BOSTON (CBS) – President Donald Trump said early Friday morning that he has tested positive for coronavirus. COVID-19 is a nasty disease. For Trump haters, the news of his infection is a test of their basic humanity; e.g. “I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.”
But just as they should suppress their bile and wish him well, so too should Trump lovers acknowledge that his jaw-dropping decisions to deride and downplay basic anti-virus health precautions like mask-wearing – thus encouraging millions of followers and his closest allies to do the same – rank among the worst any leader has ever made.
Here’s his exchange with Joe Biden at Tuesday’s night debate:
Biden: “Masks make a big difference. His own head of the CDC said if we just wore masks between now, if everybody wore a mask and social distanced between now and January, we’d probably save up to 100,000 lives. It matters. It matters.”
Trump: “And they’ve also said the opposite.”
Biden: “No serious person has said the opposite. No serious person.”
For starters, it’s inexplicable.
Back in early April, when the CDC first suggested mask wearing to prevent spread of the disease, Trump’s response was not to encourage it. “This is voluntary. I don’t think I’m going to be doing it.”
Why? Vanity and self-branding.
“I just don’t want to be doing — I don’t know, somehow sitting in the Oval Office behind that beautiful resolute desk, the great resolute desk. I think wearing a face mask as I greet presidents, prime ministers, dictators, kings, queens — I don’t know, somehow I don’t see it for myself.”
By mid-May, as the spread was accelerating and amid mounting criticism of his maskless campaigning, Trump had concluded that masks were a personal affront. After a tour of an auto plant, he said “I wore one in the back area. I didn’t want to give the press the pleasure of seeing it.”
And by mid-August, while falsely claiming that “my administration has…urged Americans to wear masks, and I emphasized this is a patriotic thing to do,” the president still could not resist the urge to contradict what by now was solid medical evidence of the efficacy of masks. “Maybe they’re great, and maybe they’re just good. Maybe they’re not so good.”
During this time, as the casualties mounted, Trump held indoor rallies and reportedly intimidated White House staff into going maskless at work. When pressed, Trumpworld’s go-to pushback was to point to a March 8 interview with Dr. Anthony Fauci in which he said “people should not be walking around with masks.” You can read his full comments for yourself here but the short version is that health care workers were scrambling to get masks then and the ability of asymptomatic people to spread the virus was not understood.
Within weeks, Fauci was urging mask-wearing along with other staple precautions (also routinely ignored by Trump) such as social distancing. And even as polls show a near-majority of Republicans share the view of huge majorities of independents and Democrats that masks are an essential precaution, antipathy to masks remains gospel in right-wing netherworlds.
Misguided vanity, political paranoia, reflexive dismissal of science – these are the dysfunctional behaviors that led the president to make this hideous, unforced blunder, and place him, his loved ones and supporters – not to mention everyone else exposed to extra risk by them – in unnecessary jeopardy.
Will voters punish him for that?
I’m reminded of Trump’s infamous remark during the 2016 campaign that “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters.”