Tuesday was, on balance, a horrible day, even by present-day standards. And I don’t have to tell you what that means — when any day can, without warning, morph into one in which the president randomly suggests we might bleach-inject our way out of the coronavirus pandemic.
But a day is truly horrible when it’s the day America passes the one million mark in reported coronavirus cases — fully one third of the number reported worldwide — and when the coronavirus death count moves past the 58,220 Americans who died in Vietnam. It was a day of symbols, and none of them good.
Stunningly, it took only six weeks for the death total, which is almost certainly undercounted, to reach that level. And not so astonishingly, on the same day, it took only moments for Donald Trump to say once again he bore no responsibility, even as we had learned that his daily intelligence briefings in January and February often warned of a virus potentially bringing mass death to America.
That would be enough for any day — dies horribilis, I think is how the Romans would put it. But that wasn’t nearly all. Trump was once again back in front of the cameras — of course he was; narcissists are gonna narcissist — this time to insist that states in desperate need of federal tax dollars would have to perform a Ukrainian-style, quid-pro-quo dance if they wanted him to play ball. To get the cash, Trump said, states would have to give up their sanctuary cities — this was apparently just to give the base a rise for the coming election season — and turn a bunch of brown-skinned people over to ICE.
Meanwhile, on a call with the nation’s governors, Trump said it would be a good idea for them to reopen schools because young people don’t get the virus. Every governor — OK, maybe not Brian Kemp — knows kids can get the virus, and when they do, they can pass it on to, say, their grandparents. As an old person myself, I live with two such grandkids, healthy and not in school, and I am thankful each day no one has to make that choice.
This was also a day we heard that Trump would soon issue an executive order that meat processing plants must stay open because it would be a national emergency if we ran low on, say, bacon. Less important than bacon would be the workers who would have to return to the many plants now closed by outbreaks of the virus. You may have heard of one such plant in Weld County, where five workers have died.
Speaking of Weld County, Tuesday was Day Two of the outlaw county commissioners’ flouting of Jared Polis’s rules for slow-walking the reopening of Colorado’s economy. Polis’s orders are too fast for me, but evidently not good enough for Weld County, in which the children — not in school, fortunately — can watch as their elected leaders teach the lesson that people must obey only those laws they choose to obey.
But of all of the above, nothing got to me in quite the same, visceral, gut-punch way that a mask-free Mike Pence got to me on his visit to the Mayo Clinic. You’ve seen the photos and videos, I’m sure. There’s Pence, leader of the Trump administration’s coronavirus task force no less, talking with mask-wearing Mayo workers and officials and a mask-wearing patient. According to the hospital’s rules, anyone who who enters the clinic must wear a mask. The vice-president’s office was informed of the rules, the Mayo Clinic tweeted.
And yet he purposefully and willfully and very publicly ignored them.
Why would he do that? Was it simply arrogance? (Fact check: It was definitely arrogance, but probably not that simple.)
My guess is that Pence doesn’t wear a mask because Trump doesn’t wear a mask. Trump doesn’t wear a mask because he believes (like the Weld County commissioners believe) that rules don’t apply to him. Pence believes that playing by the rules would embarrass Trump and, thereby, risk his perfect 100 percent sycophancy rating, the public be damned.
In his usual denial of actual science, Pence explained that as vice president he was often tested and those who work with him are often tested, and so he didn’t feel the need to wear a mask. He also didn’t ask, by the way. And the Mayo Clinic apparently did not want a confrontation.
“And since I don’t have the coronavirus,” Pence said, “I thought it’d be a good opportunity for me to be here, to be able to speak to these researchers, these incredible health care personnel, and look them in the eye and say thank you.”
Now you might be the sarcastic type of person who would note that none of the masks in the room covered anyone’s eyes. Other Trump administration officials on hand wore masks. The governor of Minnesota wore a mask. To go to the Mayo Clinic, one of the world’s renowned hospitals, and to not wear the required mask is unthinkable — unless, of course, you think about it.
You may have missed unmasking of the president moment Tuesday. He was holding an affair for small businesses at the White House to talk about the success of Paycheck Protection Program, which, of course, has been badly bungled. The attendees sat six feet apart, but none wore masks. Because the president didn’t wear a mask (David Letterman would joke that no one had figured out how to fit a mask onto Trump’s hair). And his daughter, Ivanka, didn’t wear a mask. And the treasury secretary didn’t wear a mask. You get the idea.
It was the usual Trump event. He praised Ivanka for jobs she never created even as the economy is jolted by unemployment rates not seen in most of our lifetimes. He said, as he does, “We’re doing a job the likes of which nobody’s ever done.” And I guess that could be true, if not in the way he means it.
And when he invited one of the small business owners to address the audience, Trump noted that the person who had accompanied her had been wearing a mask, but apparently took it off when he saw no one else was wearing one.
Trump waved the man up — to his credit, he stayed seated — and said to him, “Put the mask on, the way you had it.” Trump then shook his head, as if the man had proved himself a fool and as some in the room laughed along with the presidential bully.
That was Tuesday. A horrible day. And, tragically, not so different from any other day.