Man I’m glad this pandemic is over finally.
It isn’t, of course, but that’s what Donald Trump wants you to believe. Trump, along with Mike Pence, Republican governors Ron DeSantis and Brian Kemp, Fox News, and lots of loyal Trumpist Republicans would have you think that we’ve already flattened the curve, and that the danger has passed.
The “re-open movement” is fully under way, and is being led by the same guy who ignored the coronavirus threat for months, then dismissed it as a hoax, then promised it would magically go away in April when the weather got warm: the esteemed would-be epidemiologist and wannabe physician Dr. Donald Trump.
Trump encouraged re-open protesters in Michigan, Minnesota, and Virginia; he has complained repeatedly that “the cure,” a national stay-at-home regime, cannot be worse than the disease; and he has postulated that more unemployed people will kill themselves than would die from COVID-19. At the same time, so as not to seem completely craven, the president has dutifully presented the medical advice from Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx, even while undermining their message in ways both subtle and brazen.
On April 28, Trump met with Florida Governor and reluctant pandemic protection participant Ron DeSantis in the Oval Office, on camera. They sat 3-4 feet apart, and neither wore a mask.
The same day, Vice President Mike Pence visited a Mayo Clinic coronavirus testing clinic, without wearing a mask, while surrounded by doctors and patients who did. He claimed he didn’t wear a mask because he wanted to look patients in the eye – an obvious lie because masks don’t cover the eyes.
Pence was attacked for being careless and inconsiderate, but these criticisms miss the point. His mask-free Mayo Clinic visit was neither negligent nor neglectful. It was purposeful. Pence’s stunt was a deliberate dog-whistle to the re-openers in this country, to send the signal that people can and should go back to normal life, i.e., get back to work. Pence’s implied message: “Listen, despite what we’re saying because the doctors tell us we have to, you don’t really need to worry about this virus; you don’t even need to wear a face mask, just look at me!”
Social media is picking up on the administration’s cues. People post lots of memes and messages about their freedoms being stolen, the health threat being exaggerated, and the folly of sacrificing the economy over a measly 50,000 American lives being lost (out of millions!). It’s easy to find ammunition for these arguments online, of course. The Internet is less a source of information than a told-you-so trove – allowing everyone to find and broadcast external support for what they want to believe.
Mike Pence’s decision to show his bare face while surrounded by others in masks was carefully choreographed to reinforce the re-open message of a president in deep political trouble. Every signal this administration sends is a calculated attempt to encourage others to ignore and protest the stay-at-home orders. Trump has decided getting re-elected is more important than protecting lives, and he has determined that an improving economy is his only chance. So he is calling to you and to anyone else who will listen: “Get out there! This has gone on long enough.”
Don’t be fooled. Listen to medical experts, if you value the lives of others.
Ken Fitzgerald is a Coronado resident and trial lawyer practicing business litigation. A former professional musician, he plays principal trumpet in the La Jolla Symphony Orchestra and volunteers with Bugles Across America, playing Taps at funeral services for military veterans.