Thursday, September 17, 2020


In his town hall on Tuesday with ABC's George Stephanopoulos, President Trump said:
TRUMP: ... Now there is by the way, a lot of people don’t want to wear masks. There are a lot of people think that masks are not good. And there are a lot of people that as an example you have...

STEPHANOPOULOS: Who are those people?

TRUMP: I’ll tell you who those people are -- waiters. They come over and they serve you, and they have a mask. And I saw it the other day where they were serving me, and they're playing with the mask...I’m not blaming them...I’m just saying what happens. They're playing with the mask, so the mask is over, and they're touching it, and then they're touching the plate. That can’t be good.

Paul Krugman regards Trump's persistent opposition to masks as mere political cynicism:
... why make a partisan issue out of what should be straightforward public health policy? The fairly obvious answer is that we’re looking at the efforts of an amoral politician to rescue his flailing campaign.

The economy’s partial snapback from its plunge early this year hasn’t given Trump the political dividends he hoped for. His attempts to stir up panic with claims that radical activists are going to destroy the suburbs haven’t gained traction, with voters generally seeing Joe Biden as the better candidate to maintain law and order.

And it’s probably too late to change the views of the majority of voters believing that he has given up on fighting the coronavirus.

So his latest ploy is an attempt to convince people that the Covid-19 threat is over. But widespread mask-wearing is a constant reminder that the virus is still out there. Hence Trump’s renewed push against the simplest, most sensible of public health precautions.

But Trump was opposed to masks from the beginning. In fact, he's been squeamish about masks from the beginning. He also fixated on the idea that masks can be virus carriers in an interview in late June, long before it was clear that the economy and Trump's law-and-order push weren't working in his favor:
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal’s Michael C. Bender, Trump went so far as to suggest that masks could be counterproductive.

“Masks are a double-edged sword,” he said. “People touch them. And they grab them and I see it all the time. They come in, they take the mask. Now they’re holding it now in their fingers. And they drop it on the desk and then they touch their eye and they touch their nose. No, I think a mask is a — it’s a double-edged sword.”

I don't think Trump is against masks because -- or merely because -- they remind voters of America's continuing struggle with the pandemic. I think the notion that they block the coronavirus creeps him out. It reminds the self-professed germaphobe that viruses exist. It's true, of course, that the virus can cling to a mask. That's why you should wash a non-disposable mask after every wearing. But he can't bear that thought.

So he hates masks for that reason -- probably also because he thinks masks emasculate him, or at least mess up his makeup, but primarily because they seem to him like repositories for germs, an idea he finds unbearable. He's turned this around, however, and made his base believe that his rejection of masks is a macho act rather than the neurotic response of a wimp.

In that ABC town hall, Trump recited another of his coronavirus mantras:

TRUMP: ... And we are going to be OK. We're going to be OK, and it is going away. And it's probably going to go away now a lot faster because of the vaccines.

It would go away without the vaccine, George, but it's going to go away a lot faster with it.

STEPHANOPOULOS: It would go away without the vaccine?

TRUMP: Sure, over a period of time. Sure, with time it goes away.

This, of course, is Trump deceiving himself, and trying to deceive the rest of us, with Positive Thinking -- but the more I hear him say "it is going away," the more I hear fear in it. I think he can't bear the thought that the virus is out there, potentially anywhere, all the time. I think it makes his skin crawl. This feels like something he says to himself to quell his anxiety.

I wish the virus would just go away, but it might never do that. There's a good chance we'll develop better and better vaccines and treatments and eventually regard this virus as highly manageable. But scientists say it will still be out there, in all likelihood.

If there are good defenses against it, I can live with that. I don't believe Donald Trump can.

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