The Germaphobe Who Shuns Masks
Years ago, after one of my books came out and long before Donald Trump decided to run for president, a high-ranking executive of the company that published the book invited me to lunch.
The site was the Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach. Having grown up blue collar in the Bronx, I was allergic to such places. They were alien territory to people like me. But it was a business meeting and I thought it might be kind of amusing to have lunch at a hotsy-totsy club where I had absolutely nothing in common with the swells who frequented the joint.
My wife was invited and as we arrived and were greeted by our host, who should stop by for a chat but the owner of the place, Donald J. Trump.
I whispered to my wife that Trump was a germaphobe and that she shouldn’t extend a hand. He didn’t shake hands. Not with strangers anyway.
So now that we know what we know, you would think that a man who doesn’t smoke and doesn’t drink and is careful about staying away from germs, would have been more favorable to wearing a mask and making sure people who came to see him at political rallies and at official ceremonies would adhere to strict social distancing and mask guidelines.
But it didn’t turn out that way. The president famously shuns wearing a mask. You get the impression he thinks people who wear them are blue state wimps.
Real men, the book title told us, don’t eat quiche. Apparently Donald Trump thinks they don’t wear masks, either; not even to ward off a potentially deadly virus.
At the first presidential debate Mr. Trump said, “I don’t wear masks like him” – him being Joe Biden. “Every time you see him he’s got a mask. He could be speaking 200 feet away and he shows up with the biggest mask I’ve ever seen.”
The message was clear: I’m tough. Biden is weak.
Members of the Trump family, sitting in the front row at the debate, followed their patriarch’s lead, refusing to wear masks during the debate, a clear violation of the rules that everyone inside the venue – except the two candidates and the moderator – must wear masks until they left the building.
And now, there’s a coronavirus outbreak that has hit a wide swath of people in the president’s inner circle, including his wife, his press secretary, a senior advisor, a former senior advisor, three GOP senators and former New Jersey governor Chris Christie. Many of them attended a White House celebration for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, where there was no social distancing and where very few people wore masks.
Just as their leader goes mask-less, so do they – their way of paying homage, of showing allegiance. If the king speaks with a lisp, so do his faithful subjects.
But what if Donald Trump the germaphobe had won out over Donald Trump the politician running for reelection -- the one who played down the seriousness of the virus. Who knows how things might have been different. Who knows if he might not be trailing in just about every national poll and every battleground state poll.
(For the record, and in fairness, we should point out that early on all sorts of people didn't think masks were necessary. The list includes Dr. Anthony Fauci. Nancy Pelosi downplayed the dangers of the virus and told her constituents that they should go to Chinatown for the New Year celebration and have a good old time. In New York, Mayor Bill de Blasio was telling people to just go about their usual business. So Donald Trump wasn't the only one who was not big on masks and social distancing. His resistance to them, however, lasted much longer than Fauci, Pelosi and de Blasio's resistance to them.)
At first I wondered if the virus would affect the president; if coming into contact with a deadly bug might change him, make him more compassionate, less strident. How naïve could I be? I listened to him for two hours on Rush Limbaugh's radio show the other day. The Donald Trump who came out of the hospital is the same one who went in. Still combative. Still wanting to settle old scores. Still bristling at the unfairness of life. Not even a virus that might have done him in can change this man.
As for politics, who knows how it will affect his chances for reelection.
The president said he wouldn’t take part in a virtual debate this week so the debate bigwigs cancelled it. But the president needed to go head to head with Joe Biden again, even if it was virtual. It's the president who's trailing. He might have made up lost ground in the final weeks of the campaign. Sometimes I wonder who's running his campaign -- and if that person is a mole secretly working for the Biden campaign. Or maybe Donald Trump just won't listen to advice from his team, or anyone else.
The virus swooped in as an October surprise, one that may doom the president’s chance to win a second term, unless he somehow wins the sympathy vote, which isn’t likely. Yogi may have been right that it ain’t over till it’s over, but if the polls are right, it may already be over.
But who knows? All of 2020 has been a year of surprises. And we’re not even halfway through October – and so there’s plenty of time for another surprise before the election, maybe even two.