The US president has made his first public appearance since losing the election with a subtle act of defiance that has enraged his critics.
Donald Trump spent less than 10 minutes in public Wednesday (local time) for an annual holiday honouring America’s war veterans.
At least according to his detractors, the president couldn’t seem to put a foot right during his brief time in public – and even his wife seemed to be keeping her distance from him.
Trump visited the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery but arrived half an hour late, keeping service members waiting in the rain.
When CNN carried a live split screen of the appearance alongside a similar outing for Joe Biden, the president’s tardiness provided a stark contrast.
“POTUS has nothing else on schedule today but is nonetheless late to Arlington National Cemetery to honour veterans on Veterans Day keeping decorated veterans, their families, and others waiting in the rain, not understanding the significance of the day, hour, minute of commemoration,” journalist Molly McKew chided on Twitter.
Trump appeared alongside vice president Mike Pence, as well as staff and family members, but refused to wear a mask despite the cemetery explicitly asking attendees to do so.
“All visitors are to follow social distancing requirements and wear face coverings while on cemetery grounds,” it said in a statement ahead of the presidential visit.
“Anyone not having a face covering in their possession at cemetery entry points will not be granted access to the cemetery.”
President-elect Biden wore a mask today while honoring our Veterans, Trump didn’t. That says everything.
— Scott Dworkin (@funder) November 11, 2020
Joe and Jill Biden are wearing face masks at the Veterans' Day event they're attending in Philadelphia. Trump, Melania, Pence, and Karen Pence are not wearing masks at Arlington.
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) November 11, 2020
Over 240,000 Americans have died from COVID.
Sit with that number for a moment.
Trump meanwhile still attacks science and doesn't wear a mask in public. The man got COVID.
— Wajahat "Wears a Mask Because of a Pandemic" Ali (@WajahatAli) November 12, 2020
As critics online blasted the president for not wearing a face covering after the country hit a new record for daily coronavirus cases, others took aim at him for another gaffe which he has continually made throughout his presidency.
During the national anthem, the president saluted the flag and the soldier’s tomb when protocol calls for him to place his hand on his heart.
According to the US flag code, only military personnel and veterans are supposed to salute the flag during the national anthem.
Everyone else is invited to “face the flag and stand at attention with their right hand over the heart”.
Donald Trump, a noted draft dodger who avoided the Vietnam War, has never served in the military but insists on saluting.
Ugh, @realDonaldTrump has been president for nearly an entire term and he still doesn’t get that you’re supposed to put your hand over your heart (not salute) if you’re not a veteran or in uniform. pic.twitter.com/EYtgYdizyq
— Andrew Feinberg (@AndrewFeinberg) November 11, 2020
Despite the chorus of criticism for Trump’s lack of face covering, there was at least one person appearing to practice social distancing: Melania Trump. Specifically, from her husband.
Social media seized on photos showing the 50-year-old first lady keeping a notable distance for her husband during the public appearance.
Perhaps it had something to do with service member sheltering her with an umbrella, but it nonetheless fuelled rumours she is set divorce the president after his time in office.
Trump's silent public outing belies White House in tumult
Albeit brief, the president’s appearance was a veneer of normalcy for a White House that’s frozen by a defeated president mulling his options, mostly forgoing the mechanics of governing and blocking his inevitable successor.
The president has still made no comments in person since Democrat Joe Biden clinched the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency, preferring to tweet angry conspiracy theories.
His aides are growing more certain that legal challenges won’t change the outcome of the election, according to seven campaign and White House officials who spoke to the Associated Press on the condition of anonymity.
Few senior staffers have been around the president in recent days, with many either in quarantine after testing positive for Covid-19 or in insolation after a confirmed exposure, or simply not wanting to be near the Oval Office, staff said.
Although his official schedule has been bare of public events, Trump has made several personnel moves — firing Defense Secretary Mark Esper and installing three staunch loyalists in top defence jobs.
His pick as acting defence secretary, Christopher Miller, was among the Pentagon brass that joined him at Arlington.
A report by Axios this morning suggests the purging of the Pentagon is designed to rush through the removal of US troops from Afghanistan before the president leaves office.
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