It is one of the most familiar horror movie tropes on file: On a dark and stormy night, the phone rings and an evil voice whispers terrifying threats. The phone keeps ringing, the mystery grows, the tension builds, until the big reveal: THE CALL IS COMING FROM INSIDE THE HOUSE!
Donald Trump is now living that trope in real time. After months of ignoring and dismissing the COVID-19 pandemic in a show of violent disregard for the communities most disproportionately affected, the wolf is not just at his door. It is in his house, breathing the virus into that rarefied air.
“The Trump administration is racing to contain an outbreak of the coronavirus inside the White House,” reported The New York Times on Sunday, “as some senior officials believe that the disease is already spreading rapidly through the warren of cramped offices that make up the three floors of the West Wing.”
Before the weekend began, we had learned that one of Trump’s personal valets had tested positive for COVID-19. Katie Miller, spokesperson for Vice President Mike Pence and wife of White House senior adviser and vivid fascist Stephen Miller, also tested positive. A personal assistant to Ivanka Trump has likewise tested positive, though reports indicate the assistant and the first daughter have not been near each other for weeks.
At least 11 Secret Service members have tested positive, but there is no available information on how close any of them may have come to Trump or other administration officials, because the Secret Service resolutely does not comment on anything having to do with protection duties.
Trump is said to be “spooked” by the presence of the virus in the White House. Anthony Fauci, along with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Robert Redfield and Commissioner of Food and Drugs Stephen Hahn, have placed themselves in quarantine for the coming weeks due to their level of exposure. The most secure building in the world is now a COVID-19 hot spot.
“It is scary to go to work,” said top White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett on the CBS News program “Face the Nation.” “I think that I’d be a lot safer if I was sitting at home than I would be going to the West Wing. It’s a small, crowded place. It’s, you know, it’s a little bit risky. But you have to do it because you have to serve your country.”
Yet Kevin and his pals in the White House have appeared not to take even the simple precaution of wearing masks at work, seemingly because masks are a symbol of bad news, and nobody brings bad news to the boss. Not wearing a mask has become a twisted form of loyalty oath to Donald Trump, and that galloping folly has now exposed the entire building to a deadly pathogen that gives not a single damn who you voted for or what you believe.
Nowhere was this phenomenon more evident than in the Cabinet Room this past Saturday, where Trump met with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Defense Secretary Mark Esper, his national security team, and a clutch of high-ranking military officials. The photo released by the White House shows a roomful of older men seated in close quarters for an extensive period of time. Nary a one of them was wearing a mask.
While there is categorically never a “good” time for any location to become a nest of COVID-19 infections, the timing of this particular White House outbreak is particularly gruesome for Trump and his allies. A number of Trump-allied governors, and even a few Democratic governors, began lifting their states’ stay-at-home strictures despite howls of warnings from scientists and medical professionals. As expected, these premature reopenings have led to a spike in reported infections.
“In a week when the novel coronavirus ravaged new communities across the country and the number of dead soared past 78,000, President Trump and his advisers shifted from hour-by-hour crisis management to what they characterize as a long-term strategy aimed at reviving the decimated economy and preparing for additional outbreaks this fall,” reports The Washington Post. “But in doing so, the administration is effectively bowing to — and asking Americans to accept — a devastating proposition: that a steady, daily accumulation of lonely deaths is the grim cost of reopening the nation.”
In other words — as I have stated time and time and time and time and time again — Donald Trump’s primary concern beyond himself and re-election is to defend this hypercapitalist system at all cost. He and his allies spent the week attempting to hypnotize a terrified, cloistered, frustrated population into believing tens of thousands of deaths, even hundreds of thousands of deaths, is an acceptable price for doing business.
It is a monstrous argument put forth by a monstrous man, and just as Trump’s lethal sales pitch was reaching its peak, COVID-19 came into his home and tapped him on the shoulder. By all reports, he and his closest minions are tested multiple times a day, despite his claims that testing is “overrated.” Yet testing does not prevent infection, and clearly, whatever testing regimen they were using was not nearly enough.
What is happening inside Trump’s house right now is a perfect allegory for how the administration has handled the pandemic to date. There was a lot of bluff talk and faux-courageous showboating for the cameras back when concrete steps could have been taken, even as the virus made itself at home and began to spread. Upon discovery that whatever they were doing was insufficient, incomplete steps were taken to mitigate the damage, but it was already far too late. Now comes the part where we wait to see how bad it will get.