President Donald Trump’s most basic calculation – in, well, everything he does – boils down to this: How does this affect me?
So when his campaign made the decision to hold a campaign rally indoors in Nevada on Sunday night, Trump was, first and foremost, looking out for No. 1.
“I’m on a stage and it’s very far away,” Trump told the Las Vegas Review Journal when asked whether he was nervous about getting Covid-19 from the indoor rally. “And so I’m not at all concerned.” He went on to add: “I’m more concerned about how close you are, to be honest.”
Trump’s sentiment isn’t surprising given his “me”-centric view of the world. But it is yet another piece of evidence that proves how little he actually understands what it means to be president.
Being president isn’t about looking out for numero uno. It’s about putting what you want behind what you believe is the right thing for the country. Trump has never – and will never – operate like that.
(Sidebar: That underlying goal of looking out for the common good as opposed to what’s good for you doesn’t guarantee success, of course. Human nature still tends to revert to a what-does-this-all-mean-for-me views at times. And while past presidents have tried do the right thing for the country, it doesn’t mean they always got it right.)
Consider the scene on Sunday night. The chances of Trump getting Covid-19 from speaking at an indoor campaign rally pale in comparison to the chances of the thousands of attendees getting it. Trump is, as he notes in the Review Journal interview, “on a stage and it’s very far away.” He’s also tested regularly and travels in a bubble that should lower his chances of getting the coronavirus.
The real danger was for the attendees of this event, many of whom, according to photographs and videos from the event, were not wearing masks or practicing social distancing. Those people spent several hours in close proximity to thousands of other people – all of it indoors. It’s literally doing the opposite of everything we know helps mitigate the spread of the virus.
To which, some people – including, undoubtedly, many of those in attendance on Sunday night – will say: America is a free country! No one can tell me where I can go and not go!
But remember that your rights only extend as far as they can until they begin to infringe on other people’s rights. And since I am going to take a wild guess and say that most of the people who went to the Nevada event won’t be self-quarantining for the next 14 days, then their decision to attend Trump’s rally means that they are putting at risk anyone they come into contact with over the next two weeks.
It’s possible – and we can hope – that no one who went to Trump rally on Sunday night had coronavirus or will get it from being among so many other people. But we can’t know that, and neither can anyone who was at the event and is now back interacting with lots of people who didn’t attend.
The point of all of this is that we expect leaders to lead by example. The bar for holding an indoor rally as the coronavirus continues to infect more than 40,000 Americans a day and kill upward of 1,000 shouldn’t be whether Trump feels safe there. It should be whether public health officials believe it has the potential to be a super-spreader event.
Unfortunately, Trump seems not to grasp that important distinction. He wants to put the coronavirus behind him, politically speaking, and address large and boisterous crowds again. So the Sunday night rally happened.
But that’s not the leadership we should expect from a president. That’s the opposite of it.