So you want Trump to wear a mask?

Under­stand­ing Don­ald Trump (con­tin­ued)

3 minute read
Maybe Deborah Birx could try giving the president a different line of advice. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons.)
Maybe Deborah Birx could try giving the president a different line of advice. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons.)

Why won’t Trump wear a mask?

If wearing a face mask during a pandemic makes sense medically, politically, and morally, why does the president steadfastly refuse to wear one?

This is no mere rhetorical question. Long before the coronavirus pandemic, at a time when germophobes were perceived as neurotic, Trump delighted in celebrating his own germophobia.

  • In his 1997 book, The Art of the Comeback, Trump (or his ghostwriter) called handshaking “one of the curses of American society” and proudly declared himself “a clean hands freak.”
  • Seven years later, in How to Get Rich, he (or his ghostwriter) doubled down: “As you may have heard, I don’t like germs. I’m still waging a personal crusade to replace the mandatory and unsanitary handshake with the Japanese custom of bowing.”
  • As President-elect in 2017, amid allegations that he had been filmed in Moscow urinating on sex workers, Trump responded by pointing out that “I’m very much a germaphobe, by the way.”
  • In June 2019, he stopped a filmed interview with George Stephanopoulos for ABC News because his acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney coughed off camera. “If you’re going to cough, please leave the room,” Trump angrily scolded Mulvaney. “You just can’t, you just can’t cough.”

Yet once the novel coronavirus struck this year, and once medical authorities began urging everyone to wear masks, wash hands often, and practice social distancing and quarantining, Trump ostentatiously refused to do any such thing. Why the about-face?

I write as a former financial journalist who has followed Trump’s career for more than 40 years. I never met him personally, but in 1978 I successfully resisted his clumsy attempt to be included in a list of wealthiest Americans that I compiled for Town & Country magazine. Having long ago concluded that Trump suffers from Narcissistic Personality Disorder, in January 2017 I made a series of predictions in Broad Street Review about Trump’s behavior as president. I take no pleasure—well, maybe just a little pleasure—in noting that all my predictions have so far come to pass. For example: He will never release his tax returns; he will never divest his businesses; he will never give up his Twitter account; he will never give up his children as his advisers (because they’re the only people he trusts); and he will hold pep rallies instead of press conferences.

Eight months later, I added one more prediction that seems relevant in this pandemic year:

“In any given situation, Trump will take the action that makes waves or creates headlines, even if it makes no moral, political, or practical sense…. From a narcissist’s perspective, how can you attract attention if you simply endorse conventional wisdom?”

When a pandemic strikes, the narcissist responds not by embracing consensus medical advice but by defying the prevailing expert consensus. In effect, he declares: if it’s my idea, I’m for it. If it’s somebody else’s idea, I’m against it.

You say: only a six-year-old would think that way. I say: you may be on to something.

So…. How do we get Trump to wear a mask? Simple: Urge Anthony Fauci, Deborah Birx, Robert Redfield, Nancy Pelosi, Sanjay Gupta, Chris Cuomo, Rachel Maddow, and Paul Krugman to demand that Trump not wear a mask. As soon as they do that, he will start wearing one.

Next question.

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