What politician would neglect to don a mask on a visit to a factory producing masks? That’s like refusing to eat a deep-fried Twinkie while campaigning at the Iowa State Fair.
That person would be Donald Trump. I bring it up because not wearing one isn’t a tic, like Obama wearing dad jeans or Nixon pouring ketchup on his cottage cheese. It’s a tell, Dr. Trump’s way of signaling that he knows more than the entire health-care community. That the COVID-19 scourge is over when he declares it is. Likewise, that the economy will resume when he says it will.
To that end, he trusted the mask-free Jared Kushner, his obedient son-in-law who knows even less than he does, to form a shadow task force and muck up getting supplies with volunteers as inexperienced as the four college interns running White House personnel. The person who didn’t bring peace to the Middle East and oversaw the disastrous government shutdown edged out the even more servile Mike Pence, whose stubborn refusal to mask up while visiting coronavirus patients at the Mayo Clinic prompted Mother Pence to make up an excuse for it to avoid the obvious one that he’s afraid to offend the boss.
We don’t know about Trump’s personal valet who just tested positive for the virus, but I’m going to take a wild guess that like every person seen in and around the West Wing, he didn’t wear one either.
What’s amazing about Trump’s resistance to anything that suggests the doctors are right is how he still wields such asymmetric power despite his now obvious manifest incompetence in dealing with a once-in-a-century pandemic, knock on wood, that will likely have killed 100,000 Americans before the end of May. It will take history to sort out how many of those deaths were preventable, but we already know it’s enough to break the country’s heart.
Under Trump’s unified command, we’re about to be conscripted as warriors in Trump’s campaign to get the economy up and running and trying for some kind of herd immunity, which would work, if at all, only if the virus proves to be like the measles, and not like, say, a recurring sickness like the flu requiring yearly vaccination. About 80 percent of the country would like to take two aspirin and call the doctor every morning to gauge when it’s safe to save the economy and their lives.
Yet with a shameful death toll 35 percent above South Korea, Trump proceeds undeterred, having compromised, if not defeated, the usual checks on presidential power. There’s no functioning Senate, little oversight from the House that Trump’s labeled a bunch of “Trump haters,” a judicial branch stuffed to the gills with new jurists chosen for their partisanship, and a press reeling from three years of constant attack and now from the virus as well. The president routinely bypasses them with the acquiescence of the networks because the only thing Trump doesn’t lie about is that he gets better ratings than The Bachelor.
As for justice, it isn’t blind. With eyes wide open and spine curved, Attorney General William Barr ended the case against Michael Flynn, even though he’d pleaded guilty to the charges against him. As servile as Michael Cohen was before he went to prison for it—but with the power of the Justice Department, not just the Trump Org, behind him—Barr eggs on armed protesters fighting for their right to get a haircut and spitting in the face of security guards protecting the state house of “the woman in Michigan.” In the same posture is Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, who departs from Trump only in his willingness to sit in the same room with Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the mean girl Trump won’t speak to even in a deadly crisis. Mnuchin pushed through a relief bill that left enough room for cronies, donors, Fortune 500 companies and probably Don Jr. to crawl through and pocket most of the money.
For their part, Democrats have wasted years waiting for the cavalry to show up and rescue them from an autocrat: first on independent counsel Robert Mueller, whose report was distorted beyond recognition before anyone except Barr could read it for themselves; then on an impeachment that never had a chance of winning a conviction with the GOP Senate blocking witnesses and the Chief Justice letting them, and now on the election. Polls show Joe Biden well ahead but not so fast. Trump holds enough power to corrupt the election beyond 2016’s foreign interference and vigorous voter suppression. With the virus likely to make voters over 50 wary of voting in person, there can be no legitimate contest without mail-in ballots and Trump’s already blurted out he won’t have it. McConnell, his Senate valet, will devote himself to seeing that it doesn’t happen.
If this were a movie, it would fall into the horror genre with the audience shouting for the hero to call the police. But there’s no higher authority to block the unmasked man from reopening the country well before his own guidelines says it’s safe to. Dr. Fauci, our one hope, is soon to be composted under all the new members of the coronavirus task force that was briefly disbanded by Trump, until respected people told him how popular it was, so he decided to keep the name but reconstitute it more to his liking with fewer Faucis and more Kudlows advising Americans about how a pandemic is the perfect time to buy low.
You can be sure Rick Bright won’t be on it. He testified this week that he was pushed out of his job heading up the search for a virus vaccine because he wouldn’t drop everything to confirm that hydroxychloroquine is the miracle Trump and Laura Ingraham claimed it was. Nor the Centers for Disease Control director, Dr.Robert Redfield. His 17-page guide for the White House on how to open safely (and slowly) didn’t see the light of day. Since Redfield took the perp walk to the press room podium last month at Trump’s direction to recant a dissident opinion but didn’t, Redfield’s been among the disappeared, like so many others, including four Inspector Generals and much of his National Security staff who embarrassed Trump with the truth, purged in a way that would make a Soviet president blush.
Trump is so full of himself he got his Secretary of Interior to open the Lincoln Memorial for Trump to be interviewed, the second worst piece of theater the president who saved the union has ever had to endure. He violates social distance every time he appears, another way of saying, “I’m right and the experts are wrong.”
It’s a small thing to wear a mask but it means a lot, like the pots and pans banging in support of health workers changing shifts in New York. It says I am humbled by the virus, that I appreciate my neighbor wearing one and care enough to do the same. It’s a tacit acknowledgement that we’re all in this together because most of us resist saying something so sentimental out loud.
That’s nothing Trump would say or feel. No matter how many people crowd around the Resolute desk, violating social distancing, like the nurses invited Wednesday in honor of National Nurse Day dressed down for saying, euphemistically, that supplies of PPE were “sporadic,” he’s alone, whether at a pool spray substituting for the briefings that are just “not worth it anymore” or the rallies he can’t hold anymore that the briefings compensated for.
In the meantime, he throws around numbers of the dead like a sportscaster reporting scores at 11. He cites the most far out models of 2.1 million dead so he can put a hundred thousand bodies on the house. Anything under that justifies calling the job he’s doing “incredible.” It kind of is.