Real men don’t wear masks.

Everybody else in the White House has to wear them, and Boss Trump reportedly yells at people who get too close. But he’s no sniveling Democrat taking sensible precautions.

Of course, real men also don’t wear cake makeup, girdles or platform shoes. For that matter, most don’t spend hours each day on their damn hair.

So, no, I won’t be taking lessons in masculinity from Trump, last seen running away from two journalists — Weijia Jiang of CBS News and CNN’s Kaitlan Collins — who had the temerity to ask why he sneered that Jiang should ask China the “nasty” question she’d asked about testing for COVID-19.

The CBS correspondent immigrated to the U.S. from China with her parents at age 2. She was raised in West Virginia and educated at the College of William & Mary. She’s as American as Trump. But all he can see is her race.

So you’d think he’d like Collins, a onetime University of Alabama sorority girl. But Collins also stands up to him. Last month, he tried to get her banished to the back row of the briefing room, but she stood her ground. (The White House Correspondents Association handles seating arrangements.) When he saw her shining face in the front row, Trump fled the room.

Of course, that was soon after his crackpot suggestion that doctors inject disinfectants into COVID-19 patients’ lungs, so perhaps it was just as well.

The ostensible purpose of Trump’s most recent Rose Garden appearance was to brag that the United States now leads the world in the total number of COVID-19 tests. It’s true that progress has been made, just not nearly enough. This country also leads the world in fatalities by a wide margin. With roughly 5% of the world’s population, Americans comprise more than 25% of the dead.

Shocking, isn’t it? A stunning failure of crisis management. Polls increasingly show that White House efforts are failing to convince Americans otherwise. Michigan surveys say that 72% of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s constituents approve of her decisive handling of the pandemic; only 39% think well of Trump’s performance.

Yet he urged on a ragged crowd of toy soldiers who descended upon the Michigan state house carrying guns. “LIBERATE Michigan,” Trump tweeted. He derided the state’s governor as “Half Whitmer,” in one of his typically witless junior high school-style insults.

Women voters are likely to punish him for that. So you’d have to suspect that Michigan, an important swing state come November, is gone. Ditto Pennsylvania, where the numbers are 72% and 45%, respectively. Another swing state lost, even if Joe Biden hadn’t grown up there.

Thirty-nine percent, see, is sufficient to summon a mob, but not to win an election. Also, carrying a gun to a political demonstration will definitely get you on TV. But it pretty much guarantees that you’re losing the argument. People do resent being bullied.

They’re also resistant to having a matter of personal survival turned into a partisan issue. Thanks to Dr. Anthony Fauci and his colleagues, Americans broadly understand the realities of the pandemic and the dangers of “reopening the economy” too soon.

Everybody, absolutely everybody, wants to see normal life return as soon as possible. Me, I’m just lost without baseball. I worry about people I know in the restaurant business, and I’d give a lot to be able to meet friends at the joint down the street for a cold one and a mess of fried catfish.

But I wouldn’t give my health or my wife’s. Or my sons’ or my neighbors’. My grandfather Michael Sheedy died in the 1919 Spanish flu epidemic — that is, after the first wave of infection passed in 1918, only to come back stronger when people convinced themselves it had gone away. It would be catastrophic to see something similar happen again.

As is quite likely if Boss Trump succeeds in bullying his more heedless supporters into taking foolish risks. Biden recently put it this way in a Washington Post column:

“President Trump is reverting to a familiar strategy of deflecting blame and dividing Americans. His goal is as obvious as it is craven: He hopes to split the country into dueling camps, casting Democrats as doomsayers hoping to keep America grounded and Republicans as freedom fighters trying to liberate the economy.”

As Biden points out, it’s a false choice. These people you see crowding unmasked into just-opened restaurants, rubbing elbows and carrying signs bragging, “I won’t trade my freedom for your safety” are worse than fools.

They’ve joined a political death cult.

Meanwhile, everybody in the West Wing gets tested every day. They’re contact-tracing and self-isolating as every workplace should in order to control the disease until a vaccine can be found.

But masks are for protecting other people, and that’s not something Boss Trump has ever cared about.

Arkansas Times columnist Gene Lyons is a National Magazine Award winner and co-author of “The Hunting of the President” (St. Martin’s Press, 2000). You can email Lyons at eugenelyons2@yahoo.com.

©2020 GENE LYONS

DISTRIBUTED BY ANDREWS MCMEEL SYNDICATION FOR UFS

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