In what should be regarded as a textbook response to a Trump staffer, when senior White House advisor Steve Cortes tried to interrupt him, Fox News anchor Chris Wallace said, “No, I’m going to finish my question.” And he did.
The point of “controversy” was that the rules of the Cleveland Clinic, venue of the first (and what will probably be the last) 2020 presidential debate, specifically stated that everyone was to wear a mask. The only exceptions were the moderator (Chris Wallace himself) and the two candidates. After parading in, the first family, including the First Lady, Donald Junior, Eric and Ivanka Trump removed their masks. When a Cleveland Clinic staffer approached them with masks they were insouciantly waved away. It turned out the rules didn’t apply to them.
Chris Wallace wanted to know why. Mr. Cortes begged to differ, saying, “Chris, we believe that masks are very useful, the President has worn them on many occasions … so we believe in masks. We also believe in a certain element of individual choice. People were distanced and they had been tested.” Wallace replied, “No Steve, they weren’t distanced and there were rules and there was no freedom of choice. They broke the rules.” An exasperated Cortes finally replied, “Chris, the way you’re starting to harangue me now reminds me of what you did to the president … I don’t mind tough questions … but what I don’t think is okay is for you to become the effective opposition to the president.”
And herein is the problem. When “the opposition” is the truth then it’s the truth that’s got it wrong, according to the White House, circa 2020. Mr. Cortes to the contrary, however, Chris Wallace’s job is to call balls and strikes on the president, not rubber stamp everything he does and says. In his supreme arrogance Cortes has lost sight of this. But we haven’t, nor are we ever going to.
The simple scientific reality is social distancing and testing aren’t enough. You must also wear a mask. The first family decided the rules don’t apply to them. The problem, and it’s still being mooted even now, is one of “individual freedoms.” That the people in charge of governing the country are still unclear on why this is no longer a viable justification for not wearing a mask is staggering.
Failure to wear a mask was against the rules at the Cleveland Clinic for the same reason drunk driving is against the rules of the roads. One does not drive drunk because it puts lives at risk. Driving drunk is not a question of “individual freedom.” The president and the First Family have, in their arrogance, demonstrated over and over and over that the rules don’t apply to them, and have continued to politicise mask wearing, even now. And even now they are paying the price.
Even at the debate Donald Trump mocked Joe Biden for wearing a mask. “I don’t wear masks like him,” Trump said, indicating Biden, “every time you see him he’s got a mask.” Maybe that’s why you’re sick and Joe isn’t, Donald.
Scientific truth does not give way to hubris, bravura and big talk. Truth remains truth no matter what party you belong to. Individual freedoms take a back seat to public safety all the time. This is one of those times. Steve Cortes thinks that defending the truth makes the defender a member of the opposition. In other words, this is a regime where truth is now the enemy. And that may be a simple existential definition of totalitarianism.
So wash your hands, social distance, disinfect your groceries and anything else you bring into the house, and wear your damned mask. Coronavirus will get you, it will make you sick, it can even give you heartbreaking, lifelong disabilities, and it may even kill you. So don’t be a fool like Trump and his pirate ship regime. And, as ever, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, stay safe.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.