WHEN Donald Trump was elected in 2016, it was, in part a response to a political system that seemed deaf to the needs of ordinary people.
The logic was to introduce a disruptive force, an unconventional figure; that would shake up a Washington that had become stagnant and mired in partisan politics. But, unfortunately, this electoral experiment has proven disastrous.
From the very beginning of his time in office, Trump has disavowed expertise; filling government departments with appointees who often lacked relevant qualifications and whose only requirement was their loyalty.
He has undermined scientific research into climate change and rolled back environmental regulations. He has pulled America out of important multi-national agreements. He has attacked and insulted America’s allies in Europe and simultaneously, through his silence, given tacit approval to anti-democratic forces across the world.
But, more than any other aspect of his time in office, it has been Trump’s response to the Coronavirus pandemic that has come to symbolise the failure of his Presidency. Since the pandemic took hold in February, more than 225,000 Americans have died.
The government’s response to the crisis has been a case study in mis-management and mixed messaging. Olivia Troye, former advisor to the White House Coronavirus task force, highlighted the frustrations of those tasked with protecting the American people in an interview with NPR’s Ari Shapiro.
According to Troye, President Trump has consistently told Americans “the complete opposite” of what his health experts have been telling him in private meetings about Covid-19.
Instead of honestly explaining the reality of the pandemic to the American people, Trump has spread wild conspiracy theories about unproven drugs and questioned the veracity of the official fatalities.
As recently as this month, he compared Covid-19 to the flu, tweeting that in most populations Covid-19 was “far less lethal”; even though data suggests that the virus is as much as 10 to 20 times more lethal.
In an unprecedented move, some of the most prestigious scientific journals in the U.S have spoken out against the President. Science, The Oncology Lancet, Nature and the New England Journal of Medicine have all urged voters not to re-elect Trump. Scientific American broke a 175-year tradition of not endorsing a presidential candidate by proclaiming its support for Joe Biden. In a stinging editorial, it sharply criticised the President’s response; highlighting how damaging his dishonesty had been: “Trump repeatedly lied to the public about the deadly threat of the disease, saying it was not a serious concern and ‘this is like a flu?’ when he knew it was more lethal and highly transmissible. His lies encouraged people to engage in risky behaviour, spreading the virus further, and have driven wedges between Americans who take the threat seriously and those who believe Trump’s falsehoods”.
One of the most damaging aspects of Trump’s time in office has been his debasements of the American political system. His daily tweets and statements are littered with personal attacks and falsehoods. He has eroded trust in the ideals upon which democracy is built; even attempting to sow doubt about the results of the upcoming election. Trump has stated the election will “be the most corrupt in history”; falsely claiming that mail-in ballots will lead to massive voter fraud, even when there has been no prior evidence of this. His strategy has deliberately undercut public trust in the postal service at a time when many people are genuinely worried about the health risks of in-person voting
He told supporters at a campaign rally in August “the only way we’re going to lose this election is if the election is rigged”. He has refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he loses. These are not the words of “the leader of the free world”; they are the impulses of an autocrat. A man who, without hesitation, casts his political opponents as treasonous and who describes the free press as “enemies of the people”.
A host of former associates have come out and criticised his behaviour, highlighting his personal failings. According to a recent CNN report, the Former White House chief of staff, retired Marine General John Kelly, told friends he was shocked by President Trump’s lack of character: “The depth of his dishonesty is just astounding to me... He is the most flawed person I have ever met in my life”.
James Mattis, the esteemed Marine general who resigned as secretary of defence in December, 2018, was blunt in his assessment of the President; writing in the Atlantic in June: “Donald Trump is the first president in my life- time who does not try to unite the American people — does not even pretend to try. Instead, he tries to divide us. We are witnessing the consequences of three years of this deliberate effort. We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership”
The Trump Presidency has been chaotic and incredibly destructive. Trump has shown again and again he does not have the temperament for the job. Should Joe Biden and the Democratic Party emerge victorious, there is much work that needs to be done to bring the country together and make real positive change in the lives of American citizens.
A return to normal is much desired, but that must not be confused with a return to business as usual. Even if they do conquer the Coronavirus in the next year, huge issues still need to be confronted; climate change, wealth inequality, racial unrest, as well as geo-political struggles in the Middle East and beyond. But, the first role a President Biden must assume is that of a healer, to undo the harm of these last four years to the country and appeal, as Lincoln once did, to “the better angels of our nature”.
Anthony Angelini is a part-time lecturer at UCC. He has a Master of Philosophy (MPhil), International Peace Studies.