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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

President Trump's aversion to leading by example began before COVID-19

President Donald Trump tries out a baseball bat

President Donald Trump tries out a baseball bat Thursday at the Spirit of America showcase at the White House. Credit: AP / Evan Vucci

After challenger Joe Biden this week tweaked President Donald Trump's refusal to cover his nose and mouth in public, an about-face began. "I'm all for masks. I think masks are good," Trump told Fox Business in an interview Wednesday. "People have seen me wearing one."

Trump's messaging for months has suggested otherwise, even leading to catty online speculation that he didn't want a face covering to mess up his bronzing. Whatever the reason, Trump has been reluctant to promote his own administration's pandemic guidelines on social distancing, reopening businesses and masks.

This fits Trump's distinctive style of refusing to lead by example. For years, he demonized undocumented immigrants as a criminal-infested group that took American jobs. But his businesses hired them, as well as foreign temporary visa holders.

First lady Melania Trump famously leads a campaign against cyberbullying. "When children learn positive online behaviors early-on, social media can be used in productive ways and can effect positive change," her "Be Best" website states.

Surely she would oppose kids mocking and slandering others based on personal spite. The president, however, has used Twitter to call various people "lowlifes," "scum," "wackos," "little," "weak," "crazy," "nervous," "goofy," "shifty," "sleepy," "Dumbo," "wild," "deranged," "animals" and "braindead," to name a few. Even those who run Twitter saw fit to issue warnings.

Others in government are constrained by conflict-of-interest laws and ethics rules. Anyone looking to the president for leadership on this issue will find, however, that he has family members advising him. They'll find he never really distanced himself from his businesses either globally or locally, and that he is the first president since the 1970s to refuse to voluntarily disclose his taxes.

"Law and Order!" tweets the president at odd moments. He has pardoned his political supporters and acquaintances convicted of crimes, including a corrupt former Democratic governor of Illinois, and had his Justice Department intervene in the sentencing of others.

But Trump's refusal to lead by example is best illustrated by his halting response to the coronavirus. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, an ally on whom Trump depends, has taken a very different tack.

"We must have no stigma, none, about wearing masks when we leave our homes and come near other people. Wearing simple face coverings is not about protecting ourselves, it is about protecting everyone we encounter," McConnell (R-Ky.) said Monday on the Senate floor.

Trump was proceeding with Friday's fireworks show on the eve of July Fourth at Mount Rushmore, where visitors weren't expected to be told to wear fask masks or practice social distancing.

"We told those folks that have concerns that they can stay home," South Dakota's Republican Gov. Kristi Noem said. "But [for] those who want to come and join us, we'll be giving out free face masks if they choose to wear one, but we won't be social distancing."

Apparently the president will go along with this passive-aggressive approach to public health rules, rather than reinforce the recommendations of Dr. Anthony Fauci and others.

It was left to Fauci, the nation's top infectious diseases expert and a resolute mask-wearer, to say the other day: “I think we need to emphasize the responsibility that we have both as individuals and as part of a societal effort.”

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