Only Little People Have to Make Sacrifices

There is some kind of pathology at work here, but I can’t pin down exactly what kind it is.

Four CEOs of food companies and the president of the American Farm Bureau Federation were told to remove their face masks before a meeting in Iowa Friday with Vice President Mike Pence, a startling video posted by The Intercept reveals.

Pence — also without a mask — appeared a short time later at the headquarters of the Hy-Vee grocery chain in West Des Moines for a roundtable discussion with the men in front of an audience.

And this, from three days ago:

Two dozen House Republicans gathered with Trump and other administration officials in the State Dining Room at the White House on Friday afternoon to discuss the country’s economic recovery from the pandemic. None of the attendees wore a mask.

“I do want to advise our media friends before they write stories about how we didn’t wear masks and we didn’t possibly socially distance adequately, that you saw to it that we had tests, and that nobody in here had the coronavirus unless it’s somebody in the media,” said Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, during the meeting.

“So the only reason we would wear masks is if we were trying to protect ourselves from you in the media. And we’re not scared of you. So that’s why we can be here like this,” Gohmert continued.

Putting aside the very real possibility of false negatives, this is not the traditional way American leaders have behaved during times of deprivation. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you President Franklin Roosevelt’s ration book:

Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum.

I assume FDR didn’t use the coupon book personally, but at Eleanor’s insistence the White House adhered to the same rationing during World War II expected of everyone else. The White House chef served up gourmet items like “noodles and mushrooms with chicken scraps.” Eleanor also planted a victory garden on White House grounds.

Of course, this was the same war that featured Princess Elizabeth engaged in auto mechanics. I can’t imagine Ivanka doing this.

But the Roosevelts were old-school aristocrats with genuine class. Trump has less class than a carnival sideshow. Clearly, in Trump’s World only the little people suffer ill effects from disasters. Lead by example? Are you kidding?

Last Friday we learned that Mike Pence’s press secretary Katie Miller — also the wife of distilled banality of evil Stephen Miller — tested positive. There was a quick flurry of news stories saying the vice president would self-quarantine, quickly followed by another flurry saying he wouldn’t. And he’s not. (However, the Governor of Iowa, Kim Reynolds, is doing a “modified self-quarantine,” whatever that is, as Mrs. Miller was present at a White House meeting the governor attended recently. Where is her faith?)

Another administration might have insisted on setting an example by quarantining. Not this one. Clearly, the message they are trying to send is that only the little people — not Trumpers — have to put up with inconveniences because of the pandemic.

But let us go back to the testing Louie Gohmert spoke of in the quote above. Everyone around Trump gets tested daily now, we are told, and their contacts are traced to check infection spread. That’s the sort of test-and-track procedure used by all the other countries that are getting the pandemic under control now. But not the U.S., because Trump doesn’t want widespread testing, because the numbers would make him look bad. So he’s letting the quickly rising death toll (officially 81,225 as of this morning) make him look bad, instead. I’ll come back to this.

Greg Sargent writes,

The news that the novel coronavirus has invaded President Trump’s inner circle — and that the White House is implementing aggressive testing and tracing to combat it — is a devastating story on an obvious and immediate level, but also on a deeper and longer-lasting one.

Most palpably, it has revealed the sort of glaring double standard that’s catnip to political media: The White House is taking extensive steps to protect Trump and his top advisers with resources that are largely unavailable to the rest of us, in part due to his own dereliction. …

… 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.

I don’t think the illusion is shattered just yet, but if someone closer to Trump — one of his offspring, Jared Kushner, Melania, or Pence — came down with covid-19, that would put some cracks in it. I suspect it would take Trump himself becoming seriously ill to really shatter it, though.

Back to the death count. Jonathan Chait wrote last week that Trump has gone into death-denier mode, claiming the official count is inflated.

The next step, reports Axios, will be to begin publicly questioning the listed totals of coronavirus deaths. “Trump has vented that the numbers seem inflated,” it reports, as have several people around him who believe the same.

This is not just a matter of public spin, like Trump’s campaign to pressure the news media into reporting that his tiny inauguration crowd was larger than it was. The news source he trusts, Fox News, has been running hours of programming questioning the death totals. One Fox theory has seized on changes to official tabulation by the CDC. Another misinterprets the categorization of pneumonia deaths. Axios reports that Trump himself has repeated yet another theory, which raises questions about an increase in previously uncategorized nursing-home deaths in New York.

All of these theories are pure crankery. Indeed, the official recorded death count is lower, not higher, than the actual coronavirus death toll. People who die at home from the virus without receiving medical attention have not been included in the official totals. But the fact that Trump and his allies have developed so many different pseudo-statistical objections shows how desperate they are to cast doubt on the official numbers.

The propaganda campaign has worked. The percentage of frequent Fox News watchers who believe that the official coronavirus death counts are exaggerated has risen from 45 percent last month to 61 percent this month.

You might recognize that all this follows yesterday’s post, about how less-educated whites, especially those who live outside of urban areas, still believe the pandemic is mostly a hoax and that there is no sensible reason they can’t all return to life as normal right now. And that follows the post from the day before, on how a disproportionate amount of the pain of the pandemic in America has fallen on nonwhites. Bobbleheads on the teevee keep saying we’re all in this together. We may all be in this, but we’re not together.

Oh, and today Illinois Governor JB Pritzger and his staff are working from home after a colleague tested positive.

More Stuff to Read

Evan Osnos, The New Yorker, The Folly of Trump’s Blame-Beijing Coronavirus Strategy

Gabriel Debenedetti, New York, Biden Is Planning an FDR-Size Presidency

Robert Shapiro, Washington Monthly, The Real Unemployment Rate Is Worse Than Trump Will Tell Us

David Atkins, Washington Monthly, Republicans Want to Sacrifice Your Social Security But Not Their Tax Cuts

David Atkins, Washington Monthly, Trump Was Never on a Glide Path to Re-Election Even Before the Virus