Littwin: Trump and Pence show America that only the good guys wear masks

Vice President Mike Pence and President Donald Trump, pictured here during the Feb. 5, 2019, State of the Union address. (Photo by Doug Mills-Pool/Getty Images)
Vice President Mike Pence, President Donald Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, pictured here during the Feb. 5, 2019, State of the Union address. (Photo by Doug Mills-Pool/Getty Images)

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.


  1. Well said, Mike. A sad day for the country, for the lesson those county commissioners are teaching Weld County children, and for those who saw, first-hand (It was a local event for those of us in the Twin Cities and elsewhere in the state) Mr. Pence’s arrogance in the service of what, to be polite, I’ll call boot-licking.

  2. You brought up US military deaths in Vietnam War. I’m sure you remember how the the early years of the war, the military trumped up and grossly exaggerated body counts of the Vietcong and NV regulars to make it seem the US was vanquishing the foe. Certain jurisdictions and health authorities are trumping up the covid 19 death count by counting those who die from other causes but also so happen to test positive for covid 19. Those who are dying from seasonal flu complications but not tested are being counted as covid 19 related deaths.

    BTW, more than 3,000,000 people die each year in the US, and about half that number die from heart disease, cancer, stroke and kidney disease. Millions of people are not getting health care or receiving testing that may uncover early disease that is treatable. The collateral deaths during the ‘panic-demic’ aka pandemic will far outstrip deaths caused by coronavirus.

  3. Show your math, Deplorable Joe … what “collateral deaths” are you expecting?

    Most of the stats I’ve seen on deaths say the US has about 2.8 million deaths per year. As you point out, there are some fairly consistent leading causes of death. Based on stats from Worldometer & National Vital Statistics Report, COVID-19 reported deaths in the past 3 weeks are #1, 2 or 3 among the leading causes per day … see

    As for death counts being accurate … Final estimates are going to take a while to sort out … but it is clear in this state, in the country, and across the globe, there is a rise in the number of deaths, and a common factor is the spread of COVID-19 and its multiple (and as of yet not fully known impacts). The credentialed people serving in public health jobs and teaching at Universities seem to come down on the side that there are lots of deaths. Businesses seem to agree. Elected officials from both parties may differ a bit on the meaning, but both accept there is a substantial problem from the disease and the deaths it causes. “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that deaths and cases will “likely to continue to rise” in coming weeks, especially if social distancing isn’t strongly followed.”

    So, like I asked … what “collateral deaths” are going to rise to be more than 2,000 a day?

  4. Hey, sometimes I forget so you’ll have to excuse the question…how are heart disease, cancer, stroke and kidney disease transmitted through public exposure?

    If they aren’t, then they really don’t compare to Covid, right?

    Neither does the flu…which isn’t nearly as deadly.

    I don’t mind crossing off the excuses from Republicans for their Covid failures (China, Obama, False Equivalencies about other diseases, Democrats, Impeachment, the Solar Eclipse, etc, etc), but when do we finally get some reality from the Right?

    After more American casualties than Vietnam, I’m waiting for a Conservative with a spine to show up and state the obvious.

    You have to admit that a Republican unafraid of facts would really be a rare and welcome surprise for this country right now.

  5. This link may (repeat:may) answer your question: “what “collateral deaths” are going to rise to be more than 2,000 a day?”

    Here’s an excerpt from that article, “Top health officials predict a U.S. COVID-19 death toll in the order of 100,000 to 240,000. But another, invisible death toll is slowly building on its back — people succumbing not to the virus, but circumstances created or exacerbated by the crumbling of the health system.”
    “There’s going to be a tremendous number of people who die from COVID-19 who never get infected with SARS-CoV-2,” said James Phillips, an emergency physician at George Washington University. The country has a remarkable amount of resources, “but there is a limit, and when we reach that limit, you’re gonna see a lot of people not getting routine care.”

    And while this article does not quantify the “invisible death toll” it does tend to support Joe’s belief that people will die because they “are not getting health care or receiving testing that may uncover early disease that is treatable.” because of the strain being put on the healthcare system by COVID-19.

  6. Listening to Trump feels like psychological warfare to me – against us. It drives me crazy to try to understand why he and his crew continue to carry out the things they do. It obviously goes WAY beyond incompetence, so I have to believe it is drive by intention. So, wouldn’t that say that those around him are not mere sycophants, but rather comrades in this intention? If you assume that is true, what is the gameplan? It’s so painful, but the fact that they never make it right, never improve the planning or execution, it can’t possibly just be incompetence. It is heartbraking that we, and the rest of the world, just have to stand by and watch this all happen.

Comments are closed.