“I’m going to call your attention to the top three states, the top three states with the largest percent,” she said — “and this is so you can all make your decisions about going outside, and social distancing, potentially playing golf if you’re very careful and you don’t touch the flags and all of those issues.”
You could play tennis, too, she added. A bit later, she reiterated the point.
“So we’re asking continuously for you all to be outside. To enjoy your Memorial Day weekend. To play golf,” she said. “To hike, as Dr. Fauci said. To play tennis with marked balls.”
A few seconds later:
“Please, as you go out this weekend to understand, you can go out, you can be outside, you can play golf, you can play tennis with marked balls,” she said. “You can go to the beaches if you stay six feet apart.”
Got that? You can play golf if you’d like. It’s okay to go play golf. Want to play golf? Go for it. All clear.
And lo, a report from the White House press pool on Saturday morning: “President Trump is returning to the golf course on this pleasant, sunny Saturday,” it read. “The president’s motorcade arrived at Trump National in Sterling, Va., at 10:27 a.m. after a 35-minute drive along a route with sparse traffic but that was otherwise unremarkable.”
The president has clearly been champing at the bit to return to his favorite leisure activity. Before the coronavirus outbreak, the longest he’d gone with playing a round as president was between late November 2018 and early February 2019, having avoided playing while the government was shut down. The shutdown ended on Jan. 25, and he was on the course a week later.
This time, it was the virus that kept him from playing. Eventually, anyway: He last played on March 8 at his private club in Mar-a-Lago, back when there were fewer than 500 confirmed cases in the United States — but far more which hadn’t been documented. He stopped at the headquarters of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, argued against bringing tourists stranded on a cruise ship onshore out of concern it would cause a spike in U.S. cases and then went to Mar-a-Lago for the weekend. Since then, the equivalent of 32 cruise ships full of passengers have died from the virus in the United States.
It’s worth noting, of course, that Trump was critical of his predecessor for playing golf in moments of crisis. (Trump’s played 218 times as president by our count; it took Barack Obama until the third year of his second term to hit that number.) At one point, he criticized Obama for playing in the middle of “the N.Y.C. Ebola outbreak” — an outbreak that consisted of one person. At another point, he criticized Obama for playing golf despite “all of the problems and difficulties” the country faced.
Can you believe that,with all of the problems and difficulties facing the U.S., President Obama spent the day playing golf.Worse than Carter
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 14, 2014
This is actually the point. Trump’s approach to the pandemic over the past month has been to suggest that the worst is behind us and that America is ready to return to normal. He’s been pushing states to scale back efforts to contain the virus, in large part because he’s worried about how the economic damage from businesses remaining closed might affect his reelection chances. But more broadly Trump wants to convey a sense of his mission being accomplished, demonstrating that his administration handled the crisis and America as normal can get back into gear.
Yes, more than 1,200 people a day are still dying from the virus on average, a rate that we first hit in early April and which likely remains lower than the actual toll. But Trump wants us to think that the slow decline we’re now experiencing is sufficient so that people are more comfortable getting back to what they might normally do. Certainly to some small degree, he’s interested in convincing people that things are returning to normal so that he can once again play golf.
We should not be surprised, in fact, if Trump’s trip on Saturday is used as evidence by the White House that things are getting back to normal. That his outing was a sign that America is back.
The “sparse traffic” Trump’s motorcade encountered on his way to the club is probably a function of the stay-at-home order which is still in effect in Northern Virginia — and in Loudon County, where the Trump golf course is located, in particular. Sterling lies in the easternmost part of the county and is in the region where the most confirmed cases of coronavirus have been identified, according to the county’s data dashboard. The county has yet to meet the benchmarks for reopening including a continued drop in new positive cases and hospitalizations — benchmarks set by the White House coronavirus task force and Birx.
Remember how Birx’s comment about playing golf was in the context of the states that are still seeing the most negative effects from the pandemic? Virginia was among the top three states Birx identified.
“The number one metro with the highest positivity rate is the District of Columbia, which includes northern Virginia and Maryland, Montgomery County and [Prince George’s] County,” she said at one point, identifying them as “the places where we have seen really a stalling or an increase of cases.”
Maybe even as Birx was overtly clearing Trump to get out of the White House, she was trying to send him another message as well.