Terry H. Schwadron
April 2, 2020
In the shadow of our Coronavirus Era, complaining about an excess of personal partisan politics sounds less than a top-drawer issue. After all, lives are at stake.
But along with the indignities and inconveniences of becoming a nation held indoors, basically under voluntary quarantine, the daily assault of hearing Donald Trump demand — and get — personal accolades for his outstanding performance in the role as wartime president is getting old quickly and is proving annoying.
Maybe it is hearing the obsequious tone of doctors and public health officials all but forced to utter loyalty phrases about Trump, or the out-and-out declaration by Trump that he is only answering calls from governors and mayors who show him and his administration sufficient public appreciation and defense.
Maybe it is one public appearance too many, as with sending off the Navy hospital ship Comfort, as if it is going to war rather than serving as a floating holding tank for the vast number of patients being displaced by coronavirus patients.
Maybe it is hearing via the Wall Street Journal that every aid check sent to Americans displaced by a failed economy must carry Donald Trump’s signature or receiving a Centers for Disease Control instruction that includes “President Trump’s Coronavirus Instructions” as if it is reelection campaign material.
Maybe it is the bragging about TV ratings for the daily health and lifesaving measures that we are supposedly getting, rather than joining in a thank-you Donald Trump telethon. It all feels as if Trump is insisting on appearing in the spotlight, despite continuing often to bumble and offer us unsubstantiated medical advice in sessions that he may think serve as a substitute for the campaign rallies he clearly is missing.
The examples go on and on, but Trump is using the mask of vast public illness to remind us continuously that he will be on the ballot in November, and that it is our duty, really, maybe even our honor, to note that he is doing a terrific job.
Mission almost accomplished, except for all that spreading death and disease.
What sets off this rant about politicizing is that the facts on the ground simply don’t match the rhetoric of the White House.
Yes, the United States has offered more than a million tests, for which Trump wants applause, but we have 350 million, and those who are being tested are self-selecting with outward symptoms of disease. Yes, the feds have shipped some 10,000 or so ventilators, but the prospects of 100,000 to 240,000 deaths nationwide ought to give some sense of the whole of the problem at hand.
Now the national stockpile is said to have started running out of necessaries just before we hit the high-water mark in the Northeast, and cities across the country are showing the same patterns as New York. And still, upwards of 18 Repubican governors are still refusing to order lockdowns. Where is the leadership.
I am sure that every politician or leader has to go out of his or her way to take credit — even if they have to spin events to make it appear so. Why else do we have “spin rooms” after every political debate and contest?
The public images that emerges from the media tale told later is the equal or better of the actual behavior during the event.
But Trump takes the art to another level, either because he is so egotistical or because he narcissistically believes that he might be out of our thoughts for a minute, or, worse, because he actually believes his own voice. Maybe it is the only thing that his chaotic White House and campaign team can do really well — sell his image to the American people.
Hey, it is an admirable quality in the end, just as with all salespeople.
It’s just that a world pandemic hardly seems the right stage for this particular sales act.
The whole of Trump presentation becomes a cyclical public relations wheel: He wants to be the leader, so he will throw out some red meat statement that is so out there that a moment of practical thought would show that there are enough complications to sink or seriously modify the original thought. But he goes ahead anyway, whether it was to announced that with only 15 cases, there would be no U.S. contagion, or to promote a single off-label malaria drug use against the virus, or to announce a serious campaign to re-open the country to business just as the number of cases and deaths are still showing patterns of rising sharply.
It makes little difference to Trump, because tomorrow, he will rewrite whatever he said today.
For Trump himself, personal brand politics are so ingrained that it hardly seems important or notable that Trump signs the $2-trillion Congressional aid bill with only Republican leaders, who could not win adoption of the bill without Democratic counterparts, present for the occasion.
In the meantime, his administration is continuing to find ways to use the coronavirus to pursue anti-abortion policies, anti-immigration practices, anti-environmental protections deregulation, all outwardly partisan political ends now wrapped in anti-virus “leadership.” So, too, with wildly expanding national debts while citing the need to cut social services or with an obvious need for more public health infrastructure while cutting infectious disease panels and actually helping a legal challenge of the nation’s health care services.
In the end, I have no problem with Trump pursuing his political agenda, whether I agree with it or not. Indeed, after the horrible next weeks pass, we need some kind of relatively calm public debate about what Trump or Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo see as the steps ahead, and what values they see as underscoring the new normal that will emerge from catastrophe.
But I do have a big problem with mixing it up with fulfilling his duties to serve the entire nation, not just his partisan portion, with his full presidential attention to help preserve health and avoid unnecessary deaths.
I’m frankly surprised that Trump does not insist on stamping his name on new ventilators.