President Trump and White House Imperiled by Own Culture of Invincibility
Throwing the Trump administration and campaign into turmoil, COVID-19 has struck the president, the First Lady, White House staff and key Republicans. The virus the president “downplayed” has imprisoned him for being a viral scofflaw. He can no longer attend rallies in person or shake hands or talk face-to-face with voters. He’s cancelled events.
The prime suspect for ground-zero infection of the White House is the Rose Garden ceremony last Saturday at which President Trump unveiled his new Supreme Court justice. This Saturday, we have learned the virus has infected others in the president’s inner circle, and it may have infected his nominee, Judge Amy Coney Barrett.
So far she tests negative, but it is simply too early to know for sure because the disease can take two weeks of incubation before it becomes detectable in some. Therefore, it is almost certain other names will be added to the list time goes on.
The who, what, where, when and how
All fingers point to the Rose Garden.
We know COVID-19 infected Trump’s spokesperson and advisor Kelly Ann Conway. We know it infected a handful of Republican Senators, some of whom sit on the Senate Judiciary committee tasked with approving or disapproving Justice Barrett. It infected Trump’s campaign manager, Bill Stepien, and another of the president’s spokespeople, Hope Hicks; and it infected the chair of the Republican National Committee, Ronna McDaniel, who spent a great deal of time with the president. All this past week.
All are Republicans. Most, if not all of them, attended the Rose-Garden ceremony, making that event the prime suspect. Some of Trump’s critics are calling it a “super-spreader event” — the kind Trump has been warned about and chastised for many times.
Who could have suspected a political party that cavalierly flaunted its rebuttal against precautionary warnings about using masks and social distancing at major events and public rallies would suddenly find a swath of its key people infected at the most crucial time in an election year? Yes, everyone around the capitol and White House this week who were reported to have come down with the virus was a Republican who attended events in the past week, particularly the ones for the Judge Barrett.
Nearly all of these infected people sat hip-to-hip, hugged and mingled with guests, most with faces free of the black veil that has become so common under COVID. See the following video proof of just how extensively that was true:
While it can never be known if masks and social distancing would have prevented those who had the illness from sharing it with others or protected people wearing masks from contracting it, we do know widespread use of masks and distancing at these events would have improved everyone’s odds.
The president, himself, has ridiculed his opponent many times for wearing a mask. Yet, there is a reason doctors and nurses have all worn masks as standard procedure in surgery for more than a century. Masks DO help stop the spread of contagion, even if they are not perfect. Not wearing them in surgery could even be considered reckless or negligent.
Yet, they are usually not worn in the White House. Some staffers have said that is because wearing them is frowned upon by other staffers who seek to follow the president’s lead and to apply a little social pressure on those who do not.
We also know Republicans, especially Trump, have acted publicly, in terms of this illness, as if they are invincible; and we know from human experience that a sense of invincibility has caused the downfall of the mighty many times in history.
Attendees were so confident that the contagion would not invade their seemingly safe space at the White House that, according to Jenkins, after guests tested negative that day they were instructed they no longer needed to cover their faces. The no-mask mantra applied indoors as well. Cabinet members, senators, Barrett family members and others mixed unencumbered at tightly packed, indoor receptions in the White House’s Diplomatic Room and Cabinet Room.Stamford Advocate
We didn’t need to make masks mandatory in the US. If the president had exemplified mask wearing and strongly encouraged his followers to wear masks, telling people the disease was serious, rather than downplaying it, as he confessed he did, most of his loyal followers would have followed his lead. That is what they have done at the White House in not wearing masks. Instead, however, he openly mocked masks at times and made them a divisive political issue.
Democrat governors mandating them also made it a political issue, causing Trump supporters to protest their dictatorial approach. Both sides should have resolved to try strongly encouraging voluntary use at first to see if most people would go along if not forced. Forcing causes people in America to push back. They might have been surprised to see how many Americans would willingly comply if their leaders joined in exemplifying the wearing of masks and strongly urged they be used in public spaces, rather than create a major political divide out of it … and if they had full Republican support on that.
It’s not necessary everyone to wear them. If the majority do, the spread of the disease would be substantially slowed, and I believe most would have if their favorite leaders had set the example and had not downplayed the viral risk; but party politics got in the middle.
In the week ahead, we will inevitably hear of more infections spreading through the White House and among the president’s supporters as the disease incubates within those already infected to achieve a level that can be registered. In other words, the damage is not yet fully known. Some will recover without a hitch, but a few most likely will suffer considerably, and some of those may be some who are close to the president. Some may even die because that is what happens.
White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said he was bracing for additional infections among administration officials…. As Trump’s condition deteriorated during the day Friday, the president and his team ultimately made the decision to send him to Walter Reed preemptively – and, from a public relations perspective, when he was still able to walk to Marine One on his own…. They feared the possibility of a further decline, and what that might mean, both for the president’s health and his political optics….
The White House outbreak thrust Washington into a state of heightened alarm Friday, with uncertainty one month before the election about the health of the president, whose age of 74, as well as additional co-morbidities – obesity, high cholesterol and slightly elevated blood pressure – increase his risks of a negative outcome….
It is not publicly known whether the Rose Garden announcement of Barrett’s nomination was a superspreader event. Still, the jarring contrast between the carefree, cavalier attitude toward the virus on display in the Rose Garden Saturday and the pernicious awakening that occurred Thursday night resembles a Shakespearean tragedy.
Ironically, the president spoke about the pandemic at the the Rose Garden ceremony and stated with his usual bravado that “tremendous progress is being made, I say, and I’ll say it all the time: We’re rounding the corner. And, very importantly, vaccines are coming, but we’re rounding the corner regardless.”
The whole White House rounded the corner with him from that day on, but it was not the corner they wanted. They are not all sick, but they are all inconvenienced, in the very least, more stressed, maybe stuck in isolation, even if not sick, and a number are sick.
Many staffers within the White House have been working in close proximity and small, confined rooms without masks for months. Having disdained caution in order to follow the president’s example, they are now “losing their minds with fear” one article claims. While I highly doubt that is an accurate characterization overall, I am sure it is a much more stressed, somber and concerned White House as we move deeper into October than the White House was in September or throughout a summer of, shall we say in the least, less regard?
The president consciously chose to put multitudes at risk for his personal benefit!
The president’s handling of the situation since the White House first became aware that some staff within the White House were infected, is a case study in mismanagement. Instead of doing everything the White House could this past week to contain the disease, the administration did everything it could to maintain normal appearances while continuing the risks of spreading it.
The worst display in Trump’s own leadership was, after he already new that Hicks had the illness on Thursday morning and that he was feeling symptoms, he attended a campaign fundraiser for himself Thursday evening among friends in his own New Jersey club. He did not isolate.
Showing even more disregard for others, he attended without a mask, as usual. He travelled in closed spaces and close proximity with staff without a mask. He did not notify guests of the infection(s) he already knew about. He shook hands and spoke face to face. And he did this knowing he was experiencing some cold-like symptoms similar to Hicks’s symptoms:
Conley said … “Thursday he had a mild cough and some nasal congestion and fatigue.”CNBC
The president knowingly put others at risk of an illness that he has already confessed he knew was more serious than he was letting on clear back in January:
On Thursday, Hicks’s diagnosis was kept secret from the public and even from some of her own colleagues. Press secretary Kayleigh McEnany did not know Hicks had the virus when she briefed reporters about 11 a.m., but learned midafternoon, as the president was preparing to depart for another campaign fundraiser, this one at his private golf club in Bedminster, N.J.… McEnany … had been around Hicks extensively that week…. Other aides on the trip were Johnny McEntee, Tony Ornato and Brian Jack. None wore a mask on Air Force One….
“Trump thought he could go to the fundraiser and keep it secret that Hicks had it,” Republican donor Dan Eberhart said.
Trump sat indoors at table with those he hoped would give his campaign money (up to a quarter-million per plate) even though he had spent a great deal of time with Hicks that week, whom he now knew had the disease. (Hicks did what she could to isolate herself once she felt ill on an earlier trip Wednesday and is not named as having gone on this Thursday trip.)
Purportedly no one at the event wore masks. They trusted the president would not put them at risk, so they believed they were safe, even though his voice was already showing signs of the infection that should have clued him in that he might also have the coronavirus. Several people had even noted his speech on Wednesday was only half as long as normal, as though he was fatigued. He must have felt something was coming on.
Who can doubt the extravagant recklessness of a president who would knowingly put his own dedicated staff and his own loyal friends and his rich supporters at risk of a disease he knew he had been in close association with all week? Many of the people who are Trump’s friends and supporters are at the age where COVID has the greatest risk of being deadly.
Yet, the president took almost no precautions. He not only avoided a mask, he met with them over a dinner where the food of others around him was exposed. He did NOTHING to, in the very least, let all of those attending know of the risk they were taking because of his exposure so they could make their own decisions as to whether it was wise to attend, given whatever they may have known about their own health and risk factors. His staff did, however, have everyone tested before coming into the event; but we all know tests don’t work until your exposure has been lengthy enough. And it only takes one person who is not quite far enough along to show positive on a test to infect many.
Oddly, it was just a few hours after this event that the president and first lady tested positive Wasn’t the president tested before the event like everyone else who attended was?
Is a man who would take such profligate risks with friends and supporters someone you are going to trust for the health information he provides to the rest of the country — people he doesn’t know at all? I am sure almost no one reading this would do this to their friends and family and supporters.
The president had been in close contact with Hicks for days. He knew she had the illness, and he did nothing to limit the risk that he might spread illness to others, being the one man in the US who is more in charge of the US effort to battle COVID than any other, having been told hundreds of times that you can spread it if you have been in contact with others who have it and that you cannot usually know right away that you do have it.
This was his example of COVID leadership.
National protocol for the rest of us is to isolate if we know we have been in close contact with someone who has COVID-19. We all know that. The president knows it. His government has put that information out. Apparently, the same protocol does not apply to this president or his White House staff.
In another breach of standard protocol for controlling the spread of the virus, not everyone who had come into contact with the president was immediately notified by the White House’s contact tracers. Former New Jersey governor Chris Christie, who had been helping Trump with debate preparation earlier this week, said Friday afternoon that he had not been contacted. In addition, at least one journalist who tested positive after traveling with the president this week also had not heard from the White House as of Friday afternoon.
Christie, it now turns out, has the disease. He could have gotten tested sooner and started treatment hours sooner with rapid warning. That way he also could have avoided spreading it to more people. We have heard many times that the treatments that exist are more effective the sooner they begin.
As for the broader party’s discipline in dealing with the virus, RNC Chair McDaniel, who had spent so much time with the president during this week of intense campaigning knew she had the disease on Wednesday, but did not notify the president until Friday by which time the president already knew he had it because of Hicks’ report. Apparently, she did tell other White House officials prior to that. Yet, the president did not know he had it until late Thursday night. Either she didn’t make the contact on Wednesday, or White House staff failed to inform the president.
As a result, Trump attended numerous events and meetings after Wednesday during which time the disease was insidiously spreading throughout his staff and close party members associated with these events. Given his actions once he did know he had been exposed, he probably would have attended all those events even if McDaniel had gotten word through to him. You would think, though, since we are talking about the president of the United States, that news would have moved to the top like a lightning bolt.
All the while, Trump held debate preparation meetings with Christie, Hicks, former senior counselor Kellyanne Conway, personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and a handful of other advisers. Neither Trump nor Hicks showed symptoms or wore a mask, according to two people with knowledge of the discussions.
The president’s own boisterous, flaunting bravado may be what brings him down
During the presidential debate debacle, the Trump family entered the hall wearing masks, but then everyone but Melania took them off, even though the rules said everyone but the debaters and the moderator had to wear a mask. In fact, AP reports:
Joe Biden looked out at an odd sight — one section of the room dutifully in masks, the other section flagrantly without.
The mostly bare-faced contingent was made up of Trump’s VIP guests, who had flouted the rules by removing their masks once inside the hall despite the best efforts of the debate’s health advisers from the Cleveland Clinic to keep everyone safe. It was a conspicuous act of rebellion, reflecting divisions writ large across the country….
Moderator Chris Wallace, seated on stage, noted that when Biden’s VIP guests, including his wife, Jill, walked in, they were wearing masks and kept them on throughout the debate….
“I don’t wear a mask like him,” Trump said of Biden mockingly in the debate. “Every time you see him, he’s got a mask. He could be speaking 200 feet away from him and he shows up with the biggest mask I’ve ever seen.”“An abundance of risk, not caution, before Trump’s diagnosis“
Trump goes out of his way to model the machismo of not wearing a mask. He ridicules those who do and by his own behavior says, “Don’t bother.” His family follows his lead.
Said Biden at the debate,
He’s been totally irresponsible the way in which he has handled the social distancing and people wearing masks, basically encouraged them not to. He’s a fool on this.
Three days after the debate, Trump learned he may have already had the disease at the debate. Melania may have, too. As the incubation period continues, Trump may find his whole family has it. Now, we all, as families sit together without masks, but who did they all share the disease with in public that night when they took their masks off against the rules that they did not feel should apply to them after they made it through the door?
Flaunting this sense of invincibility, Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, who attended many of these events, refused to put himself in isolation for the protection of others. He was seen working at the Trump White House on Friday after everyone knew that several people he had been in close contact with had a lot of exposure to those infected with the virus.
According to the guidelines put out by Trump’s health officials, if you know you have been in close contact with someone who has the disease, you should self-isolate even if you have not, yet, tested positive yourself. Kushner already knew he had been in frequent and close contact with people who have the disease, including particularly President Trump. (Trump had tweeted at 12:54 in the wee hours of the morning on Friday that he and Melania had tested positive. So, Jared knew all day at the White House he might be a carrier.)
By these actions, the core of the Republican leadership in the White House may have already whittled down its own numbers more than it knows so far. Every few hours, we hear of another White House Republican who has COVID-19. Trump could find this endemic pandemic recklessness, he has fostered, costs him some people very close to him. It could even take names of Senators off ballots. Well, the names would remain, but not the people. It could change the election quite significantly. Even if no one Republican dies from this, incapacitation during campaigns could change votes. Knowledge that candidates are seriously ill with the disease, if that happens, could change votes.
The state of the president
Ironically, the Great and Invincible Trump, who almost always refused to wear a mask in order to look strong, could see his candidacy or his senate majority derailed by the smallest of forces that ply themselves against humankind. The tiny virus that he has many times dismissed as nothing — something that may just go away with the summer, something he assured us most people never feel even if they have it — has sent him to the hospital for safe keeping and thrown his administration and campaign into turmoil.
Early reports said President Trump received oxygen prior to being hospitalized. At first, it was said his condition was nothing more than “a low-grade fever, a cough and nasal congestion.” Then we heard White House reports sounding more serious.
The White House indicated the president’s vitals had been “very concerning over the last 24 hours.”
President Donald Trump is “doing very well” as he battles the coronavirus, the president’s physician said Saturday, while indicating the president’s diagnosis came far earlier than the White House has said….
Trump’s medical team also said the president is fever-free and not currently on supplemental oxygen — a step frequently needed for patients with severe coronavirus cases….
Members of Trump’s medical team said it had been 48 hours since Trump started a key element of his treatment and 72 hours since he was diagnosed with coronavirus. But Trump only revealed his positive status early Friday morning — about 36 hours before Saturday’s briefing. If accurate, the timeline suggests Trump knew about his status on Wednesday — the day of a campaign trip where he was surrounded by a largely unmasked crowd in Minnesota — and long before he traveled to a fundraiser in New Jersey on Thursday after a senior aide had been diagnosed.Politico
While the president’s medical team said Saturday that he is not currently on oxygen, they did not answer whether he had been on it. (It all depends on what the meaning of the word “is” is.)
The last paragraph in the quote above, if the president’s medical team was accurate in its timing, would be beyond reprehensible. It would mean the president fully knew he had Coronavirus when he attended Thursday’s fundraiser without a mask on without any social distancing on his part and without letting any of his guests know he was highly contagious!
It is Trump’s own medical team that said this. However, about two hours after the press conference, Trump’s doctor, Sean Conley, said he had misspoken, and the president had actually been diagnosed on Thursday night, not that long before the president tweeted at 12:54 AM on Friday that he had the disease. Which report can we trust, given how non-transparent information has been (as you’ll see below)?
Other conflicting statements created disarray on Saturday, particularly by a reporter who spoke with Mark Meadows:
Minutes after Conley left the microphone, the White House press pool reporter conveyed a statement from “a source familiar with the president’s health” that appeared to directly contradict the rosy portrait. “The president’s vitals over the last 24 hours were very concerning and the next 48 hours will be critical in terms of his care….” The remark was later revealed to have come from White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, who was caught on camera after the briefing asking to speak with a handful of reporters away from the cameras….
A White House official later added that Trump’s vitals had become concerning Friday morning, hours before he was moved to the hospital. Meanwhile, numerous indications emerged that Trump had received oxygen at the White House during that time period….
One former senior administration official said only a few people, like the president’s family, actually know the full truth about Trump’s condition. As a result, conflicting rumors about Trump’s health have been flying around the presidential orbit.
After the greater risk had passed, Meadows reported deeper concern than anything the White House had mentioned while risks were ongoing:
President Donald Trump’s oxygen level fell rapidly on Friday morning fueling concerns about his health, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said Saturday night.
“Yesterday morning, we were real concerned about that. He had a fever, and his blood oxygen level had dropped rapidly,” he told Fox News on Saturday night.
Meadows said both he and White House physician Dr. Sean Conley were “real concerned” by Trump’s condition on Friday morning.CNBC
Yet, the White House told everyone, he just had a cough and a stuffy nose. Reminds me of the former Soviet Union whenever a leader was in dangerously bad health or went missing … for good. They just had a cold.
The president, it was revealed by his medical team, is receiving a drug cocktail of the experimental antiviral drug remdesivir along with the highest dosage infusion of another experimental antibody drug produced by Regeneron plus zinc. The team made no mentions of the president’s drug of choice, hydroxychloroquine.
The indictment and punishment of the president
When you publicly do all you can to downplay the risk of a disease and flaunt your own casual attitude toward the warnings and the procedures your own administration issues, you assume, not just the higher risk that the disease might get you, but the risk that others will see what has happened to you as testimony to the abject failure of your approach (whether they are right or wrong as to whether you would have gotten the disease anyway).
The disease that is credited with killing more than a million people worldwide (probably overcredited since anyone dying of anything is put down as a COVID-19 death if the deceased tests positive for COVID) has now infected a president and many of his close staff members and party elite who disregarded the extremely contagious nature of the disease as reported by the president’s own health officials and disregarded procedures given to the rest of us. That’s clear in the videos of all the unmasked hugging and hand shaking and talking within inches of numerous people in public without masks on, which Trump administration health officials have issued warnings against.)
We may not know how many the disease truly kills, but we certainly know how contagious it is, and we now know the president knew it was much worse than he let on. And we know that he knew he was in very close and very frequent contact with someone who had it throughout the week preceding the fundraiser at which he did nothing to protect anyone from his own exposure. So, whether he is judged and punished by the disease, he is his own actions form the basis for his moral indictment.
I don’t wish the severe judgment COVID can inflict on him or his family members if he can humble himself enough to learn from what is now happening, and I certainly do not wish it on the people he and his family may have infected when they chose to not wear masks and to keep working at the White House, knowing they had been exposed. I wouldn’t wish death by slow asphyxiation on anyone!
Even though many of those people he and his family may have infected did not wear masks by their own choice in close, indoor, public meetings, the president knew how much contact he had with the diseased (Hicks) just hours before going out in public again. He took no measures to protect anyone from himself — not even by sharing information with those whose hands he would be shaking.
I do more than than the president did when I simply know I have a cold! Always! I tell people I have a cold if they want to visit, so they can choose not to … or if they ask me to visit them! Even if they are not my friends! If it’s a bad enough cold, I refuse to visit unless they tell me they’ve already had it. I don’t shake their hands, and I let them know why. I try to stand back when talking. When possible, I avoid going out in public. And that is all just when I have a common cold.
Yet, the president knew this disease was far worse than a common cold — worse than he publicly let on based on his own confession to Bob Woodward … on tape. So, he is without excuse for doing nothing to protect others merely for his own political gain. Going to the fundraiser right after he knew about his considerable exposure makes him as bad as a man who goes from visiting a leper colony straight out to shake hands with his friends and supporters.
The very area where Trump has been most criticized for being unfocused and haphazard in action and undisciplined in personal security and at fault for not modeling safe behavior and from which he hoped to escape such criticism with his Rose Garden ceremony, is the arena he has been thrust back into in the most important month of his candidacy. He has been knocked down by a foe against which he told the world he wanted to appear fearless in order to downplay it so that others would not become fearful. His own advocated recklessness is likely what got him there.
But truth is what I always say people need. We need to face the truth, not be protected from it, even if fear should bring our economy down in a panic. That’s a risk we have to take if we want to get people to take the right precautions. There are ways of handling the truth when you present it to keep from spreading fear … to give wise precaution, state things people can and should do, such as reminding them not to run out of theatre but to walk to the exits before you announce “fire” when there is a fire.
Now — when the president most needs to be on the campaign trail to fight for his position — this little virus has stopped the Great One in his tracks, resulting in cancelations of campaign events set for this weekend and the week ahead. Trump’s desire to push through approval of Judge Barrett for the Supreme Court may be delayed, particularly if Barrett was exposed to the disease at any of the very public events Trump held in her honor.
Democrats have already predictably seized the opportunity to ask that the hearings be postponed because some senators on the Republican side may not be able to be there in person due to their exposure, and others feel concerned about being at hearings in person, not knowing how many more others might have the illness, though they do not, yet, present positive.
Other senators on the Judiciary Committee who attended the suspect Rose Garden event include Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse, Missouri Senator Josh Hawley, Idaho Senatro Mike Crapo, and Tennessee Senator Marsha Blackburn.
The confirmation hearing is not scheduled to begin until October 12, which gives less than the normal fourteen days of isolation recommended for people who test negative but have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says the senate has been operating while member have the virus for months, so he expects the proceedings to move along on schedule.
It was not just White House aids who were significantly concerned about the president, the president himself exhibited fear, repeatedly asking aids if he was going to die of COVID according to Vanity Fair, which I am not sure can be trusted on that or anything:
Conversations w Republicans close to WH over last 12 hours indicate it’s been far more dire than WH has said. Before being taken to Walter Reed, Trump kept asking aides, “Am I going out like Stan Chera? Am I?” (Chera was Trump’s NYC friend who died of Covid in April)— Gabriel Sherman (@gabrielsherman) October 3, 2020
Although the worst phase of the virus does not usually begin until, at least, five days into the infection, Trump’s condition late in the day on Saturday looked strong, and he did not show any of the fear Vanity Fair claimed:
If the president pulls through without much of a struggle, I’m sure it will convince his most ardent supporters of his demigod or God-blessed status and will confirm the wisdom of not wearing masks and not distancing oneself socially, even when having known exposure. That which right now is swinging against Trump could suddenly turn in his favor with supporters if no one else at the White House who got the disease suffers greatly or dies.
Trying to exhibit encouragement to the masses or maybe just to strut greatness with his usual bravado, Trump told his lawyer Rudy Giuliani,
I am the president of the United States. I can’t lock myself in a room. I had to confront [the virus] so the American people stopped being afraid of it so we could deal with it responsibly…. I’m going to beat this. Then I will be able to show people we can deal with this disease responsibly, but we shouldn’t be afraid of it.New York Post
That swings both ways. If he or others close to him don’t come out well, that same reasoning cuts the other way: It will show people he didn’t beat it as a carefree as he thought, and it will show, by his logic, people can’t always deal with this disease, especially if they do so irresponsibly, and will show they should fear it in the sense of respecting it.
Living in denial of what it can do or of your own vulnerability is not going to make you or the people you care about safer. I’m not suggesting one live in fear, other than the wise kind of fear the causes respect. Those who feel invulnerable to the disease are like those who drive the stock market up every day on pure testosterone because they believe it is invulnerable to the innumerable risks now circling it. That works only until it doesn’t; but when it doesn’t, the greater the denial of the risks and the more invincible you thought you were, the further the fall.