Trump’s Barefaced Deceptions
He won’t wear a mask, fearing it will project weakness and defeat. Who does he think he’s fooling?
Ms. Cottle is a member of the editorial board.
· May 12, 2020
Masks are once again a hot topic.
Don’t worry: Their latest star turn doesn’t involve some new culture war clash over how much protection masks provide, when they should be worn or whether, as some of the more excitable , they are a .
Rather, it seems masks are finally getting some respect at the White House. On Monday, the White House Management Office requiring all of the staff to wear masks while inside the West Wing except when working at their own desks. Visitors will need to cover their faces as well.
The increased precautions came after two White House aides last week: one of President Trump’s personal valets and Vice President Mike Pence’s press secretary, Katie Miller. Both had spent significant time inside the cramped, crowded West Wing. Both are now in quarantine — as is Ms. Miller’s husband, Stephen Miller, who is one of the president’s closest advisers.
Also over the weekend, of the coronavirus task force — including pandemic heartthrob Dr. Anthony Fauci — went into self-isolation after having been, as Mr. Trump breezily put it, “in the general proximity” of an infected staff member.
Separately, of the military Joint Chiefs of Staff decided to self-quarantine after possible exposure. One, Gen. Joseph Lengyel, the head of the National Guard Bureau, initially had for the coronavirus on his way to a meeting with the president on Saturday. General Lengyel’s second and third tests came back negative.
Mr. Pence, perversely, is — though Mr. Trump has said he’ll be keeping his distance from the vice president. Further precautions were unnecessary, the White House said, because Mr. Pence has so far tested negative for the virus.
No matter. The pandemic has , and . “It is scary to go to work,” Kevin Hassett, a White House economic adviser, “Face the Nation” on Sunday.
Monday’s mask directive, of course, . After all, the primary purpose of a nonmedical mask isn’t to protect the wearer but rather those around him or her, not exactly a top priority for Mr. Trump. Still, it was a notable reversal — and surely a painful concession — by a president who has long made clear his anti-mask bias.
In early April, while announcing the from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that masks be worn in public spaces, Mr. Trump made clear he would not be taking his own administration’s advice. “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.”
Aides have said that Mr. Trump’s resistance stems in part from . From a health standpoint, this is ridiculous. But it comports perfectly with the warped logic of Trumpian machismo: Masks are for the weak — read: losers — and he is all about strength.
The president’s apologists are happy to peddle this line. “What Trump is really doing is projecting American strength and health at a time when strong leadership is needed,” The Federalist . Noting the importance of “optics,” the article contended that a single photo of a mask-clad Mr. Trump “would signal that the United States is so powerless against this invisible enemy sprung from China that even its president must cower behind a mask.”
But in fact Mr. Trump is increasingly desperate to strong leadership because he has so utterly failed to strong leadership.
Polls show that a majority of Americans of the president’s unsteady handling of the pandemic. And even as his administration pushes to reopen the economy, its internal data indicate that the worst pain is yet to come. As social-distancing restrictions are lifted, the daily death toll in the United States is to around 3,000 by June 1.
To distract from this grim reality, Mr. Trump is going full carnival barker, minimizing the public health risks and all but declaring victory. “In every generation, through every challenge and hardship and danger, America has risen to the task,” he on Monday. “We have met the moment and we have prevailed.”
Not yet, we haven’t. Not even close.
Mr. Trump is peddling a fantasy world where he has wrestled the invisible enemy into submission and America is now poised to “” — a perplexing phrase he promised we are “” in the coming weeks. In his candy-coated dream, there is no room for anything so unlovely as masks, which serve as a jarring reminder that all is not well and is unlikely to be anytime soon.
So it was that until this week, Mr. Trump’s mask aversion extended well beyond his person, echoing throughout the White House. Top aides generally eschewed them, as did those who attended meetings with the president or appeared at his daily public briefings. Certainly, Mr. Pence internalized the message, doing public appearances barefaced even after causing a minor scandal by declining to mask up during his last month, explicitly violating the hospital’s policy. Mr. Pence apologized for the infraction, before settling back into masklessness.
Now seems a good time to note that the Republican governor of Iowa is currently in a “” after doing public appearances with the vice president on Friday during his visit to the state.
At his Monday briefing, Mr. Trump : “How can you assure Americans that it’s safe to go to their workplaces when the most secure workplace in the country, the White House, cannot contain the spread of the coronavirus that has infected some of your own staff?”
The president rejected the question’s premise, claiming that the quick response to “one person” testing positive just shows how well the system is working. (It was unclear which of the two infected aides he does not consider a person.) He said of the virus, “I think it’s very well contained, actually.”
It isn’t, actually. Not inside the White House, much less in the country at large. Mr. Trump knows this, and his growing panic to pretend otherwise cannot mask the truth.