Dear All, Be careful what you wish for. From the day Trump took office, my prescient journalist husband predicted that a crisis would erupt which would test the mettle of the con man behind the curtain. “Every president faces something that becomes the defining moment of his administration,” he said.
Bring it on, I thought. From the get-go I waited for an unexpected snafu that would awaken the country to the malignant narcissist threatening our democracy. While we all know that good things happen to bad people, Teflon Don’s reign of singular sociopathy has been a bitter pill stuck in our collective craws. Trump’s accountability-free ride through his presidency, indeed through his entire life, is antithetical to what many of us believe — that while life isn’t always fair, you do better when you work hard and play by the rules.
Simply put, I wanted Donald Trump to be held accountable. What I had in mind was an impeachment conviction. Or, even better, a mutiny in the GOP-led Senate where Trump's spineless sycophants would finally rebel and put the American people first.
What I never dreamed of— and certainly never wished for — was a pandemic that has upended life as we knew it. Or, at the moment when we were desperate for leadership and competence, our fear and anxiety would be exacerbated by a leader, as Ambassador Susan Rice tweeted, whose “incompetence is literally deadly” for the American people.
Now, as the election approaches, the country has begun to hold its leaders to account. A brutal, new one-minute campaign ad, produced by a Democratic-aligned super PAC, uses Trump’s own words to track his disastrous bungling of the pandemic. The ad, entitled “Failed to Act,” is a preview of how Democrats will frame Trump’s epic irresponsibility. Yesterday, Ron Klain, the former Ebola czar under President Obama, gave the Trump administration a failing grade for its response to the coronavirus. “The virus was created by nature,” Klain said, "but the failed response was created by decisions."
Or, as Republican strategist Rick Wilson noted, “Trump gave the virus a 6-week pass.” As reported in today’s WaPo, President Trump and Republican lawmakers in January and February played down the threat and avoided action that might have slowed the spread of the pathogen even as U.S. intelligence agencies were issuing ominous, classified warnings about the global danger posed by the coronavirus. In a Hail Mary effort to spin his disastrous handling of the crisis, Trump then cast himself as wartime president fighting an invisible enemy. That has provoked a fusillade. WaPo columnist Jennifer Rubin called Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic “the biggest blunder in presidential history.” After making the case that, “he alone has made the crisis worse,” the Atlantic’s Peter Wehner similarly declared, “The Trump Presidency is Over.”
Some have suggested that it’s time to jettison the blame game and give Trump — and his Republican enablers — a break so we can focus on the crisis at hand. Further, that we’re all in this together and need to put politics aside. But assessing who made this crisis worse is essential. Just as important is calling out leaders and lawmakers whose cost lives by cavalierly branding the coronavirus a “hoax” perpetrated by the media and the Democrats.
No one has has provided a more insightful mea culpa than Republican strategist Stuart Stevens whose unvarnished narrative is a scathing indictment of the Republican orthodoxy that now endangers America. “Republicans like me built this moment, then we looked the other way,” he acknowledged. "The failures of the government’s response to the coronavirus crisis can be traced directly to some of the toxic fantasies now dear to the Republican Party. Here are a few: Government is bad. Establishment experts are overrated or just plain wrong. Science is suspect. And we can go it alone, the world be damned.”
While Trump may be the loudest voice hawking that GOP message, Stevens blames the Republican Party for decades of honing an ideology that has left the country flat-footed and incapable of handling a national crisis, "What is happening now,” he said, "is the inevitable result of a party that embraced fear, weaponized xenophobia and regarded facts as dangerous, left-wing landmines that must be avoided.”
Not surprisingly, pandemic funding has never ranked as a Republican priority. Case in point, Senator Susan Collins of Maine helped kill $870 million of pandemic preparations out of the $800 billion stimulus package that President Obama signed into law in February 2009. When the swine flu emerged two months later, Collins came under attack. “Whether or not this influenza strain turns out to have pandemic potential, sooner or later some strain will,” warned one critic. "We are not prepared today. Let’s hope we don’t need to be.”
Now, we’re all paying the price of Collins’ vote and it could be the tipping point in her re-election bid come November. Her brand as a centrist has already been tarnished by her votes to confirm Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and to acquit Trump during his impeachment trial. As her approval ratings tick down, Collins has eclipsed Republican leader Mitch McConnell as the nation's most unpopular senator.
The GOP’s reigning ideology is now emerging as the defining issue for November. “The Senate Republicans are inextricably linked to President Trump and how he handles this crisis,” says Jessica Taylor, an analyst with Cook Political Report. “He gave himself a 10.” But NYT opinion writer Jamelle Bouie takes a hard line. "The public needs to know that the Republican Party is culpable for the present crisis, just as it was culpable for the Great Recession, even if it did not originate either. It needs to understand that the deadly incompetence of Republican governance is a feature, not a bug.”
In his piece “Don’t Let Trump Off The Hook,” Bouie pulls no punches. "It’s tempting to say that now is not the time for partisan recrimination. But this is the second consecutive Republican administration to lead the United States to disaster. The difference is that it took George W. Bush most of his two terms to bring the country to the brink of economic collapse — Trump has done it in less than four years. He’s even hit some of the same milestones; Bush let Hurricane Katrina drown New Orleans, Trump let Hurricane Maria destroy Puerto Rico.”
Right now all of us are reeling from unprecedented uncertainty about everything from how we’re going to continue to educate our kids to whether we’re going to survive. Surreality abounds, trivializing life and death decisions. Daily markers which cue us to take out the trash or give the dog his heart worm pill have vanished. Set against the background of a dangerous virus, life as we knew it has changed in the blink of an eye.
But, even as we grapple with how to chart this uncharted chapter, we must lay the groundwork to defeat those who shirked their responsibility to protect the American people. As former Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, predicts, “There will be new appreciation for clear, decisive and competent leadership. And if things get mishandled, botched, miscommunicated in a way that’s viewed as incompetent or bumbling, politicians will pay a price — as they should.”
In one of the few silver linings of this ongoing plague, it has in some ways united us and brought us together. The pandemic has unleashed armies of our better angels — including our first responders and medical professionals — who are selflessly working to protect and save Americans. We are grateful for their heroism. Take care.