“WE WILL WIN THIS WAR. When we achieve this victory, we will emerge stronger and more united than ever before!” President Donald Trump, tweet, March 28
In 1776, 13 British colonies joined together to form a new country. They called it the United States of America, both a description and an aspiration. The colonies struggled to forge an identity as a united country. It wasn’t easy.
Written in 1788, our Constitution established a strong central government. This proved vital to our success as a country. It enabled us to work together to reach our goals, making us much stronger united than each state could be alone.
In 1860, we faced our greatest threat to American unity. Eleven states seceded from the United States, forming the Confederate States of America. A long, bloody war was fought; the union was preserved at great cost. Sadly, some people still display the Confederate flag, a symbol of treason, celebrating the attempted destruction of America while claiming to be patriots. The irony is thick.
Today we face a new enemy, COVID-19.We need to be united in our response to this disease. Instead, we have a leader who is running one of the most disorganized, chaotic administrations in our country’s history.
President Trump has no clear strategy for dealing with this disease and no unified plan for testing and contact tracing, both vital to defeat this virus. He is passing the responsibility to the governors without giving them the resources they need, resulting in a patchwork response, while he strives to avoid blame.
One of his most despicable actions is forcing states to bid against each other and against the federal government for the supplies they need. For example, in April, Colorado had a contract to buy 500 ventilators. Overriding the state’s contract, FEMA canceled the order and bought the ventilators themselves. “We can’t compete against our own federal government,” Colorado Gov. Jared Polis said. “... they’re buying stuff out from under us and not telling us what we’re going to get.” (Denver Post, April 4)
Maryland’s Republican Gov. Larry Hogan had to resort to cloak-and-dagger tactics to secure 500,000 test kits for his state. Hogan sent a plane to South Korea to buy the test kits. The plane then secretly returned and the test kits were taken to an undisclosed location, guarded by Maryland’s National Guard. The reason for the secrecy? To keep FEMA from seizing the test kits. “There have been numerous reports of the Federal Emergency Management Agency hijacking desperately needed protective gear for first responders and health care workers.” (Huffington Post, April 30)
If we had a comprehensive national plan to fight the virus, this wouldn’t happen. But Trump has made it clear he is not president of the whole United States but only of those states and governors who compliment and praise him. He emphasized this at a White House briefing on March 27: “All I want them to do, very simple, I want them to be appreciative.... You know what I say: ‘If they don’t treat you right, I don’t call.’”
Through two world wars, the Great Depression, and other threats, the American people stood together, fought, and won. We faced deprivation and tragedy but we knew defeat wasn’t an option. A real leader would be reminding us of that and inspiring us to repeat those successes.
Now we have a president who insults governors who don’t flatter him the way he wants, calling one “a snake.” He threatens to withhold aid from states with opposing political beliefs, not caring that many of the hardest hit states give much more to the federal government than they get in return. He refuses to call on the American people to work together for the common good, instead encouraging rebellion against life-saving guidelines. To Trump, “United” means “Everyone does what I say or else.”
On May 3, former President George W. Bush spoke to the American people through a Twitter video: “[L]et us remember how small our differences are in the face of this shared threat. In the final analysis we are not partisan combatants, we are human beings equally vulnerable and equally wonderful in the sight of God. We rise or fall together, and we are determined to rise.”
Bush’s words promoted unity, encouraging us to overlook our political differences and focus on fighting this enemy. Trump’s response? He attacked Bush viciously. We’re supposed to be the United States, but Trump can’t seem to grasp that. He is failing all of us.
Jeanette Strong, whose column appears every other week, is a Nevada Press Association award-winning columnist. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.