David Frum: Trump made a bad bargain with Woodward
Trump’s reluctance to embrace his public duty continues. Before Labor Day Weekend, administration public-health officials were united in pushing a simple message. “Labor Day is coming up, and we need to stress personal responsibility,” said Brett Giroir, who oversees coronavirus testing efforts. “Right now, we gain freedom through wearing our masks and socially distancing,” said Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus-response coordinator. Americans had heard this message over and over again, but the Belabor Day before Labor Day was necessary because repetition is the key to maintaining public health.
Labor Day was such a key test because many Americans ignored the health reminders before Memorial Day, and COVID-19 cases spiked. If people listened this time around, Americans might convince themselves they have the self-control to return to a more active life, which is the psychological precondition necessary to actually returning to a more active life.
More important, fall and winter are expected to see a natural rise in coronavirus cases as people spend more time inside, which can contribute to the disease’s spread. Public-health officials didn’t want to start a bad season in a bad place. “We don’t want to go into the fall with one hand tied behind our back because we have another surge that we have to deal with,” said Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Public-health officials could have used an assist from a high-profile figure who didn’t mind repeating the same thing again and again.
Of course, those officials did have such a voice. He’s their boss. And the president’s Twitter feed is just the channel designed to break through the noise. Plus, the president’s job compels him to do everything possible to help Americans stay safe. Nevertheless, while public-health officials were straining to remind people about mask wearing, social distancing, and the continued threat posed by the virus, the president’s Twitter account was silent.
During the Labor Day period, the president tweeted about the owner of Nancy Pelosi’s salon, critical race theory, Big Ten football, and many other things under the fading summer sun. He did not use his Twitter feed to warn about COVID-19 or encourage any of the personal practices that would keep people healthy and spur the economy.
The last time he used his account to encourage Americans in this direction was six weeks ago, on August 3. This presidential omission is not insignificant, like, say, forgetting to speak in iambic pentameter. Twitter is a key tool for Trump’s presidency. Trump boasts about its power to capture the public mind, and his staff rightfully brags that his use of Twitter is an innovation on par with Franklin D. Roosevelt’s fireside chats. It is obvious to say this, but necessary: We expect the president to apply his tools to the most pressing challenges of the day.