So on Sunday he did. Just past 5 p.m. ET, a combination of boredom, agitation and yearning for adulation while convalescing from coronavirus brought the President to the rear seat of a black Chevy Suburban, waving frantically as he rode at a crawl down Rockville Pike while two US Secret Service agents, dressed in medical gowns, respirator masks and eye protection, stared stoically ahead.
It was an image concocted by the President himself and the very tight group of aides who have accompanied him to Walter Reed, including chief of staff Mark Meadows and social media adviser Dan Scavino, a person familiar with the matter said. They hoped it might reassure Americans that Trump remains both hale and in command after what he deemed exaggerated news coverage of his condition and -- in particular -- outsized prognostications he planned to transfer power to Vice President Mike Pence.
But his seconds-long parade only underscored the relaxed attitude toward transmission that appear to have landed Trump in the hospital to begin with. The contained space inside the presidential limousine hardly allowed for social distancing from the driver and agent. While Trump wore a mask, his status as a Covid-positive hospital patient precluded him from falling within anyone's recommendations for a public appearance.
It was a striking image for a President who claims to now "understand" the virus after contracting it. "I learned it by really going to school. This is the real school," Trump said in a video posted seconds before he appeared outside Walter Reed, his voice sounding slightly raspy but still enthusiastic. "This isn't the let's read the book school and I get it."
Afterward, members of the Secret Service voiced escalating concern at what many of the agency's personnel have determined is total disregard for their well-being amid a deadly and highly contagious pandemic. Agents have tested positive for the virus while traveling for the President's political rallies, which he insisted on maintaining even against federal health guidelines. As employees self-quarantine or isolate in place, others have been forced to work longer hours to fill the void. It's a situation that has prompted growing and more vocal concern.
"That should never have happened," one current Secret Service agent who works on the presidential and first family detail said after Trump's drive-by, adding that those agents who went along for the ride would now be required to quarantine. "I mean, I wouldn't want to be around them," the agent said, expressing a view that multiple people at the Secret Service also voiced in the wake of Sunday's appearance. "The frustration with how we're treated when it comes to decisions on this illness goes back before this though. We're not disposable."