Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Saturday December 12, 2020
Trump largely mum on toll of coronavirus as he continues to fight election results
U.S. President Donald Trump has been highlighting lots of really big numbers this week: New highs for the stock market. The 100-plus House members backing a lawsuit challenging his election loss. The nearly 75 million people who voted for him.
All the while, he’s looked past other staggering and more consequential figures: The record numbers of coronavirus deaths, hospitalizations and new cases among the citizens of the nation he leads.
On Friday, Trump’s team blasted out a text with this strong, high-minded presidential message: “We will not bend. We will not break. We will never give in. We will never give up.”
But it was not a rallying cry to help shore up Americans sagging under the toll of a pandemic that on Wednesday alone killed more Americans than on D-Day or 9-11. It was part of a fundraising pitch tied to Senate races in Georgia and to Trump’s unsupported claims that Democrats are trying to “steal” the presidential election he lost.
Of Trump’s tweets over the past week, 82 per cent have been focused on the election and just 7 per cent on the virus — almost all of those related to forthcoming vaccines — according to Factba.se, a data analytics company. Nearly a third of the president’s tweets on the election were flagged by Twitter for misinformation.
As he talks and tweets at length about the election he is futilely trying to subvert, the president is leaving Americans without a central figure to help them deal with their grief over loved-ones’ deaths and the day-to-day danger of the pandemic that still rages. His strategy is to focus totally on the shiny object coming soon — the prospect of a vaccine.
Friday night, the the Food and Drug Administration gave the final go-ahead to a vaccine from Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech, launching emergency vaccinations in a bid to end the pandemic. But Trump’s three-minute internet address hailing the vaccine made no mention of the toll the virus has taken.
Calvin Jillson, a presidential historian at Southern Methodist University, said Trump has proven himself unable or unwilling to muster the “normal and natural, falling-off-a-log simple presidential approach” that is called for in any moment of national grief or crisis.
“He simply doesn’t seem to have the emotional depth, the emotional reserves to feel what’s happening in the country and to respond to it in the way that any other president — even those who’ve been fairly emotionally crippled — would do,” Jillson said.
Trump did convene a summit this week to highlight his administration’s successful efforts to help hasten the development of coronavirus vaccines and prepare for their speedy distribution. And he spent part of Friday pressing federal authorities to authorize use of the first-up vaccine candidate from Pfizer.
At his summit, the president put heavy emphasis on the faster-than-expected development of the vaccines, calling it “an incredible success,” “a monumental national achievement,” “really amazing” and “somewhat of a miracle.” He’s also claimed credit, though Pfizer developed its vaccine outside the administration’s “Operation Warp Speed.”
In a passing nod to the pandemic’s toll, Trump promised the coming vaccines would “quickly and dramatically reduce deaths and hospitalizations,” adding that “we want to get back to normal.” But it will be months before most Americans have access to a vaccine.
Asked what message he had for Americans suffering great hardship as the holidays approach and the virus only gets worse, Trump’s answer had an almost clinical tone.
“Yeah, well, CDC puts out their guidelines, and they’re very important guidelines,” he said, “but I think this: I think that the vaccine was our goal.”
To focus otherwise would undercut Trump’s goal of minimizing the national pain of the virus’ toll and his claims that the danger will soon vanish.
Trump’s successor, Joe Biden, on Friday answered that approach with a promise for greater presidential leadership. Of the virus, he said: “We can wish this away, but we need to face it.”
Jeff Shesol, a presidential historian and former speechwriter for President Bill Clinton, said Trump’s failure to express empathy was a “personal pathology manifesting itself as political strategy.” (Global News)