The Republican National Committee decided last week to move much of its national convention from Charlotte, N.C., to Jacksonville, Fla. Why? Because the president of the United States demands a packed house.
I wish there was another explanation for this last-minute decision, but alas there is not. The president would not abide the social distancing measures North Carolina wanted to impose to protect delegates from the spread of COVID-19. “I don’t want to be sitting in a place that’s 50 percent empty,” Trump reportedly told Roy Cooper, the state’s Democratic governor.
Even in the dizzying world of Trump-related outrages, this one is a doozy. In effect, a Republican president is insisting that tens of thousands of GOP delegates and party officials be placed in acute danger of contracting a deadly virus that has already taken more than 110,000 American lives. Republican officials, who will be at risk themselves, are enthusiastically backing the effort. Even more amazing is the fact that GOP governors actively lobbied for the convention to come to their states. The “big winner,” Florida, is currently experiencing a significant uptick in COVID-19 cases and will now be welcoming more.
All this is happening because the president’s ego requires a huge celebration.
It’s the same reason Trump is restarting his campaign rallies this week with a big gathering in Tulsa, Okla.
One can assume that many of those in attendance will not be wearing masks. The president has refused to wear one in public, even though face coverings are considered one of the best tools for preventing the spread of the coronavirus. He reportedly views mask-wearing as a sign of weakness — and his White House staff is apparently taking cues. They are not covering their faces, even after several were exposed to the virus.
Last week, Vice President Mike Pence traveled to Trump campaign headquarters in Virginia for a photo with the staff (which he posted on Twitter and later took down) and not one person was wearing a mask — all the while standing six inches, not six feet, from each other. The vice president, remember, serves as the head of the administration’s coronavirus task force.
This type of mass, indoor gathering poses especially acute risks for transmission of COVID-19. A gathering as large as a political convention represents a greater peril.
If all this cavalier campaign activity seems especially egregious, it is, sadly, in line with the Trump administration’s general indifference to the human toll of the pandemic. From the beginning, the president’s overwhelming focus has been on the economic impact of the virus and how that might affect his reelection effort. The number of Americans who have died is almost certainly higher than it could have been because of Trump’s refusal to respond more quickly. And fatalities are again spiking higher, in part because Republican governors, at the urging of Trump, are reopening their states with fewer precautions than they should.
That the president has no concern for the welfare of the American people is, of course, not news. But it’s one thing for Trump to blithely disregard those who are not in his political corner. That has never seemed to trouble those who support him. If anything, it is likely a source of his appeal.
But for supporters to maintain such devotion to a leader who shows such little concern for them, and is actively seeking to put them in harm’s way, is something else altogether. Generally speaking, support for a political leader doesn’t come with a cyanide tablet.
No doubt, many of Trump’s devoted fans will tell themselves that their chances of getting COVID-19 are de minimis. Maybe they’ll convince themselves that the coronavirus is no worse than the flu or that Trump wouldn’t knowingly put them in harm’s way. Being a Trump supporter requires a lot of rationalization. Still, there is little doubt that some of his followers understand and appreciate the risks, but feel like they can’t say no to Trump. After all, the one non-negotiable requirement for membership in MAGA world is blind loyalty to the leader.
I don’t know for sure if this qualifies as cult-like behavior (though it sure feels that way). But that so many Republicans are willing to look the other way for a president who cares not one whit about whether they live or die is perhaps the perfect distillation of the political insanity that has taken over the Republican Party.
Michael A. Cohen’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @speechboy71.