Michaela Jae Rodriguez
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Trump Finally Takes COVID-19 Seriously. That's Scary.

Press conference

President Trump has been acting, well, more presidential, according to the pundits during the last two days. His press conference on Tuesday with his task force, felt…normal? Or what used to be normal. He was deferential to the experts on the dais with him and seemed less boastful. That is until he claimed he knew this coronavirus, COVID-19, was a pandemic before it was a pandemic. He just can’t help himself, even when things are this serious. But overall, he was, well, serious.

And that seriousness is an alarm bell.

When Trump is “caught,” that is when he’s accused of something, he denies, refuses to apologize, or claims what he did never happened. If it’s someone around him, they are the “…best, great, perfect.” Until they’re indicted. Then he hardly knows them. Rarely worked with them, maybe posed in a picture with them. When Trump changes his tune, then you know something is up.

Which is why his recent change in demeanor regarding this crisis has me more scared than ever. 

Trump has been told something by the scientists and physicians around him, something completely undeniable, most likely very devastating about what’s likely to come for all of us. That information made him revert, lit a fire under him, perhaps jolted him. He, for all we know, began to actually listen, and what he heard must have shook him.

And that’s what worries me. Instead of distancing himself from this crisis, calling it a hoax, blaming somebody else — the media, or dismissing this problem, he seems to be confronting it now, unlike he’s ever confronted anything before. What he knows has affected his behavior, and with all things Trump, that’s a sign that something is wrong. What lies ahead must be worse than we realize, and much graver than what we’re being told.

I’m not a psychologist, but after working in PR for over 30 years, with celebrities, politicians, CEOs, tech gurus and others, you start to pick up on repetitive, revealing behaviors that they all can exhibit, particularly when they are answering questions from the media. What I’ve always been able to read is when the interviewee turns serious, that means they know more than the reporter and consequently more than you. 

What I noticed about Trump is that he was unusually serious which indicates that he knows something, perhaps more than can fit in his stable genius brain. We all know he hates to read, detests the details, and shuns long memos, which is why he usually talks in circles on issues that deliberately baffle and confuse reporters — and us. Going off on tangents, going after his opponents, going off on reporters. He plays a game that hides the fact that he knows nothing.

He stuck to the script on Monday and Tuesday and that might actually mean Trump understands the situation. 

The president also likes to suck up all of the air in the room. Talk for more than 30 seconds, particularly if you aren’t talking about him, and he shuts you off. On Monday and Tuesday, he was gladly pulling out Doctors Fauci and Birx, Surgeon General Adams, Treasury Secretary Mnuchin, and the vice oresident — although Pence has been trained to say the words “great job and president” at the beginning of each paragraph. Nevertheless, it was striking to watch Trump look on soberly while the others were speaking. Even calling them to the podium to answer questions, or more shocking, finish answering questions for him. 

That’s not what Trump does, he’s selfish. Today, for him he was almost altruistic, and that terrified me too.

More to the point, and the final barometer, Trump always “trusts his gut” or “leads by his gut.” He always has all of the answers. Knows more than "his" generals. Doesn't need a communications director. Goes through chiefs-of-staffs at whip speed, primarily because he's his own chief-of-staff. So for Trump to fall back on the experts, and have them replace his always right gut with their expertise, does this sound Trumpian to you? My gut says that things are going to get bad. 

We’re seeing “breaking news” every time an Iris Elba, Tom Hanks, the mayor of Miami or NBA players, namely Kevin Durant, test positive for COVID-19. This hysteria around each celebrity or athlete or politician being diagnosed will pass. Soon, there’s likely to be so many, that CNN for example, will refer you to their website for a list of all the noteworthy people who tested positive. There’s a video, spreading quickly online, of an Italian newspaper that is filled with obituaries from those who have lost their lives to the virus. Our news sites are likely to have special sections to remember the dead. A coronavirus doctor in Belgium said that chest x-rays of young patients were “nothing short of terrifying.” The young need to be worried too.

People party on the beaches in Miami, refuse to adhere to the Nashville bar ban, and still roam the streets and shops in Manhattan. Oblivious, or intentionally ignoring, what is going on overseas, what’s beginning to happen here in the United States, and the surprising and startling demeanor change from our commander-in-chief.

All this calamity is coming. And more. In waves. Destructive waves, like a Cat 5 hurricane, not headed toward South Florida, or the Gulf Coast or the Outerbanks, but headed toward all of us. It’s coming. With a vengeance. Going from a watch to a warning. The experts have it mapped out. They have all the data. They have all the predictions. And the impact, what they know, what they are seeing, what they are forecasting looks ominous. 

And our president, who couldn't care less about anything, knows it’s coming, and he cares. And that’s the tipping point that now, we should all be afraid. 

John Casey is a PR professional and an adjunct professor at Wagner College in New York City, and a frequent columnist for The Advocate. Follow John on Twitter @johntcaseyjr.

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