In February 2016, then-candidate Donald Trump released a photograph of himself, alongside tall stacks of paper, pretending to sign his tax returns. About a year later, just days ahead of his 2017 presidential inauguration, the Republican released a different picture, pretending to write his inaugural address on a legal pad.
The images served as a reminder: Trump doesn't like to do actual work, but he loves photographs in which he pretends to sign things, giving the appearance of work.
It was against this backdrop that the president, hospitalized at Walter Reed with a coronavirus infection, released a pair of new photographs over the weekend of him pretending to sign things with a Sharpie. The images were apparently taken about 10 minutes apart in different locations, reinforcing the impression that they were staged for public-relations purposes.
And they were hardly the only evidence of a reality-show president preoccupied with putting on a little show. Yesterday, Trump also released a video in which a cough was apparently edited out.
That was soon followed by a little joy ride, in which the president briefly left Walter Reed to drive by a group of supporters.
The president posted a video to his Twitter account around 5:15 p.m. announcing that he would "pay a little surprise to some of the great patriots that we have out on the street." A few minutes later, the presidential motorcade slowly drove by the perimeter of the hospital, where a crowd had been gathering since Friday night. Trump was seen through the window of an SUV waving and wearing what appeared to be a cloth mask, as opposed to a more protective N95 mask.
In other words, Trump took a little joy ride, despite his infection, putting others around him at risk, because he wanted to put on a little show.
As NBC News' report noted, Dr. James Phillips, an attending physician at Walter Reed, tweeted that the "Presidential SUV is not only bulletproof, but hermetically sealed against chemical attack," and that therefore the risk of Covid-19 transmission was "as high as it gets outside of medical procedures."
"Every single person in the vehicle during that completely unnecessary Presidential 'drive-by' just now has to be quarantined for 14 days. They might get sick. They may die. For political theater. Commanded by Trump to put their lives at risk for theater. This is insanity," he added.
Dr. Leana Wen published a related tweet, adding that if Trump were her patient, in an unstable condition with a contagious illness, and he suddenly left the hospital to go for a car ride that endangered himself and others, "I'd call security to restrain him then perform a psychiatric evaluation to examine his decision-making capacity."
For what it's worth -- and in practical terms, it may not be worth much -- some on Team Trump seem to understand how ridiculous the antics were. Pointing to yesterday's joy ride, Axios reported yesterday, "Two senior White House staffers said they thought the P.R. stunt was selfish, and compounded a weekend of horrible decisions."
Alas, there is no reason to believe the next round of decisions won't be equally horrible.