by Jacqueline Finlay
Former President George W. Bush’s recent call for unity and non-partisan decency during the COVID-19 threat resulted in another ludicrous reaction from President Trump. Accusing Bush of abandoning him during the impeachment “hoax,” Trump claimed he and Lincoln were the two greatest U.S. Presidents, not only due to their exceptional leadership abilities, but also due to the unwarranted abuse they suffered and overcame.
I wasn’t surprised by Trump’s delusions, given his propensity for self-aggrandizement and belief in the absurd, but given the present state of our nation, his comment about his sainthood was comical.
Comedy has no place, however, during this time of uncertainty, nor does a President with such limited capabilities. As Scott Lehigh writes in A Leaderless Nation Adrift in a Crisis (Boston Globe; May 5), while Americans die and the economy totters, Trump massages his fragile ego and focuses on his mounting fear of November. His churlish behavior and incompetency are well-known, but given the current dire situation, they cannot be allowed to continue to exploit and divide.
COVID-19 is a catastrophe for which this nation was ill-prepared. It’ll eventually dissipate, but its presence will be felt throughout American society long after the virus goes into hiding. In the meantime, coping is a balancing act. As I write, we’re many weeks into the pandemic with all its resultant frustrations and restrictions. Everyone, regardless of political inclination, wants life to return to normal, but as medical experts assert, if the nation opens too quickly or completely, cases might again soar, and more Americans perish. They acknowledge social distancing is causing economic and emotional hardships, but the country must be patient to survive. Better to be patient than to be one. Short-sightedness could be catastrophic.
Unfortunately, politics are in the forefront now. Trump, with his inability to take guidance from anyone but himself, is catering to panic at the expense of human lives. Hoping to gain November votes by claiming early victory over the pandemic and dismissing expert knowledge, who will be left to cast ballots for him, since a worst-case scenario still looms over the U.S., i.e., 3000 daily COVID-19 deaths come June?
If Trump thinks he looks ridiculous in a face mask, how will he look if he pushes for premature loosening of restrictions that triggers another virulent virus wave?
The pandemic aside, what happens after it subsides and we’re again looking at each other in the “normal” way? Assuming enough Americans survive to jumpstart a viable country, what skeleton of a nation might emerge from the chaos? The country was severely divided prior to the virus and it seems even more so now. Face masks have become political symbols, like bumper stickers in the grocery stores, distinguishing individuals who take the crisis seriously from those disregarding public health advice to make a statement a la Trump, i.e., I am going to do what I want and put myself first.
There’s a method to Trump’s madness: He is courting his conservative support base by acting in the manner that it craves. He’s the “Don’t Tread on Me” president, the leader who mocks the seemingly intellectual elite – including the medical experts? – and insults those whose perspectives or expertise he doesn’t comprehend. Dangerous in his ignorance, he tracks friends and enemies alike, secure in his belief that if he says the right words and keeps passions heightened, his supporters will back him during the upcoming months. As 2020 progresses, he’ll mobilize and manipulate supporters with his “divide and conquer” rhetoric by making false promises for a return to the “American Dream,” whatever his followers perceive it to be.
I hope I’m wrong, but if Trump gets re-elected, he’ll continue to damage the U.S. economically, socially, and structurally. This pandemic, which could be an incredible learning experience for the nation, will be discarded as another left-wing hoax. An even larger, nearly suicidal schism will emerge. A true leader would prepare now for the future, creating a more unified society with a measured chance for a successful recovery. Trump isn’t that leader, now or post-COVID-19.
Do Americans want to work diligently to get back on track? Or, is the “Great Experiment” on its last legs, signaling it is time to drink the good wine? If we want to know, we can find out under new leadership. Under the current leadership we’ll remain divided and on a futile road. Let’s not rush back to “normal,” but use this time to analyze, reflect and consider other options for a prosperous and secure future.