News of the valet's diagnosis broke two days after Trump toured a protective mask factory in Phoenix, Arizona, where he chose to refrain from wearing one himself in public, despite the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's guidance
to do so. When a speaker blared the song "Live and Let Die" (a Trump campaign booklet), he mingled with factory workers and managers, often getting closer than the six feet recommended by CDC's social distance guidelines
. Trump, who said he had little personal contact with the valet, has since tested negative
for the coronavirus, according to White House deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley.
Trump's behavior, and the valet's diagnosis, raise obvious questions. Will 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue become a Covid-19 hot spot? Did Trump take the necessary precautions on his trip to Arizona?
Masks have become a symbol of a pandemic culture war. On the one hand are protesters, sometimes armed with weapons, who have gathered in state capitals to demand the end of the closures ordered to curb the pandemic. Many of these people reject the use of face masks. On the other hand, those who willingly wear them, maintain social distance guidelines and respect home-based orders to do their thing for the country.
President Trump has tried to stave off both sides of the cultural conflict and express support for the White House's official recommendations, but signal in his behavior that he really stands with the protester, whom he called "very good people."
Add to that the fact that Trump has never been photographed with a mask, and you know where he really stands.
Behind the president's dissonance lies the greater problem of denying the full reality of the pandemic and trying to make it disappear with spin. Trump spent many weeks insisting that there was nothing to worry about. Who could forget when Trump attended a roundtable event in February and so
, "We've done an incredible job. We're going to keep going. It's going to disappear. One day – it's like a miracle – it'll disappear"?
When the virus did not disappear and instead killed so many Americans that some of their bodies had to be stored in refrigerated trucks and other makeshift trucks mortuary
, the president became the star of the daily coronavirus briefings. In this role, he repeatedly denied problems with testing and hawked an unprovoked treatment that was later found to be inefficient
for Covid-19 patients. When he humbled himself with comments about treating the virus with light or disinfectants
inside his body, he walked briefly away from the limelight. This week Vice President Mike Pence touted
the "tremendous progress we have made as a country," and announced that the coronavirus working group would be phased out. Trump, meanwhile, credited Pence and the working group for having it "done a good job."
Only the king of denial would look at what had happened during the term of office – skyrocketing caseloads and death counts matched by ongoing shortcomings in testing
– and consider it a good job. Following the subsequent backlash over the decision to dissolve the working group, Trump suddenly reversed course, saying the group would continue "indefinitely" – a decision he said he made after learning "how popular
the working group is. "
Trump's incessant flip-flops – along with his habit of denying and spinning – have always been devastating. But this behavior has serious implications during a pandemic that claims the lives of thousands of Americans and takes a toll on the financial security of millions. This pattern has been on full display as Trump focuses on reopening the economy despite warnings that it could trigger a wave in coronavirus cases. The president announced policies in mid-April to help states decide when to loosen their social distance restrictions, just to turn around governors
they would call their own shots. This week, the White House shelved
a more detailed CDC report on how to reopen the economy after asking the agency to provide guidance. Despite projections that the coronavirus will send the US into a deep recession, Trump has already spied a "comeback" saying
, "I think we're going to have it financially – from an economic point of view next year – an incredible year. And I think you're going to see a fantastic fourth quarter …"
One would hope that the valet's test results would force the president to confront the reality of this pandemic. Each diagnosis is a tragedy, so we analyze the effect of this to a certain degree. But if anything can come of it, we hope Donald Trump will think of the person he knows and decide to act as a president who takes responsibility for this major crisis.
In the 1600s, the famous French scholar Anne-Marie Bigot de Cornuel observed: "No man is a hero to his servant." This is just as true today, in the White House. But should the suffering president's valet recover, and change how Trump thinks about the pandemic, he would be a hero to us all.