“I think masks are OK … I put a mask on when I think I need it … I don’t wear a mask like him. Every time you see him, he’s got a mask. He could be speaking 200 feet away from them, and he shows up with the biggest mask I’ve ever seen.”
Above is what President Donald Trump said at the first presidential debate Sept. 29 between him and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. Trump seemed to find it outrageous — even comedic — that Biden was taking proper health measures during a pandemic.
Later that same week, Trump came out with this tweet: “Tonight, @FLOTUS and I tested positive for COVID-19. We will begin our quarantine and recovery process immediately. We will get through this TOGETHER!”
It’s difficult to determine exactly who he’s referring to when he says “together,” because it certainly does not include those who have been dutifully wearing masks and doing their best to stay inside to prevent the further spread of the coronavirus. It doesn’t include those who have been dying of the virus despite taking precautions because others are too ignorant or naive to do so themselves. It doesn’t include the people who are suffering through the disease and unable to afford health insurance or care at the sky-high rates they’re offered in the United States.
Rather, Trump’s “together” can only refer to those who, like himself, have not been abiding by safety guidelines. These people could be well on their way toward a positive diagnosis themselves. It’s fine for Trump, who has seemingly recovered from the virus. But Trump’s diagnosis will bear implications beyond his contraction of the virus; his reckless mindset toward the pandemic is infectious, much like the virus itself, and the cure for it may be even more elusive than the vaccine.
At face value, Trump contracting the virus seems like a warning — if you don’t wear a mask, you are increasing your chances of becoming infected with the virus, which could result in death. But coupled with his constant and monthslong downplaying of the virus’ severity and his nonchalant behavior even after his own diagnosis, Trump has spun the events of the past week to send the opposite message it should — you shouldn’t wear a mask because even if you do become infected, “I feel better than I did 20 years ago!”
The situation parallels the hypothetical, “if all your friends jumped off a cliff, would you jump too?” which considers the power of social influence on individual behavior. But in this case, there’s an added element of authority; the friend jumping off first is the president of the United States, and he’s telling you that there’s a big, fluffy mattress waiting for you at the bottom.
This is not the case for most Americans. Trump is back on his feet after having had access to some of the best medical resources this country can provide, but most others are not as fortunate. For him to tweet, “Don’t be afraid of COVID. Don’t let it dominate your life” when more than 200,000 people have died from it in the United States alone is absolutely ignorant and minimizes the dangers of the virus. Certainly, the family members and friends left behind by the hundreds of thousands of coronavirus deaths do not have the luxury of being able to be unafraid of it.
Trump is also telling Americans not to worry because a vaccine is on its way shortly. He has said that the vaccine would be made available to the public in October, conveniently before the presidential election. However, scientists and vaccine makers have repeatedly rebutted his claim, saying that a more realistic timeline would have the vaccine out by mid-2021. This suggests that Trump’s priority is not to protect the American people from the virus but, instead, to diminish the fear of it just enough to pull him through to a victory on Nov. 3.
His opponent in this election has emphasized the importance of wearing masks.
“Masks matter,” Biden said at a town hall event on Monday, Oct. 5. “These masks, they matter. It matters. It saves lives. It prevents the spread of the disease … There’s a lot to be concerned about.”
Biden went on to stress that wearing a mask is not just about protecting yourself but about protecting others as well.
“All the tough guys say: ‘I’m not wearing a mask. I’m not afraid,’” Biden said. “Well, be afraid for your husband, your wife, your son, your daughter, your neighbor or your co-worker. That’s who you’re protecting having this mask on. And it should be viewed as a patriotic duty to protect those around you.”
Biden, by the way, has not contracted the virus.
In the face of the election, it will be up to Americans to prevent Trump from continuing to set a fatal example for the public. A big, fluffy mattress does not lie at the bottom of the cliff. Please, wear a mask and save lives. Please, vote.