Trump’s Mount Rushmore Trip Highlights Disconnect With Surging Virus
July. 03, 2020
WASHINGTON — Health officials across the country are urging Americans to scale back their Fourth of July plans as the coronavirus pandemic makes a frightening resurgence. Most politicians, including former Vice President Joseph R. Biden, Jr., the presumptive Democratic nominee, are forgoing the traditional holiday parades and flag-waving appearances. The vast majority of fireworks displays in big cities and small rural towns have been canceled as new cases reported in the United States have increased by 90 percent in the past two weeks. President Trump, however, has a different, discordant message: The sparkly, booming show must go on at all costs in the service of the messages and images he wants to promote. Mr. Trump was traveling to South Dakota Friday evening for a huge fireworks display at the Mount Rushmore National Memorial, a made-for-TV show of patriotism that he has spent years lobbying to revive. Because of fears that they might set off wildfires in the surrounding forest, there have been no fireworks at Mount Rushmore since 2009.
Under the granite gaze of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt, Mr. Trump was expected to deliver a searing attack on what he has referred to as the “left-wing mob,” according to someone with knowledge of his remarks. He will address how “cancel culture” and the desire of some Americans to tear down statues amount to what one aide described as “totalitarian behavior” seeking to rewrite history . As the president departed Washington for South Dakota on Friday afternoon, new virus cases for the day had surged above 45,000, and at least five states — Alabama, Alaska, Kansas, North Carolina and South Carolina — reported their highest single day of cases yet. Newly reported cases of the virus were rising in all but a handful of states, and many large cities, including Houston, Dallas, Jacksonville and Los Angeles, were seeing alarming growth.
Mr. Trump planned to follow up his trip with a “Salute to America” celebration on Saturday on the South Lawn at the White House, marked by a military flyover and the launch of 10,000 fireworks on the National Mall. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser of Washington has warned the gathering violates federal health guidelines. The Trump administration, which controls the federal property of the National Mall, pushed for the celebration, ignoring a mayor officials view as a political rival .
Throughout his presidency, Mr. Trump has tried to bend events to his will, often using social media to drive home his alternate version of reality and, thanks to the power of repetition and the loyal support of his base, sometimes succeeding. But the president’s attempt to drive deeper into the culture wars around a national holiday, during an intensifying health crisis that will not yield to his tactics, risked coming across as out of sync with the concerned mood of the country at a moment when his re-election campaign is struggling and unfocused . “I don’t think it will work, because what he is trying to do is pretend that the situation is better than it is,” said Michael Beschloss, the historian and author of “Presidents of War.” Mr. Beschloss compared Mr. Trump to Woodrow Wilson, who presided over the influenza pandemic in 1918 by trying to pretend it was not happening, and to Herbert Hoover, who in 1932 tried to project that the Great Depression was not as bad as people were saying. “People voted him out because they felt he did not understand the suffering,” Mr. Beschloss said, referring to Hoover. Mr. Beschloss said that while presidents had always celebrated the Fourth of July, it was also highly unusual to turn it into a partisan rally. “Most presidents in history have understood that when they appear at a national monument, it’s usually a moment to act as a unifying chief of state, not a partisan divider,” Mr. Beschloss said. Mr. Trump has consistently played down the concerns over spikes in new cases, even as many cities and states have had to slow or reverse their reopenings, claiming that young people “get better much easier and faster ,” that the death rate is declining and that the virus will “just disappear.” On Thursday, he lauded his administration’s response, referred to the surge in new cases as “temporary hot spots” and focused instead on what he said was evidence of the economy bouncing back.
“A lot of people would have wilted,” Mr. Trump said at a news conference where he praised the latest job numbers. “We didn’t wilt. Our country didn’t wilt.” In South Dakota, Mr. Trump enjoys the backing of Gov. Kristi Noem, a Republican, who said there were no plans to enforce social distancing for the president’s visit. “We’re asking them to come, be ready to celebrate, to enjoy the freedoms and the liberties that we have in this country,” Ms. Noem said in an interview this week with the Fox News host Laura Ingraham . “We won’t be social distancing.”
Image Demonstrators, some from different tribes in the region, marched through Keystone on Friday to protest Mr. Trump’s visit to Mount Rushmore. Credit... Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
In recent weeks, South Dakota has had one of the country’s most encouraging trend lines . The state has averaged a few dozen new cases each day, including 85 announced Friday. There has not been a day with more than 100 new cases in South Dakota since late May. In Washington, however, officials are adamantly opposed to the celebration that White House officials defended as a gathering people could enjoy safely. Administration officials noted that the celebration was scaled back from last year’s event, when Mr. Trump turned the holiday into a salute to the military , with tanks on the streets of the capital and flyovers from Air Force One as well as aircraft from each branch of the armed forces, as he delivered remarks from the Lincoln Memorial. Kayleigh McEnany, the White House press secretary, said this week that Mr. Trump had recommended following guidelines set by local authorities only on wearing masks — not on social distancing overall. “The C.D.C. guidelines, I’d also note, say ‘recommended,’ but not required,” she said. “We are very much looking forward to the Fourth of July celebration.”
This year, the National Park Service said it was taking extra safety precautions on the National Mall, installing more than 100 hand-washing stations throughout the area, up from 15 last year. Officials also said they had 300,000 cloth facial coverings on hand to distribute. “We are committed to providing the American people with a safe and spectacular celebration of our nation’s birthday in Washington D.C., which will honor our military with music, flyovers and fireworks,” a spokesman for the park service said. “We are doing so consistent with our mission and historical practices, and we hope everyone enjoys the day’s festivities.” The president’s political opponents, however, said the celebrations were about one person, only: the president himself. “Donald Trump is seeking to aggrandize himself and divide our nation at yet another rally,” said Andrew Bates, a spokesman for Mr. Biden. “Joe Biden believes the presidency is about serving the American people — whereas Donald Trump only exploits it to serve himself.” On Friday, Mr. Trump spent the day at his golf course in Sterling, Va., before he departed for South Dakota, and White House officials said they had no safety concerns about the trip. But the virus has already shown it can infiltrate the administration, and the White House has experienced the dangers of staging large gatherings as the pandemic rages. Vice President Mike Pence postponed a planned trip this week to Arizona after Secret Service agents set to accompany him tested positive for the coronavirus or showed symptoms. And at least eight campaign staff members who helped plan Mr. Trump’s indoor rally last month in Tulsa, Okla., have tested positive , either before the rally or after attending. Before the president left for South Dakota on Friday, Trump campaign aides were circulating on social a doctored image of Mount Rushmore, featuring Mr. Trump’s face carved into the stone next to some of the nation’s most revered presidents.
“Mount Rushmore, improved,” one aide wrote. Mitch Smith contributed reporting from Chicago.
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