  At some point, the people who voted Republican were going to realize this and they weren’t going to move to the Democratic Party. 

So we have a weakened party.  We have a dysfunctional government due to this weakened party.  There is no sound leadership in the party.  The nominees for President did not, in my opinion, include a single qualified person.  This is the weakened political body, a body susceptible to an opportunistic pathogen.  Donald Trump is someone who never in the past would be taken seriously as a presidential nominee.  He is like the bacteria in your colon.  They have a place, a necessary place in the scheme of things but not in government.  He is a self promoting businessman of questionable success, an entertainer, an insult artist, a narcissistic joke actually.  But now, he is dangerous to the weakened political body and he can’t be stopped.  Taking his script from the demagogue playbook, he has preyed upon the fears, distrust, betrayals of people.  When I read how the Republican leaders have tried and failed to stop him, I can’t help but think that they have been the disease that has weakened the body.  Even if one is a “liberal” or Democrat, one needs a strong, relevant Republican Party.  A party who has serious ideas, who really cares about the people of this country, who is aware that the world has changed and is not trying to turn back time with different ideas than the Democrats would be great. 

Hopefully, the American people as a whole are a healthy enough “body” that can destroy this pathogen and new health can be restored.  However, how many other nations have had demagogues take power when their political body was sick?  Just as having an opportunist terminal infection is the oldest way to die (think of the time before antibiotics), getting a demagogue to take over is the oldest political solution of a diseased body politic.

Robert Magrisso, MD

This paper was referenced by Dr. Tom Lavin in Episode #17

Special thanks to Dr. Magrisso for allowing publication of his paper on this website.