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On Thursday afternoon Donald Trump held a roundtable of 19 top Republican donors at Bedminster, his 36-hole golf course in New Jersey, where he vented his frustrations about how his push for a rapid vaccine against Covid-19 was being undermined by the deep state.
According to a description of the meeting recorded on video by one of the donors present, “the president said that the approval for vaccines has been slowed down for political reasons by people who wanted to hurt him”.
The president’s attack on scientists within his own administration seems to have impressed the donors around the table. But what they didn’t know at that time, because Trump did not tell them, was that just a few hours earlier one of Trump’s closest aides, Hope Hicks, had herself tested positive for the disease.
As Trump embarks on a personal battle against coronavirus, having received his own positive result in the early hours of Friday and now having gone to hospital, expressions of concern have flooded in from around the world. Political animosities that have been raging across the country have temporarily been suspended as adversaries wish the president and the also infected first lady a speedy recovery.
But the outpouring of goodwill has not prevented questions being asked about how, when and why the president contracted this potentially life-threatening illness that has already claimed the lives of at least 208,000 Americans. At the center of these inquiries is the Bedminster fundraising event, which the White House allowed to go ahead even after it became known that Hicks had fallen ill.
Many of the finer details of what happened between 1.07pm on Thursday, when Marine One took off from the White House with Trump on board, and 5.55pm when it landed back at base after the New Jersey round trip, are not yet known. But there is sufficient information already in the public domain to suggest that the handling of the Bedminster event bore many of the hallmarks of the Trump administration’s widely-criticised response to the pandemic since its inception.
It demonstrated, for a start, the relaxed approach towards protecting the health of Trump himself as commander-in-chief and head of state of the most powerful nation on Earth. As the Atlantic observed back in August, the White House, with its famously cramped West Wing, has been run for months with a striking lack of safety protocols that make “the most famous address in America feel like a coronavirus breeding ground”.
A similarly casual stance was taken at Bedminster. When Hicks’ illness was detected, several of the White House staff who had been set to travel to New Jersey were pulled off the trip, including press secretary Kayleigh McEnany.
Yet Trump, who should have been subject to the most stringent safeguards, travelled on to the fundraiser regardless.
Other facets of the administration’s lax response to the pandemic over the past nine months were also on show on Thursday, not least the absence of masks. As part of his relentless downplaying of the virus, Trump has tended to eschew masks, rarely wearing one himself in public and mocking his presidential rival Joe Biden for doing so at this week’s televised debate.
Reports suggest that Trump, true to form, did not wear a mask on Thursday, not on Marine One and Air Force One en route to New Jersey, and not at the roundtable nor the larger gathering of about 100 supporters that followed.
One of the side effects of Trump acting as a role-model for non-mask wearing has been the way his supporters have perilously followed suit. Video footage of about 200 Maga supporters who gathered outside the golf course entrance to welcome their hero shows only one of them wearing a mask, and even he had it strapped beneath his nose.
The White House has tried to justify the lack of masks at Bedminster by arguing that there was no need to wear them, as everyone who attended was tested in advance for coronavirus. That in itself reveals a sloppy disregard for the scientific function of testing which can never replace fundamental safety tools such as masks, given that it can take several days for the virus to build up sufficient load to be detectable by the tests.
Tom Frieden, former director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), highlighted the mistake. In a statement, he said: “This event demonstrates that we need a comprehensive approach to Covid-19. Testing does not replace safety measures including consistent mask use, physical distancing, and handwashing.”
The fundraiser also exposed the Trump administration’s willful disregard for state-based regulations, which is paradoxical for a conservative government that espouses states’ rights. New Jersey has strict laws that require anyone entering the state from a Covid hotspot to quarantine for 14 days.
On Wednesday Trump traveled with Hicks to a campaign rally in Minnesota, which is on New Jersey’s designated list of locations that trigger mandatory quarantining. Yet the president blithely ignored the provision.
The most striking aspect of Thursday’s events is that they point to Trump’s apparent willingness to put even his own most loyal supporters at risk. A day after the fundraiser CNBC reported that the Republican donors who had been present were “freaking out” for fear that they too had been contaminated.
The failure to alert those donors to Hicks’ positive test arguably exposed them to danger. It bears comparison to the 20 June campaign rally that was staged in Tulsa, Oklahoma, which was imbued with a similarly cavalier approach to the safety of thousands of Trump supporters.
The rally was held indoors despite strong warnings from health experts. Before it began, campaign organizers arranged for thousands of social distancing stickers to be taken down inside the venue.
Three weeks after the event, Oklahoma reported a record surge in Covid-19 cases. One of those who attended the Tulsa rally, the former Republican presidential candidate and early advocate for Trump, Herman Cain, tested positive for the virus and died soon after.
In the wake of Cain’s passing, Trump denied it had anything to do with the Tulsa rally. The president provided no evidence to back up his contention.
Source: The Guardian
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