In a normal political world, a president who deliberately endangers thousands of his own supporters for his personal benefit would face a massive public backlash. But as President Donald Trump and his enablers remind us weekly now, we’re no longer in a normal political world. Trump’s decision to hit the road this week with live, crowded, mostly maskless rallies — while refusing to divulge complete information about his own coronavirus testing status — is a mind-boggling act of self-centered hubris.
Even if Trump isn’t directly interacting with his fans, they are certainly interacting with each other. Given the number and size of the scheduled rallies this week, and the pandemic law of averages, there’s a statistical likelihood that lives will ultimately be lost to this reckless presidential vanity project.
Being laid up by a virus at which he’d long shrugged has tested Trump’s “strongman” political instincts. Faced with his worst nightmare — looking weak — Trump embarked on stunts that endangered himself and others: making his Secret Service detail drive him around outside Walter Reed hospital, returning to the White House before it was medically wise to do so.
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Trump’s rallies this week clearly stem from the same pathetic need to project strength. “I feel so powerful,” Trump told his cheering throngs in Sanford, Florida, Monday. “... I’ll kiss everyone in that audience.” He didn’t actually do that (perhaps mindful that his boast of now being “immune” from the virus isn’t something about which doctors are yet sure), but he certainly encouraged his audience to cast aside basic distancing practices. With additional rallies scheduled in Pennsylvania, Iowa and elsewhere, thousands more will soon hear the same dangerous message.
All this, and Trump still isn’t revealing complete details about his own testing status. On Monday, the White House issued a torturously worded statement saying Trump had tested negative “on consecutive days,” but declining to say which days. The administration’s continued refusal to provide more detailed information inevitably invites the conclusion that his health picture isn’t as rosy as he is so strenuously trying to convey.
Among some demographics, more than 100 people per 100,000 of the population tests positive every week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It’s not outside the realm of possibility that at least one person for every 1,000 at those Trump rallies is already infected. And as Trump is so endlessly fond of boasting, many thousands attend.
Add to that the close quarters of the crowds and the lack of masks — implicitly encouraged by Trump himself — and there’s basically no chance these events aren’t spreading the virus. How many of those cases might prove fatal is impossible to guess. But even one would be too high a cost for the sake of these political three-ring circuses.