On NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar was asked about Trump’s refusal to wear a mask in contradiction of medical advice, including his own:
HOST CHUCK TODD: Mr. Secretary, multiple times with me in our seven minutes so far that we’ve talked you’ve brought up masks, you’ve brought up social distancing. But without the president of the United States doing this, how is half the country going to listen? Have you directly asked the president to please ask the country to wear a mask?AZAR: So I’m the president’s secretary of health. I’m telling you, practice social distancing. Where you can’t appropriately social distance, we encourage you to wear a facial covering. The vice president of the United States on Friday stood on stage, walked up on stage wearing a mask even though he doesn’t need to in the sense that everybody around him is tested, he’s in a bubble. The president, we know, is a very unique circumstance as leader of the free world. He’s tested constantly and those around him are tested constantly and they’re kept at a distance even with that. But we’re all saying this. The president’s guidelines for reopening, the president’s guidelines, his guidelines have said from day one, practice social distancing. If you can’t, wear face coverings. Practice appropriate personal hygiene. And always please consider your individual circumstances and those of your household members. Protect the most vulnerable, those over 80, those over 65 with three or more of the serious comorbid conditions. These are the people we have to ring-fence and protect right now.TODD: It’s a do — but what you just articulated, Mr. Secretary, is a ‘do as I say, not as I do.' The president of the United States holding indoor rallies, twice in the last 10 days. Once in a state that is seeing a potential of an out-of-control spread in Arizona. He doesn’t talk about wearing a mask. And you avoided my question about whether you’ve asked the president to at least ask the country to wear a mask. Just because you put guidelines under his name, when he doesn’t do it, his people don’t listen.AZAR: Well, Chuck, I’m not going to talk about politics.
It is distressing to say the least that Azar thinks the president refusing to set an example regarding the worst domestic crisis in a century is simply “politics.” Todd never got his answer because there is no excuse for Trump’s cavalier conduct, which is mimicked by his base.
The administration’s reported failure to respond to intelligence indicating Russia was paying bounties to militants to kill Americans is yet another issue on which there is no good answer. If Trump was not told, his advisers are utterly incompetent and should never have been appointed. If he was told (the White House has denied that the president was “briefed,” contrary to reporting by the New York Times), then he has betrayed the troops. Whatever the explanation, Trump still has not expressed outrage over the bounty on U.S. troops. Trump’s lack of response is one more act of supplication to Russian President Vladimir Putin (along with pulling troops out of Germany, trying to extort Ukraine by withholding military aid, attempting to let Russia back into the Group of Seven, bugging out of Syria and denying Russia manipulated the 2016 election).
Former national security adviser John Bolton has no acceptable theory to explain this conduct. As he said on “Meet The Press”: “[W]hy is the president so defensive about Putin? ... If I had evidence, I would reveal it. I just don’t know what to say other than he likes dealing with strong authoritarian figures.” That’s the most generous explanation. In the words of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on ABC’s “This Week”: “This is as bad as it gets, and yet the president will not confront the Russians on this score, denies being briefed.”
Just as there is no defense for Trump’s conduct, there is no justification for giving him another term. Bolton concedes Trump is a menace but cannot bring himself to acknowledge that failing to vote for former vice president Joe Biden increases the chances of a debilitating second Trump term. “I believe America can recover from one term of Donald Trump,” Bolton said. “I believe that very, very strongly. I’m more worried about a second term. And it’s not just decisions in the national security space. I’m worried about the corruption of the civil discourse in this country by a president who says the sorts of things that you quoted at the outset of our discussion. I think it degrades the body politic.” (If Trump is that bad, why did Bolton keep working for him? Why didn’t he ring the alarm for the country earlier?)
There are presidents who make faulty policy judgments (e.g., George W. Bush’s decision to launch the Iraq War). There are presidents who fail to lift the country’s spirit (e.g., Jimmy Carter’s “malaise” speech). However, until now there has never been a president whose conduct — from refusing to wear a mask to trying to eliminate the Affordable Care Act with no replacement plan to selling out our troops — does not even attempt to serve the public interest. There is no excuse for Trump — or for Republicans’ continued indulgence.