A free and functional democracy must operate on a foundation of trust.
That’s particularly true in a time of crisis. A rampaging virus that has infected more than 1 million Americans and killed more than 75,000 has forced the restriction of people’s movements and restrained their ability to earn livings and complete their educations. It also has revolutionized the way we worship, communicate with loved ones, pursue recreation and perceive the world.
We have gone along with these previously unthinkable changes in the hope that our leaders are truthful about the challenges we face and wise enough to navigate them, but the recent actions of President Donald Trump have made believing that good governance and the well-being of the nation are being elevated above politics increasingly hard.
The issue is not so much that Trump was wrong early on when he said the coronavirus would “go away by itself, like a miracle” and that the first 15 cases would “in a couple of days be down to close to zero.” Most new and threatening viruses don’t become pandemics, and a leader is supposed to set a positive tone.
But Trump’s assertion that he said these things because that’s what the nation’s public health experts told him is provably false. His inability to admit that his early assurances of an easy victory were tragically incorrect make it difficult to believe anything he says now. And the lack of honesty and clarity and willingness to put health over politics keeps getting worse.
On Monday, Trump said he was considering disbanding his coronavirus task force, then on Wednesday said it would continue after he was lambasted.
On Tuesday, Trump said he was refusing to let Dr. Anthony Fauci testify before the House of Representatives because “The House is a bunch of Trump haters,” but would allow Fauci to address the GOP-controlled Senate.
Early Thursday, The Associated Press reported that a 17-page guide to how to safely reopen the nation developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had essentially been rejected and buried by the White House because its standards were too hard for states to meet. The White House then acknowledged it told the CDC to revise its guidelines to align with the president’s messaging.
And for more than a month, the Trump administration has ignored and pushed governors to ignore the federal standards the president said would be the guide for how to reopen states.
Now many states are relaxing restrictions without ever having met the federal benchmarks, with infections, hospitalizations and deaths still increasing. Finding the balance between controlling the coronavirus and allowing Americans to live their lives and earn their livelihoods is a painful, difficult challenge. It can’t be done perfectly, because every move toward safety constrains freedom and prosperity and, vice versa. But it could be done honestly.
And Trump’s refusal to tell the truth and put the country’s well-being above his reelection prospects may, in the long run, pose more of a threat to the health of this nation than the coronavirus itself.
— The editorial board