We’ll learn more of the President’s health in coming days. Unfortunately, the paucity of official information out of the White House gives rise to endless speculation by medical observers, none of whom have direct contact with the case.

It’s a pattern we have come to expect from this most disingenuous of administrations. Much of what comes out of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. is intended to deflect journalistic inquiry, thwart accuracy and avoid the most important part of a democracy – accountability to the public.

The same could be said of the administration’s COVID-19 policy, which has been to duck and cover from responsibility for overseeing the nation’s health. They’ve denied the pandemic. Passed it off onto the governors of afflicted states. Refused to invoke federal authority for supply of PPE, testing equipment or contact tracing.

The President has lied from the outset, admitting as much in taped interviews with Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward. More importantly, a White House panel assembled to deal with the pandemic was undercut week after week. Donald Trump made a circus of the media proceedings. He pretended to be authoritative when he had no idea what he was talking about, mocking health care professionals like Drs. Fauci and Birx when they implored the public to take precautions. He even suggested a series of snake-oil cures (bleach, hydroxychloroquine) that would have done more damage than help.  

When confronted about this White House aides claimed Trump was “joking.” A man with no sense of humor never jokes; never laughs at himself; never admits failure. Small wonder that a public health research panel from Cornell University named Trump “the single largest driver of misinformation around Covid.”

That finding was released the same day that Trump revealed he had tested positive for the virus. Two days earlier at the first presidential debate he mocked Joe Biden for wearing a mask all the time. While he made the claim his family sat there in the studios of the renowned medical facility, the Cleveland Clinic, in open defiance of ground rules for the event – that people in the small audience would stay masked. The Biden entourage, by contrast, remained covered properly.

The dismissive attitude towards masks has been a consistent theme of the Trump Administration and the Republican Party, both congressionally and in state capitols. Medical experts agree with virtual unanimity that mask wearing is basic to risk reduction. Yet following Trump’s example, it has become a partisan issue in which wearing masks and staying socially distant stamp you as a wimp and a weakling.

When you combine contempt for others with neglect of self you end up with some wicked consequences. This entire electoral season, Trump’s mass gatherings have downplayed the need for attendees to be masked and attacked Democrats for insisting otherwise.  That’s been true both indoors, as in Tulsa on June 20, and most recently outdoors at Duluth, Sept. 30.

For all the measures taken to protect the President’s safety by the Secret Service, the White House has been scandalously reckless when it comes to taking basic precautions against the virus. Aides in the crowded corridors of the West Wing have rarely donned masks and are discouraged from doing so by the work culture. At a gathering in the Rose Garden last Saturday to announce the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to Supreme Court associate justice, administration officials mingled closely, entirely maskless.

Apparently, they did not just exchange pleasantries. Among those in attendance and sitting up front who subsequently tested positive for the coronavirus are Trump and his wife, Melania; senior counselor to the president Hope Hicks, campaign manager chair Bill Stepian; former White House aide Kellyanne Conway; and Republican Senators Mike Lee (Utah) and Thom Tillis (North Carolina).

Others with recent contact to Trump directly in close quarters who subsequently tested positive are Ronna McDaniel, Republican National Committee chair; Republican Senator Ron Johnson (Wisconsin); Chris Christie, who coached Trump for the first debate; and three members of the media.

The self-disregard goes hand-in-hand with contempt for others. Even after learning that his closest aide, Hope Hicks, had tested positive, and even as he started feeling symptoms that would lead him to take a virus test later that night, Trump flew to his eponymous golf club in Bedminster, N.J. and mingled with several dozen donors at a fund raiser. Thirty-six hours later, contact tracers were still waiting for a list of attendees.

Indeed, if early reporting is accurate, it might well turn out that he knew of his own positive test before flying off to Duluth, before returning on the plane with his advisors, before attending the fund raiser in New Jersey, two days before informing the press, Joe Biden or the next in line in succession after Pence, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.

The most elemental job of the President is to protect U.S. national security. There are many ways to define that, but they surely include the physical health and well-being of the U.S. populace. When you cannot even provide that in your office, your home and your most immediate surroundings, you cultivate a crisis of confidence.

Extend that circle out to the nation as a whole and it becomes obvious why mistrust and suspicion of the administration have reached such extreme levels. It imperils the timing of the Senate hearings on the Supreme Court nominee. It shows contempt for Constitutional procedure. It betrays blatant disregard for the health of Biden. And it conveys how little respect he has for his own aides, donors, followers and family.

News of Trump’s exposure to the virus simply confirms what many of us had thought. He is unable to meet the most minimal standards of the job. The hope here is that he makes a quick and full recovery so that he can face the electoral wrath of the public in a month.

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  1. Bradley Klein Reply

    Thanks, Bob. I always worry about being too heavy handedly political here, or at least to doing it too often. Unavoidable these days, I suppose.

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