Trump’s muddled pandemic response is unmasked by the COVID-19 virus itself, attacking his reelection chances and self-image. Nothing represents this failure more than, the mask.
Today the president confirmed that a member of the vice president’s staff tested positive to COVID-19. The staff member is Katie Miller, Mike Pence’s press secretary and wife of senior advisor to the president, Stephen Miller.
This follows the COVID-19 infection of a presidential personal valet whose duties include providing food and drink to the president and his family.
In a document entitled Recommendation Regarding the Use of Cloth Face Coverings Trump’s administration says:
“CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.”
But Trump and his administration have a conflicted and irresponsible relationship with face coverings.
The president and the first lady attended a WWII commemoration with seven veterans today. The youngest veteran is 96. Neither the president nor the first lady wore a mask, despite their possible White House virus exposure and its danger to elderly persons. Later in the day the president defended his action saying that he was very far away from the veterans.
“Plus the wind was blowing so hard in such a direction that if the plague ever reached them, I’d be very surprised.”
On Tuesday May 5th, the president toured a Honeywell factory, retooled to manufacture masks in response to the pandemic. He did not wear a mask (he wore goggles), despite a sign at the plant’s entrance requiring face coverings. Arizona governor Doug Ducey, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and the rest of the president’s entourage did not wear a mask.
The vice president toured the Mayo Clinic without a mask on April 28th, despite being told that masks are required on the Mayo Clinic campus. Food and Drug Administration’s Dr. Stephen Hahn, accompanying the vice president, wore a mask as did everyone else on the visit.
The White House Coronavirus Task Force announced new CDC guidelines stating that face masks should be worn in public on April 4th. At the press conference, the president said that he would not wear a mask.
“I won’t wear one personally. It’s a recommendation.”
White House press report that to date, no masks have been worn by White House staff or officials, despite a large workforce, tight quarters and close proximity to cabinet members, members of congress and the president. This is now likely to change. CNN reported that the president was “lava-level mad” at those around him for failing to protect him adequately against the virus when he learned about his valet’s condition.
But the president has created his own COVID-19 mask conundrum. On February 28th, he called the coronavirus “their new hoax,” referring to Democrats that he accused of politicizing the fledgling pandemic. Fox News personalities instantly took up the president’s dubious positions, claiming that the flu is deadlier than coronavirus, reported COVID-19 deaths are inflated, hydroxychloroquine is a valid coronavirus treatment, and that pandemic mitigation measures are deadlier than the disease.
Fox News guests and personalities have suggested that those most vulnerable to death by COVID-19 infection would be willing to make the ultimate sacrifice in order to support the economy. Yesterday, Fox’s Pete Hegseth advised healthy people to “have some courage” and become infected with COVID-19 to develop herd immunity in the US.
For the president, a mask equals weakness. But mask abstinence for himself and his White House flies in the face of his own CDC’s guidelines for protection against the virus.
And as much as image is a concern for the president, reelection is a primal need. The virus is crashing headlong into Trump’s ambition and the resulting mess is a mess of the president’s own making.
Now the virus has infiltrated the White House. The choice between vanity and health is inescapable for Trump. The president’s words and actions (and those of his media mouthpieces) are in indisputable conflict with the reality of nearly 78,000 US Covid-19 deaths and April job losses of 20.5 million.
A University of Chicago study entitled “Misinformation During a Pandemic” finds that viewership of Fox News’ Sean Hannity “is strongly associated with a greater number of COVID-19 cases and deaths in the early stages of the pandemic.”
Trump has his base, but fears he may not have anyone else. While Trump is cornered by his own muddled pandemic response, the question becomes whether Trump’s base is cornered by the same muddle.
Information for this article has come from the following sources: U.S. News, Business Insider, The Week, CNN, CBS News, NBC News, and Chicago Tribune.