WASHINGTON, D.C. – The State Department has advised against all international travel because of the coronavirus, but that didn't stop Secretary of State Mike Pompeo from flying to Afghanistan this week.
Gyms across the nation's capital are shuttered, but Sen. Rand Paul, an eye doctor, still managed a workout at the Senate on Sunday morning as he awaited the results of a coronavirus test. It came back positive.
The guidance against shaking hands? That hasn't always applied to President Donald Trump, whose penchant for pressing the flesh continued even after public health officials in his administration were warning that such bodily contact could facilitate the spread of the contagious virus. Practice social distancing? Daily White House briefings involve Trump and other senior officials crowded around a podium.
Even as the country has largely hunkered down, heeding the guidance of health experts and the directives of state leaders, some powerful people in Washington have defied preventative measures aimed at curbing the spread. Their business-as-usual actions are at odds with the restrictions everyday Americans find themselves under, and with the government's own messaging.
Some human behavior experts say the "do as I say, not as I do"' ethos seemingly on display is common among powerful officials, who may be inclined to think they don't have to follow rules for the general public in the same way or who can easily dissociate their own actions from what they say is best for others.
“When we have high power, we think of ourselves as exceptional as if the rules don’t apply to us," said Maurice Schweitzer, a professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania who has researched behavior and decision-making. “We’re much more prone to do what we want because we don't feel constrained in the way that less powerful people do."
In Pompeo's case, the State Department says the unannounced trip — coming amid a near-global travel shutdown — was necessary and urgent because of political turmoil in Afghanistan that U.S. officials fear could threaten a recent U.S.-Taliban peace deal that calls for American troop withdrawals. Pompeo left Kabul on Monday without being able to secure a power-sharing deal.
People traveling with Pompeo had their temperatures taken and were given bags containing a face mask, hand sanitizer, bleach wipes and mini-disposable thermometers. A State Department medical official told reporters Pompeo and his staff would not be quarantining themselves because Afghanistan is not considered a high-risk country for the virus and because Pompeo's movements on the trip were controlled.