The paralysis of American life imposed by the coronavirus pandemic defines the failure of leadership of President Donald Trump, imperiling his re-election in November. Medical experts warn that a second wave could cost more lives and further compound the fiasco that Trump’s mismanagement has wrought.
The events of the last month have destroyed the patience of much of the public and diminished the strength of the nation’s economy. The results provide a vivid lesson on how a government hostile to experience and professionalism, headed by an incompetent, ignorant and heartless opportunist, could plunge the world’s leading nation into utter chaos.
Rather than bringing Americans together in a united, intensive effort to cope with an unanticipated national catastrophe, Trump has intensified public confusion and division. His personal notions of how to extricate the United States from arguably the worst global disaster of our time have only deepened the crisis.
Future historians will speculate on how such an informed populace could have blundered into such a self-destructive national leadership, in electing a narcissistic wheeler-dealer who in three years has led it to the brink of helplessness and futility. Trump has governed not as a public servant but as a calculating businessman committed only to his own personal gain and that of his family, and to preserve his grip on power whatever the cost in human lives.
Trump himself appears finally to have recognized how his mishandling of the pandemic has endangered his re-election. Accordingly, he has pivoted now to blaming the nation’s governors for not using their powers, after having falsely claimed that he had “total authority” under the Constitution to reopen the American economy. Now he has sunk to encouraging street protesters to demand immediate reopening by the governors, who have stepped reluctantly into the breach of Trump’s own indecisiveness.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, demonstrating the kind of calm but firm hands-on authority, is giving the president daily lessons via his televised briefings on what should be expected from the occupant of the Oval Office.
Even before the coronavirus crisis, Trump had reason to fear his erratic and dictatorial behavior had hurt his prospects for a second term. He castigated the Democratic Party’s impeachment attempt — which concluded in early February with a vote to acquit in the Senate — as a “hoax.” But the crux of the impeachment was Trump’s brazen effort to smear former Vice President Joe Biden, whom he correctly identified as his likely opponent in the 2020 presidential election, by coercing the assistance of a foreign government.
Biden’s opportunities now to compete with Trump on the campaign stump are seriously limited by the pandemic. Up to now, in his few television appearances and podcasts from a makeshift studio in the basement of his Delaware home, he wisely has focused on his own proposals for dealing with the pandemic, in a manner similar to Cuomo’s. If Trump decides to put reopening businesses before public health and safety, this will be at the heart of the Trump-Biden argument.
As the Democratic standard-bearer, Biden will have former President Obama as well as former rivals Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren in his corner. Trump will campaign from the White House briefing room, with a much larger campaign war chest and his army of faithful Trumpers behind him. Pandemic or not, the 2020 election will proceed in unprecedented conditions and unpredictable circumstances.
But as a result of the unanticipated hiatus, Biden has the opportunity and time to lay out not only his own agenda but also to identify figures who would serve in leading positions in his administration, inviting comparisons with Trump’s motley crew of neophytes and bunglers. Naming qualified, experienced individuals such as Leon Panetta, John Kerry and others to prospective posts in government would send a strong message of Biden’s intent to get the nation back on track after the Trump disaster.
If the American electorate is able to recognize the cost it has paid for electing a patently incompetent and corrupt president, this plague-infected presidential campaign season may yet lead to a restoration of health, prosperity and good government.