In normal-ish times, a vice presidential visit to one of the best hospitals in the world during a global health crisis wouldn’t be a multiday story. But this is the Trump administration and somehow, some way, they managed to fuck it up.
It started on Tuesday when Vice President Mike Pence toured the world-renowned Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota to visit with doctors and patients, like Dennis Nelson, a recovered coronavirus patient who was donating blood.
It seems as if two days of negative media attention was finally enough for Mike Pence. He toured another facility on Thursday and found the strength to don a mask alongside all the others.
There was Mike Pence standing in a room full of people, all of whom were wearing a mask—except the vice president. The images immediately went viral and Pence’s utter disregard for the hospital’s policy, which was relayed to not only Mike Pence’s staff but to all media who travel with the vice president, was shamelessly disregarded. Apparently the vice president does not want to be photographed wearing a mask—no matter whether it sends the wrong message to Americans watching at home or whether it is an actual danger to those in the hospital.
Asked about why he made the decision not to wear a mask when it was clearly hospital policy and he was the only person not wearing one, Pence told reporters (seen in the clip below) that he is regularly tested, so no need for a mask! His exact quote:
“As vice president of the United States I’m tested for the coronavirus on a regular basis, and everyone who is around me is tested for the coronavirus,” Pence said, adding that he is following CDC guidelines, which indicate that the mask is good for preventing the spread of the virus by those who have it.
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 healthcare personnel, and look them in the eye and say ‘thank you.’”
Let’s unpack that real quick. First of all, doctors nationwide absolutely blasted Pence’s decision not to wear a mask as "dangerous & disrespectful." Dr. Vin Gupta told MSNBC: "The vast majority of individuals that we think are likely transmitters of the disease have no symptoms. You basically have a bunch of people feeling great who think they don't need to follow the rules."
Secondly, the mask does not prevent you from speaking. If you are reading this at home and have worn a mask recently, you know that people can hear you perfectly fine. Pence didn’t seem to have a hard time understanding people who were talking to him while following the hospital’s stringent mask policy.
Finally, and I can’t believe I have to say this, but the mask is not worn over the eyes. The vice president would have no problems looking people right in their eyes and lying through his teeth as he normally does.
As the brouhaha has continued to roll two days later, the vice president’s office sent out a heavy hitter to clean up. Enter Karen Pence, the evangelical wife of Mike Pence. She appeared on Fox News (where else?) to offer a new explanation for why her husband disregarded the hospital’s policy. This time they want to convince people they just didn’t know about the policy.
OK, Karen. Can you imagine the gumption it takes to go on national television to sell that lie? Just two days ago her own husband told reporters he didn’t feel the need to wear one because he is so frequently tested. When asked whether it was a mistake, Mike Pence’s spokesperson Katie Miller flatly said, "We don't feel it was a mistake." Pence said didn’t wear one because he thought it was important to look people in the eye. And for the record, reporters are speaking out to note that they were all told about the policy. And even if Mike Pence wasn’t explicitly told it was a hospital policy, don’t you look around and have the self-awareness to know you are the only person not wearing a mask? Seems like any basic human would think, hey—don’t I need a mask too?
But he didn’t. Why? The most likely answer is toxic masculinity. One of the key behaviors seen in toxic masculinity is "maintaining an appearance of hardness." It runs deep in the Trump administration and most of the key players. Surely Donald Trump himself would’ve mocked or berated Mike Pence if he’d been widely photographed wearing a mask. There is nothing Donald Trump despises more than weakness (in others).
At the end of the day, it’s easy to see how the Pence family so fully integrated into Trump world. They might have arrived at this point in history through very different paths, but their ability to lie, twist, and spin uniquely bonds them. Personally, I’m waiting on the next chapter for these two couples. The inevitable uncoupling is going to be one hell of a show.