It is reported today in the New York Times that President Trump abruptly announced on April 17 that he would be speaking at the West Point graduation ceremony later this spring (link). This was without consultation or discussion with the leadership of the academy, according to the NYT reporting. The cadets had been sent home in March, and the decision to postpone the ceremony had already been announced. Academy leaders had been considering various alternative scenarios for the graduation. The president’s announcement has forced the academy to recall the 1,000 cadets from around the country to participate in the ceremony for the capricious and uncaring pleasure of the president. (This is the same president who refuses to wear a mask because it doesn’t look good.)
The decision to recall 1,000 of America’s future military leaders from the various parts of the country where they live, will create the entirely avoidable possibility of exposure of each of them individually to the virus, and will further create the possibility that, like spring break in Ft. Lauderdale, this assembly threatens to bring infection to hundreds of new sites around the country. This is how epidemics spread. These are young people; these are individuals with families to whom they will return; and this is a risk that is entirely unnecessary and volitional — based on the narcissistic wish of the president to be seen as an important leader on a big and televised stage.
This is simply appalling. The extreme social-distancing measures that have been taken as efforts by almost all states to slow the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic are motivated by the simple medical and social facts known about the virus, its contagiousness, and the very rapid acceleration of the disease that is created by large public events and close social contact. And where will this event take place? In the state in which the Covid-19 epidemic has claimed the largest number of victims, New York State. Further, it is well recognized that travel — by air or train — raises the risk of contagion and transmission of the virus. Simply being forced to return to West Point from one’s home in Colorado, Missouri, or Massachusetts imposes a measurable additional risk of contagion, for the individual and for other persons with whom he or she has contact.
This capricious decision by the president is fundamentally immoral. There is no public benefit to be gained by imposing these risks on a thousand young people, and the motives of the president appear to be entirely self-interested and self-gratifying. It is chilling to be reminded yet again that our country is led by a man who is fundamentally indifferent to the suffering of others. This indifference to the welfare is underlined by the president’s wishes about the physical configuration of the ceremony:
Mr. Trump told reporters that he would be speaking at the West Point graduation in the near future, noting that he did not like the look of a socially distanced graduation and that he hoped the “look” of the ceremony would be “nice and tight”.
“Nice and tight” — a perfect configuration for transmission of a highly contagious virus. The president should do his plain duty, in this and all other matters: pursue the public good, informed by the best scientific and public health advice available, and put aside his personal interests and impulses.