No one would have been allowed on Air Force One without first getting searched for weapons. Yet here the journalists boarded with no guarantee they hadn’t recently contracted a potentially lethal and highly contagious virus. The episode illustrates how Trump, who likes to project a certain hypermasculine invincibility, has faced greater exposure than he might let on.
“There’s no question [Trump’s] behavior in many circumstances, from what I can see on the outside, puts him at risk,” says Ingrid Katz, the associate faculty director at the Harvard Global Health Institute. She cites his consistent refusal to wear a mask and his participation in meetings held indoors, where the virus is more easily transmitted. “If the goal is to really protect the president, certainly more precautions should be in place—including him wearing more protection,” such as a face covering.
It’s not clear that Trump has been taking the threat all that seriously. Determined to resume his travel routines in the face of the pandemic, the president in the months ahead could be putting Americans at unnecessary risk, including himself. After weeks holed up in the White House, Trump is venturing out more and more. On Thursday, he toured a medical-distribution warehouse in the battleground state of Pennsylvania, where, in his remarks, he took a swipe at “Sleepy Joe Biden.” (Biden is riding out the crisis inside his house in Delaware, campaigning virtually from a studio set up in his basement.) After his trip to Phoenix, Trump tweeted a campaign-style video of the visit, set to stirring music and filled with images of the American flag.
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A White House spokesperson, Judd Deere, told me that the administration is “taking every precaution” to protect Trump around the clock. The Secret Service said the same. “While we continually assess the environment in which we conduct our protective operations, we will not discuss the manner in which we conduct them,” a spokesperson told me. “Since the beginning of this pandemic, the Secret Service has been working with all of our public-safety partners and the White House Medical Unit to ensure the safety and security of both our protected persons and our employees.”
One reason the president must be judicious in the events he holds amid a public-health catastrophe is that Americans will take needless risks to meet him. It’s an opportunity that seldom comes along.
Last week, Trump appeared at an event at the World War II memorial in Washington, D.C., to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the allied victory over Germany. The ceremony served up images showcasing Trump’s role as commander in chief. Assembled were a small group of veterans who had fought in the war, all especially vulnerable to the coronavirus because of their age. As he walked slowly past the men and exchanged pleasantries, the veterans stood at attention. No one wore a mask, though Trump kept at a distance. “When he got to me, I said, ‘Queens County!’” Gregory Melikian, 95, told me, a reference to the New York City borough where Trump was born and raised. “He stopped and laughed and we talked for a second … He’s our president now. I have to respect him. We get one at a time.”