Pence unmasked shows his obedience to Trump

The only person in the Mayo Clinic not wearing a mask was the Vice President of the United States. White House Pool photo.

by Michael D'Antonio

Who was that unmasked man hovering dangerously close to everyone at the Mayo Clinic? It was Vice President Mike Pence, doing his best imitation of President Donald Trump's super-troll leadership style.

More importantly, he was publicly demonstrating that whatever personal strength he possessed when he agreed in 2016 to be Trump's understudy has now pathetically withered.

To recap Tuesday's travesty: Pence was hosted by the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, for a rare high-level visit to the frontline of the pandemic that has killed nearly 60,000 Americans in two short months.

The Mayo Clinic tweeted that Pence and his team were told ahead of time that the clinic required visitors to wear a medical mask to protect others from the slim, but real, chance they carried the Covid-19 virus (the clinic's tweet was subsequently deleted).

Everyone Pence met wore one. But he did not. And it makes me wonder if flashing this choice for the press may have been one reason he made the trip.

Check the video and still pictures of a barefaced Pence visiting the clinic and you'll also notice that he made no effort to observe the six-foot distance recommended to help prevent the spread of Covid-19, which, it must be said, kills people. Noteworthy, too, is the vice president's rather Trump-like posture -- a bit slumped, arms dangling at his side -- it's a pose that communicates a relaxed sense of carefree superiority. It says, "I'm special. The rules don't apply to me."

Thirty years in public life would tell the former governor that he was obliged to set an example by donning a mask and observing social distancing to show the country that following the public health protocol is the life-saving and patriotic thing we do to protect others. The same experience would also tell him that breaking the rules would spark a controversy in the press -- and this may have been the point.

As Pence has surely observed, whether he is boasting about his TV ratings or insulting reporters at pandemic briefings, Trump routinely deviates from presidential norms to entertain his political base with the crude rhetoric of an internet troll. His intentions seem to be to show up anyone who might offer a different view and demonstrate power through defiance. When an uproar ensues, Trump often seems gleeful as he responds with denials, distractions, and a reminder he holds the power to declare what is right or wrong, true or false.

What's more, if America saw Pence wearing a mask it would demonstrate that the pandemic is all too real, thereby making it impossible to sell the fantasies his boss keeps floating about the relative safety of re-opening the country and the possibility that the virus "is going to disappear." There's no way the President wants his VP to display such a potent symbol as a mask.

When Pence responded to the inevitable hubbub about his Mayo Clinic visit he said, "And since I don't have the coronavirus, I thought it'd be a good opportunity for me to be here, to be able to speak to these researchers, these incredible health care personnel, and look them in the eye and say thank you."

The illogic in what Pence says is so obvious that pointing it out seems ridiculous but here we go: First, medical masks do not block the eyes. Indeed, Pence could have seen everyone else's eyes and his own baby blues would have sparkled brightly even with a mask.

Second, tests only show a person is virus-free at a specific moment in time. For this reason, he cannot be certain he did not catch the virus between his test and his visit to Mayo.

But the condition of the vice president's respiratory tract is, in the end, not the point. What matters is that he signaled to others that the effort we're all making to keep our country safe doesn't matter. He was telling the knuckleheads who rally to defy the public health measures laid out by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that he agrees with their antisocial activism.

And he was showing us that he has been fully corrupted by Donald Trump.

Editor's note: Michael D'Antonio is the author of the book "Never Enough: Donald Trump and the Pursuit of Success" and co-author with Peter Eisner of "The Shadow President: The Truth About Mike Pence." The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author.

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The Gayly. 4/29/ 2020 @ 1:48 p.m. CST.