Trump’s efforts to prepare the nation for this pandemic has been far from perfect, but the one thing the president did do to stop the virus’s spread to the United States during that period — restricting air travel from China — was heavily criticized. Even former vice president Joe Biden criticized the president’s ban as “hysterical xenophobia.” At the time, partisan vituperation had reached a fever pitch because of impeachment. Given that impeachment managers were regularly calling Trump a king or incipient dictator, a more forceful response against the virus in January or early February likely wouldn’t have gone over well.
In fact, the situation could be even worse today had the Democrats gotten their way. Imagine if Republicans had buckled under the pressure and backed the Democratic move to subpoena witnesses. The Senate would have spent most of February interviewing witnesses in depositions and probably fighting in court to force recalcitrant witnesses to testify. It’s extremely unlikely that the matter would have been over by the end of the month, yet the markets started to decline on Feb. 24 as it became clear that Europe and the United States would not avoid the virus’s spread. Would the House Democrats have suspended their attempt to remove the president at this crucial time, or would they have redoubled their efforts instead?
Impeachment’s lingering stain is damaging the country even today. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and the president have not spoken during this crisis, nor will they. Their hatred is deep and mutual, and impeachment made their breach irreparable.
The fact is that nearly four years of irrational Trump hatred has brought us to the point where any action he takes is subject to criticism. Had he acted decisively in February when he had time, many surely would have accused him of manufacturing a crisis to distract the public from impeachment. Now that we are suffering from that month’s relative inaction, he is attacked for failing to act in advance. Damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t.
This latter point gets overlooked in the discussion over Trump’s purported failures. No European leader stockpiled covid-19 tests or ordered ventilators and masks in preparation for the worst. Yes, Trump might have played down the crisis in rhetoric, but when it comes to actual policy, the sainted Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau prepared his country no better than Trump prepared the United States. The rational analyst sees these facts and notes that it is extraordinarily difficult for politicians to foresee an event unprecedented in modern times and act accordingly. But Trump-phobia, of which impeachment was only the most obvious symptom, prevents too many from seeing the obvious even now.
This must end if we are to get through the present crisis. The #Resistance has made “not my president” its slogan for years. Well, like it or not, he is the president, and barring death or incapacitation will remain so for the crisis’s duration. Criticizing Trump’s actions is appropriate, but the hyper-partisanship that views any act that he could possibly take as presumptively tainted and wrong must end if we are to come together as one nation and fight this battle together.
The failed impeachment effort, however, has made this highly unlikely. People who just a month ago had been whipped into a frenzy over Trump’s supposed dictatorial tendencies will find it hard to suddenly be willing to trust him as the crisis demands a degree of federal action not seen since the 1930s and 1940s. We entered a crisis that demanded national unity as a fractured and bitter people. It didn’t have to be that way, but more than three years of a refusal to accept that Trump had fairly won the election — a period of willful denial that culminated in impeachment — made it so.
Impeachment advocates once implored Trump defenders to put “country over party.” Now that the country is really under assault, it’s imperative that they heed their own advice.