In the 2016 presidential election, the nation tried something new. We elected an outsider promising he’d bust our governance out of its rut and speak plain truths. Donald Trump claimed he’d end the entrenched corruption of insider politics and cozy lobbying and quickly solve the nation’s thorniest dilemmas — ending deficits, lowering taxes significantly for all, rebuilding our infrastructure efficiently and imposing our will internationally.
Four years ago, Trump’s message convinced enough voters to send him to the White House. And even now his appeal for many goes beyond the ugly attitudes and beliefs that are a constant undercurrent in his behavior — the racism, division and a bleak view of government as the oppressor. In every community in this nation, supporters of President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden work and worship together, volunteer together, socialize together and support one another. Believing either group is devoid of kind, well-intentioned people promotes a corrosive falsehood that ill serves our society.
But there is no denying that Trump failed to deliver on the vast majority of his promises.
Even before COVID-19 besieged our nation, the president did not deserve another term. Now, having watched him preen and flounder and emit flashes of anger and self-pity as roughly 215,000 of us died and millions were sickened, it is clear he cannot lead the nation.
We must move beyond the turmoil and chaos of his presidency.
The president’s response to the pandemic and his behavior after he was infected are disqualifying. The crisis intensified the impact of Trump’s missteps and malignancies, and laid bare the devastating effects of ignoring science and caring for little else than his own political and personal considerations.
The roots of Trump’s failed response go back to the disbanding of the White House pandemic response team in 2018. But the crisis began to take shape shortly after the virus was discovered in China, as Trump immediately began double-speaking, telling the American people that we faced no significant threat even as his own scientific experts were telling him the pandemic was the greatest challenge of his presidency.
Ignoring the experts on the coronavirus and not telling the nation about its severity, ostensibly to prevent panic, was dangerous. In April, as the first wave of infections started to wane, experts projected we could hold deaths in the United States to about 65,000 if we continued to follow restrictions. But Trump led the charge to ignore or lift restrictions. He made fun of mask wearing. He refused to support the plan of closure and reopening issued by his own administration. And he downplayed the dangerousness of the disease as a "hoax."
Now nearly four times as many Americans are dead from the coronavirus as were killed in the Vietnam War, whose casualties defined two presidencies. Had Trump pushed mask wearing and sensible restrictions on distancing and public gatherings, more Americans would be alive, as shown by far better public health results in other nations. And the economy would be stronger, with fewer jobs lost and less disruption in our personal lives. Trump’s inability to lead responsibly during the pandemic has been devastating, but his biggest shortcomings as president became apparent through his own illness.
Even after he and first lady Melania Trump tested positive on Oct. 2, Trump continued to mingle with his staff and others, exposing them to his infection. His response, upon being attacked for jumping in a vehicle with Secret Service agents to do a drive-by of supporters outside Walter Reed medical center, was that there was nothing to worry about because he already had the virus.
He seemed to not even understand the idea that he should care about infecting others. More than 35 people connected with the White House have contracted the virus. And his telling Americans, "Don’t be afraid of COVID," when so many have suffered so much and hardly any have access to the level of care he received, was staggeringly callous.
For more than three years, Trump largely got away with upending societal norms and flouting rules because of a booming economy and no new wars. The president’s coalition was well-populated with elected officials and religious leaders willing to enter into a sell-your-soul deal. He earned their loyalty by fighting the culture wars they treasure, elevating to the bench the dogmatically conservative judges they demand, and eviscerating the taxes and regulations they despise.
Trump also escaped impeachment after he was accused of abuse of power and obstruction of justice over Russian meddling in the 2016 campaign. An investigation showed obstruction of justice likely occurred repeatedly, but Congress chose not to act on those conclusions. Impeached in the House on a separate accusation of pushing Ukraine to investigate the son of Biden, who he considered his strongest reelection opponent, Trump avoided conviction by the Senate with only one Republican vote against him. Now, because of that refusal to execute the necessary checks and balances on the executive branch, the GOP is in danger of losing its Senate majority. We fear history will reveal that among Trump’s most subversive moves was his effort to use the Justice Department to thwart opponents and advance his own interests.
Even so, until coronavirus infection rates exploded in the United States and shutdown orders cascaded across the nation, it seemed Trump’s case for another term might find a receptive audience. Most voters who supported him in 2016 still seemed ready to do so, even as Trump’s opponents raged at his trampling of traditions and norms. Loyalists could cite improved trade deals with China, Mexico and Canada, the seeds of a shift in the Middle East that leaves Israel with more allies and fewer threats, criminal justice reform and degrading the threat of ISIS.
But the positives, even before the pandemic hit, were dwarfed by the negatives. The booming economy was hobbled by his refusal to fight for an additional round of stimulus spending. And Trump’s missteps included attacks on the Affordable Care Act that could cost tens of millions of Americans their coverage, a lack of transparency on personal finances, the enrichment of himself and his family via money from the U.S. government and other nations spent at his businesses, and his refusal to condemn white supremacists. Trump’s willingness to defame non-white immigrants, both legal and undocumented, and to separate children from their parents, is appalling. His inexplicable fawning over Russian President Vladimir Putin, whom U.S. intelligence agencies say worked tirelessly to get Trump elected, is frightening.
Granting Trump a term as president has cost our nation a great deal. His performance in office doesn’t justify granting him a second.
— The editorial board