Donald Trump’s unannounced – and wildly unnecessary – drive-by of his supporters outside Walter Reed medical center on Sunday night aptly summed up his presidency to date: An entirely self-focused political (and PR) stunt with little regard for the impacts on people other than himself.
That’s the only logical explanation for the decision by the President of the United States to task two Secret Service agents with driving him by supporters who had gathered outside the hospital to show their support for him as he continues to battle Covid-19.
“That Presidential SUV is not only bulletproof, but hermetically sealed against chemical attack,” tweeted Dr. James Phillips, who works at Walter Reed as an emergency physician, on Sunday night. “The risk of COVID19 transmission inside is as high as it gets outside of medical procedures. The irresponsibility is astounding. My thoughts are with the Secret Service forced to play.” He added: “Every single person in the vehicle during that completely unnecessary Presidential ‘drive-by’ just now has to be quarantined for 14 days. They might get sick. They may die. For political theater. Commanded by Trump to put their lives at risk for theater. This is insanity.”
Yes. That. All of it.
Before we get any further along, let’s get to the White House response on all of this. Here’s chief of staff Mark Meadows on Fox News early Monday morning:
“The Secret Service agent, how do you think that he got here? We came here on Marine One. The Secret Service agent that is with him has been with him. He’s been with him in cars and yet we took additional precautions with PPE and others to make sure that they were protected. Myself and some of the Secret Service detail leads are right there with him trying to make sure that he’s protected each and every day and that he returns back to the White House as expeditiously as possible.”
What Meadows seems to miss is that the decision to fly Trump to Walter Reed on Friday night and the ongoing protection provided to do it were – and are – necessary. Doctors decided Trump’s high fever and transient oxygen loss made hospitalization the right move. And the Secret Service is, of course, tasked with protecting the President – even when he is hospitalized.
But the drive-by was totally and completely unnecessary. There is absolutely no medical reason for why Trump should be put into a car and paraded by his supporters, with two Secret Service agents in the front seat. None.
The reason why Trump did it, then? There are actually two.
1) He is increasingly concerned that being in the hospital makes him look weak in the eyes of voters. And for Trump, there is NOTHING worse than looking weak. He has spent his whole life projecting a tough-guy image and deriding those who he views to be less tough. Trump has released multiple videos from Walter Reed making sure his supporters know that while he’s in the hospital he is still working – and not laid low by the virus. But that wasn’t enough for him. He wanted more of a show, more of a “moment” that would make clear that he was holding up against the virus. And so, the parade.
2) He needs to hear the cheers and applause of his most ardent backers. When Trump heard that there were people waving flags and standing vigil for him outside the hospital, it was like a moth to a flame. Trump has long believed that his raucous campaign rallies are the lifeblood of his campaign, and it’s become increasingly clear how much he depends on them. This is a President who desperately needs to be affirmed for every word he says and action he takes. The applause, the chants, the MAGA hats – they all fuel him. It’s how he does what he does. And in the hospital, he hasn’t been able to hold any rallies or even see people cheering for him. And so he leaped at the chance to do so.
Trump didn’t think about anyone else – and what his stunt might mean for them – because that is not what he does. As he has proven time and time again as both a candidate for president and during his first term, he lacks the empathy gene. Trump views the world through a very simple lens: Is this good for me or bad for me? If the former, he does it. If the latter he doesn’t.
While we all have that sef-preservation instinct, most of us do our best to broaden our vision to include the impacts our actions might have on others around us. Every past president has seen that primacy of the “we” over the “me” as a moral imperative to the job. Trump doesn’t see the “we.” Just the “me, me, me.”