This is not the first time we have pointed out Donald Trump’s obsession with attention, and the way his communications team visually telegraphs the fact. It is worth revisiting, though, as a way to understand how much Trump’s disastrous and factually-deficient Oval Office address on the raging coronavirus was not about the content but the form.
This president’s self-absorption has been given astonishing latitude over the past three years. But with American lives and the health of the economy on the line in this unprecedented crisis, you’d imagine Trump’s–and his people’s– singular focus would be on you and me.
Shockingly, but not surprisingly, that’s still not the case if you peruse the 11 photos of Trump’s Oval Office coronavirus address (starting here) on the White House Flickr feed.
While the pandemic calls for selflessness from the person responsible for our leadership and safety, what we observe from the imagery is an obsession with the camera, and Trump acting the role of first responder. That includes: a literal picture of a video camera pointing at Trump; a video camera sporting the image of Trump, and a picture of photographers and videographers recording Trump. And then, there’s not one, but three more images that represent the ultimate tell, these portraits offering Trump posing stiffly for the cameras and for posterity without saying anything at all.
I’d like to also talk about enabling.
Consider the image below of the President’s address. It was by Doug Mills for The New York Times and distributed by Getty, and a quick Google search will find it illustrating innumerable media stories about the speech. I love Mills’s work, especially for the ironic, critical and also bold way he can expose Trump’s game. But in this case, the photo delivers the exact look the administration wanted to project.
.@realDonaldTrump addresses the Nation from the Oval Office about the widening coronavirus crisis. pic.twitter.com/hmz09nyqj8
— Doug Mills (@dougmillsnyt) March 12, 2020
And, when you compare it to the blatant, if banal, White House photos, you can see it as one more example of the media colluding with the president to convey more gravitas and normality than Trump has either earned or deserves.
But the gap between Mills’s image and the ones above equate perfectly to several stories that have appeared recently breaking down the emperor’s new clothes. With all that’s at stake in the pandemic, perhaps the media is, in fact, is starting to drill down on Trump “as is.”
Take the president’s first major comments on the coronavirus in a February 26th press briefing. In reporting Trump’s remarks, this Salon article not only detailed how Trump’s words were largely incoherent but also called out major news organization for once again editing the president’s vague references and word salad into passable sense.
But this is not the only way Trump’s narcissism is putting the country at risk right now.
In the same way that Trump treats the camera largely as a mirror, the pathology plays out by proxy. That’s what you saw happening this morning in this shocking clip of Seema Verma, the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services at HHS talking nonsense to a FOX news anchor.
Seema Verma was asked three times if there will be enough ventilators… It didn’t go well pic.twitter.com/cS7mNuZVQ6
— Acyn Torabi (@Acyn) March 13, 2020
The subject on the table was the availability of hospital ventilators as the crisis worsens. Verma’s overriding concern in this instant, however, even though she’s been asked about the ventilators several times, is the fact that Trump avidly consumes FOX News with the singular purpose on how his minions make him look.
Again, what I’m detailing is nothing new. But the context and visibility certainly is. Trump hasn’t had to face much adversity since he’s been in office–and now we see him and his people face a crisis of historic proportion. To see Verma go into “Dear Leader” mode for an “audience of one” when lives are on the line brings Trump’s toxic vanity and the demands of his ego into deadly focus.
— Michael Shaw
Photos: White House Caption: President Donald J. Trump addresses the nation from the Oval Office of the White House Wednesday evening, March 11, 2020, on the country’s expanded response against the global Coronavirus outbreak.
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