Donald Trump’s public debut of his face covering on Saturday sparked a fierce reaction on social media as the sight of the unpopular president with a mask brought comparisons to fictional villains like Darth Vader and Hannibal Lecter.
President Trump donned a face mask while visiting recovering military personnel at Walter Reed Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, on Saturday.
Trump has been reluctant to wear a mask in public even as senior Republicans have urged Americans who were initially opposed to the face coverings on constitutional grounds to use them to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Critics have assailed Trump for his unwillingness to embrace face coverings, which are now considered the best tool available to combat the raging pandemic that has so far claimed the lives of more than 134,000 Americans.
On social media, Trump was roasted by critics who lambasted the president for a gesture that they say is ‘too little, too late.’
‘I must admit I prefer him in the mask,’ tweeted Twitter user Peg Rasmussen.
‘Less of the evil face I have to see.’
Stephen King, the bestselling author and frequent Trump critic, tweeted: ‘TRUMP WEARS MASK! Sad this has to be a headline.’
Ana Navarro-Cardenas, a ‘Never Trump’ Republican, tweeted: ‘This visit to a hospital was staged for no other reason than to allow Trump to wear a mask without looking like he’s given into pressure.’
She continued: ‘This time, he used Walter Reed as a prop instead of a Church and Bible.’
Walter Reed is a hospital that treats wounded soldiers.
Other Twitter users mocked Trump supporters and campaign aides who congratulated the president for wearing the mask.
JD Bender tweeted: ‘Team Trump giving good boy head pats to try to get the toddler-in-chief to keep wearing a mask.’
The tweet continued: ‘(Note: he was at Walter Reed & the photo-op cost/benefit finally penetrated his sociopathy for a minute.)’
Another meme shows television talk show host Maury Povich reading a letter that says: ‘You say you are a patriot…the fact you won’t wear a mask to save American lives determines that is a lie.’
One meme appeared to praise Trump, juxtaposing a photo of the president in a mask with one of his Democratic opponent, Joe Biden.
The photo of Biden shows him with an anguished look on his face while Trump is seen posing with a determined stare.
‘Choose your fighter…’ read the tweet.
Karen Tumulty, a journalist, tweeted: ‘Trump finally put on a mask. Dear nutty right-wing people: It’s okay now for you to do it too.’
One Twitter user who responded to Tumulty referred to herself as a ‘nutty’ supporter of the president.
She tweeted: ‘[H]e knows to wear a mask to a hospital…and not for a long period of time because wearing a mask for too long will damage your immune system.
‘Do your homework.’
The tweet ended with the hashtag #Maskhysteria.
Another Twitter user who responded to Tumulty wrote: ‘I only wear my mask when I loot or riot.’
That comment is a reference to the protests and rioting that erupted in the days and weeks following the May 25 police-involved death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, in Minneapolis.
Conservatives have criticized the widespread demonstrations, saying that they were held in violation of lockdown orders which forced businesses to shutter.
Another pro-Trump meme referred to the president as ‘presidential bada**.’
A Twitter user responded to Tumulty by writing: ‘I’m still not wearing a mask but he does look bada*** in his.’
The president has repeatedly shrugged off suggestions of wearing a mask, saying that it causes people to touch their face too much and so is not helpful.
Health experts agree that face masks are useful at stopping the spread of COVID-19.
People close to him have told The Associated Press that the president feared a mask would make him look weak and was concerned that it shifted focus to the public health crisis rather than the economic recovery.
As he left the White House on Saturday afternoon he told reporters: ‘When you’re in a hospital, especially, I think it’s expected to wear a mask.’
Trump told Fox News on Thursday that he would wear a face mask during the trip.
‘I’m going to Walter Reed to see some of our great soldiers who have been injured,’ he told Sean Hannity.
‘Badly injured. And also see some of our Covid workers, people who have such a great job.
‘And I expect to be wearing a mask when I go into Walter Reed. You’re in a hospital so I think it’s a very appropriate thing.’
A health expert with Johns Hopkins University thinks that Americans will be wearing masks for ‘several years’.
Eric Toner, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, said in an interview with CNET for the series Hacking the Apocalypse that he believes wearing facial coverings will be a part of the ‘new normal’.
‘I think that mask wearing and some degree of social distancing, we will be living with – hopefully living with happily – for several years,’ Toner said Monday.
Toner added: ‘It’s actually pretty straightforward. If we cover our faces, and both you and anyone you’re interacting with are wearing a mask, the risk of transmission goes way down.’
The Walter Reed website includes guidance that states visitors ‘are expected to wear a cloth face covering over their nose and mouth upon entering and while moving about the facility… when not able to maintain 6 feet of social distancing.’
Trump flew from the White House on Saturday afternoon, touching down at the medical facility at 5:24pm and leaving Marine One a few minutes later.
He spent about 40 minutes with patients and staff in a closed-door session.
Judd Deere, a White House spokesman, issued a statement saying: ‘President Trump is at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center to visit brave combat wounded service members and their families as well as healthcare staff who have been caring for COVID-19 patients during the pandemic.’
The president wrapped his visit inside the hospital at about 6:10pm, and Marine Force One flew him back to the White House at 6:25pm.
Trump’s decision to model a mask in public view and tout it during a Fox News interview Thursday night came after a quiet lobbying campaign by some White House aides and political advisers, aides familiar with the discussions told CNN.
Some of his aides were reportedly concerned by the sight of so many maskless Trump supporters at a rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, last month and worried by the surge of coronavirus cases in the South.
Eight campaign staffers who attended the Tulsa rally tested positive for COVID-19, and this week – three weeks after the rally – has been marked by a record surge in infections in Oklahoma.
On Saturday, the Oklahoma State Department of Health said that 687 new COVID-19 cases had been confirmed in the last 24 hours.
It was the second highest increase only coming after Tuesday’s 858 confirmed cases.
One presidential adviser described the effort as more than a week of ‘lots of negotiation’ and repeated ‘pleading’ by aides who urged the president to set an example for his supporters by wearing a mask on the visit.
Until this week, Trump had resisted that coaxing, in part because he is tested daily and views it as an unnecessary step and also because he has not wanted to give into media criticism and pressure.
‘I didn’t want to give the press the pleasure of seeing it,’ Trump said during a May visit to a Ford plant in Michigan, where he refused to wear a mask in view of the press in defiance of Ford rules.
He did don the mask when he thought people were not looking.
Trump has refused requests to make masks mandatory at his events.
‘It’s fine to wear a mask if it makes you feel comfortable,’ he said.
A Trump political adviser told CNN the president is not in favor of forcing people to wear them.
‘That is the president. He does not want to say it,’ the adviser said.
Every person attending the Republican National Convention in Jacksonville this August will be tested daily for the coronavirus as cases spike in Florida.
That will result in thousands of daily tests. The arena where Trump will formally accept his party’s nomination for a second term seats 15,000 people. Then there are vendors, security staff, and media who work in the surrounding area.
Typically a host city sees an influx of 40,000 to 50,000 people during a political convention when delegates, supporters, security, media, protesters and other visitors are factored in. It’s unclear how the coronavirus pandemic will affect those numbers.
Five senators have already said they are staying away, due to fears about the pandemic.