Trump and the Pandemic of Denial

Years from today, when historians look back at the ill-fated year 2020, they will not fail to fix upon one feature: the spectacle of a president who went to play golf at his privately owned course while 77,000 Americans lost their lives to COVID-19 in December. Donald Trump’s presidency can be categorized with just one word: denial. He will be remembered as the president who denied that the coronavirus was a huge killer of his fellow Americans (it was a hoax, he said); denied that he had asked a foreign leader to interfere in American affairs by investigating his rival, former Vice President Biden; denied that Russia had once again disrupted the security architecture of the United States; denied that Joseph Biden had prevailed in all the swing states and embarked on an unending coda of lawsuits that were all unremittingly struck down by the courts; denied that COVID-19 was intensifying (“we are turning the corner”, he kept repeating); denied that the time had come to take down the statues and the base designations for Confederate rebel generals; most disastrously of all, he denied that masks were indispensable to protect the population from the deadly virus. Even as the pandemic scourge was killing more people, he hosted a sumptuous party at his Mar-a-Lago mansion for a mask-less host of adepts of Trump’s cult.

His failures speak louder than his choices that were all about his own interests rather than those of the nation. He denied the science of climate assessment and tried as hard as he could to thwart it. He reversed scores of environmental rules, relaxed restrictions on air pollution and opened parks and protected land to oil and gas drilling. Fortunately, the scientists showed courage and resilience, especially those who worked for the government’s agencies.His most fateful denial, of course, is that he lost the election. By refusing to concede his defeat, he denied all implications of his obstreperous behavior upon the national security interests and the damage that his unjustified defiance was having on the foreign policies of the United States and its standing in a dangerous world. And yet, not even this failure in the international arena can compare with the tragic mishandling of the pandemic that jeopardized a long-time heritage of America as a center of science and progress. By denying the crucial role of international organizations and accords – such as the Paris climate agreement, the INF weapons treaty, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, NAFTA, UNESCO, the World Health Organization, the U.N. Human Rights Council and last but not least the Iranian nuclear deal – Trump in fact denied the central role that the U.S. had played in what was called “the American Century”. Now, spearheading global COVID-19 vaccine distribution around the world is one of the most impelling tasks of the incoming Biden administration. After failing so badly in containing the pandemic, the United States must show again competence, even before leadership. It is the sine qua non condition to regain approval of its leadership. America lost competence and credibility when its president endorsed malaria medications as COVID-19 treatments. That and so much more of the Trump’s presidency, cannot be denied.

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