President Donald Trump's leadership has never been under such scrutiny as during this pandemic. And never has the adoration for No. 45 among a lasting minority of Americans held such an opportunity for Trump to exercise leadership.
He certainly relishes his popularity, forever boasting about rally crowds (before coronavirus shut them down) or tweeting that his task force briefings are a "ratings hit." "A lot of people love me," he said in April. "I guess I’m here for a reason, you know?"
While Trump's overall approval may never exceed 50%, that's still tens of millions who believe in him and what he says — leverage to do tremendous good.
Is Trump taking hydroxychloroquine?
Two cases in point:
Embracing unproven therapies. After Trump inexplicably started pushing the public ("What the hell do you have to lose?") in March to embrace two anti-malarial drugs as coronavirus therapies, prescriptions for chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine soared nationwide. While early anecdotal evidence and two small, flawed studies suggested coronavirus-fighting benefits from the drugs, mounting research since then has pointed to the opposite conclusion — the drugs are no help and could, in fact, be harmful.
RNC DOCTOR:On masks and hydroxychloroquine, science supports president
The Food and Drug Administration warned in late April against using either drug in nonhospital settings because of a risk of heart rhythm problems. A Veterans Affairs study showed high death rates among coronavirus patients using hydroxychloroquine. And a large New York study this month showed no benefits from hydroxychloroquine.
Trump's response? He announced Monday that he has been taking hydroxychloroquine for two weeks to guard against coronavirus. Knowing how controversial the drugs are, Trump could have kept his personal decision private. But he didn't.
Whether he's telling the truth about ingesting the drug — a White House physician statement oddly avoids any clear assertion that the president is actually using hydroxychloroquine — the message to Americans who believe in Trump is clear: Never mind the science; I know better.
Life and death over masks
Refusing to wear a face mask. The president has employed a similar wink-and-nod approach with his disciplined practice of never wearing a face mask in public, not even Thursday when he was touring a Ford Motor Co. plant in Ypsilanti, Michigan, where a rule required masks and the state's attorney general had told the president ahead of time he had a "legal responsibility" to put one on.
His explanation has something to do with his belief that wearing face covering is undignified or unflattering or shows weakness, even if everyone around him at the White House is now required to wear them.
And they're a wise precaution. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began urging in early April that masks be worn because coronavirus is so contagious, it can spread merely by people talking to each other. In Hong Kong, which has nearly the population of New York City, face masks were worn almost universally from the moment the coronavirus outbreak occurred. The city has lost four people to the disease while more than 16,000 New Yorkers have died.
Somehow, however, in the United States, the issue of wearing face masks has devolved into a debate about conformity, party affiliations and even manliness. Worse yet, store clerks have been beaten and a security guard even shot to death for requiring customers to wear them.
But sadly, by never donning a face mask, Trump's message to Americans is clear: I'm not taking this precaution seriously, so neither should you.
The president spoke to ABC News this month about the sanctity of every living person during a pandemic. "If we lose one life, it's too many," Trump said.
By embracing face masks as a means of curtailing the spread of a deadly disease, or by urging caution with potentially harmful therapies, Trump could lead by example in a way that might save one life or, perhaps, many more.
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