This President Has Fallen to the Occasion

Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

It didn’t have to be like this, America.

Yes, this year was always going to be terrible, but it didn’t have to be horrific.

It didn’t have to (as the New England Journal of Medicine declared recently) “go from a crisis to a tragedy.”

We didn’t have to be sitting here with twenty-two percent of the world’s COVID deaths and only four percent of its population.

We didn’t have to still be shut down, to have schools still closed, to have massive clusters of news cases in multiple states, to have a rudderless nation still in the throes of an endless first wave of a virus and entering a Fall season certain to bring a more fierce and deadlier second wave.

We didn’t have to be here with defiant anti-mask activists punching strangers in the face; to have a political party who’ve had to openly oppose Science and reject data in order to ingratiate itself with a unhinged despot; to have a White House decimated by the virus millions people have been trying desperately to avoid—in a self-inflicted wound of reckless hubris.

But America is here in this unnecessary chaos and senseless death, and we’re here because we lack a president in a year when we could least afford to be without one; when the vacancy in leadership could no longer be masked by its inherited prosperity or a lack of genuine adversity.

We’re here because in the highest places of our Government we have such a staggeringly small man, and it is getting people killed as you read this. Tens of thousands Americans would be alive in this moment if not for this president and that’s simply reality.

Trump supporters, who even now have to finally admit that we are one of the only nations still unable to get control of this pandemic, would tell you that Trump is a victim of the unprecedented virus, he is not. He is a victim of his own ignorance and vanity and his inability to rise to the occasion when needed.

Every president faces the unexpected and the unthinkable during their tenures: international conflicts, terrorist attacks, public health crises, financial downturns, natural disasters—and these emergencies as much as any moments of national prosperity or peace, define them.

More than any star-spangled photo ops or staged displays of phony patriotism or carefully crafted paper tiger strength theater—real crisis reveals the character and competence of a leader.

Over and over, Donald Trump has fallen to the occasion.

He has stumbled over himself for the better part of a year even as the case numbers and death toll rose exponentially: covering lie with lie, tweeting abject nonsense, proffering deadly fake cures, purposefully peddling misinformation, daily generating distractions, doubling down on false claims, belittling his own health experts.

He has violently argued with himself in real-time: publicly denying the severity of a virus he would later tell us would bring “lots of death” and soon after pretending it would soon vanish. 

He refused and ridiculed masks for months, then showed up wearing one for a veterans hospital photo op after 147,000 Americans had already died. He discarded it later that day and resumed soon holding large, non-distanced, unmasked rallies and mocking mask-wearers—just days before announcing he and much of his staff had contracted the virus.

This president has blamed the Media and the Democrats and China and the Radical Left and inexplicably, his opponent Joe Biden for his current failures as a leader. He has passed the buck to every other place but where it belongs: in his hands.

His own sycophantic supporters can’t even keep up with the lie they’re supposed to believe now: is it a Democratic hoax, a deadly attack from China, an overblown seasonal flu that “affects literally nobody?” Even his base is unsure who to be angry at anymore.

Bad leaders leave this kind of confusion in their wake when they are counted on to bring clarity. They engineer this kind of chaos when they are relied on for calm. They stoke this jagged division when unity is paramount.

This will not be the end of critical moments for America.

This virus will still be here next year, and there will be other emergencies: foreign threats and domestic terrorism and racial injustice and climate crises and natural disaster and public health dangers and economic collapse—and we cannot afford to face such things without a president again; without a stable, decent human being who not only can lead a disparate nation, but desires to.

This could have been a president’s finest hour: a moment where he became a better version of himself and did the simplest things to protect and unite our nation and be the easy hero—but he was unwilling and incapable of this, which is why we have so many funerals to plan and why we are a global cautionary tale on how nations collapse quickly.

Donald Trump has fallen to the occasion.

America can’t afford more of him.

It didn’t have to be like this, America.

It doesn’t have to be like this anymore.