But new reporting about the White House’s handling of this points to something more fundamental. How will Trump persuade the country we are returning to a normalcy that makes it safe to resume economic activities when his own advisers are panicked about its invasion of their own spaces, even as they can protect themselves in a way we cannot?
According to CNN, Trump’s advisers grasp that this story has become a deadly problem for them. But note why they have concluded this:
An official said there is extreme sensitivity inside the White House at the current state of affairs with officials recognizing the contradiction in telling states to reopen while the White House enhances protocols to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
The problem isn’t just that this story is revealing that Trump and his advisers benefit from testing and tracing that the rest of us mostly do not enjoy, though that’s damning enough.
It’s also that this shatters the larger illusion Trump is trying to weave with his magical reality-bending powers — that the coronavirus has been so tamed by his stupendous leadership that it’s now safe to reopen the country, setting the stage for an equally spectacular Trump-marshaled comeback.
Virus invades White House
Two White House staffers — Katie Miller, who is an adviser to Vice President Pence, and one of Trump’s valets — have tested positive. Two of Trump’s senior health officials have temporarily quarantined themselves, having interacted with Miller.
Meanwhile, Trump, Pence and their close aides are now tested daily. All White House employees are tested at least weekly. In other words, what you’re seeing unfold inside the White House is a rigorous testing and tracing effort.
“It is scary to go to work,” Kevin Hassett, a senior White House economic adviser, conceded to CBS News. “I think that I’d be a lot safer if I was sitting at home.” Hassett added he’s going to work anyway, because “it’s the time when people have to step up and serve their country.”
But this quote gives away the game. As heroic and self-sacrificing as Hassett’s efforts are supposed to be, the fact remains that he can go to work more safely than millions of Americans across the country can, because he has access to the testing and tracing that they don’t. Yet he’s frightened, anyway.
And Trump, too, is frightened and irked by the coronavirus invasion. This reporting from the New York Times deserves more attention:
A senior administration official said the president was spooked that his valet, who is among those who serve him food, had not been wearing a mask. And he was annoyed to learn that Ms. Miller tested positive and has been growing irritated with people who get too close to him, the official said.
Yet Trump is demanding we all put ourselves in positions just like this one, without the protections he enjoys.
Indeed, even Republicans such as Sen. Lamar Alexander (Tenn.) concede we can’t reopen the country safely without testing dramatically scaled up from what we have now. Trump’s own officials have urged him in vain to lead by launching an ambitious national testing effort to facilitate this reopening.
Over the weekend, Trump unleashed a frantic barrage of messaging that everything is going spectacularly well. Trump claimed it’s “great to see our Country starting to open again” (while corruptly promoting one of his golf courses) and hailed his own “great” handling of the pandemic (nearly 80,000 are dead).
At the same time, Trump is using the White House’s image-making power to push a message of normalcy. He and Pence are holding events with business executives, all without masks, even though those executives are inclined to wear them. This week, Trump will hold an event with governors (surely mask-less) and travel to Philadelphia — which itself is facilitated by the very testing and tracing the rest of us largely lack.
Meanwhile, Fox News personalities started the week by pushing the message that Americans should behave “patriotically” and adopt the “military mindset” to go back to work for the good of the country.
We all know this push is mostly about helping Trump get reelected. But it’s even more despicable when you consider that they are trying to shame Americans into doing this without the protective gear that Trump and his top aides enjoy.
The next step in this epic gaslighting campaign, Axios reports, will be for Trump to begin questioning the death totals, something he’s already done privately. Indeed, as Jonathan Chait notes, some Fox News segments are already pushing this line, so it’s only a matter of time until Trump goes “full death denier.”
Now that Trump and his own advisers are personally frightened of the coronavirus’s invasion of their workspace — and are trying to ward it off with the aggressive testing and tracing that Trump himself has assured us is “overrated” — this has not just revealed a depraved double standard on his part.
It will also make the larger illusion he continues trying to weave a lot harder to sustain. Indeed, that illusion is quite literally collapsing all around him.