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Trump's failure to lead has scarred our democracy

U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy was on target Thursday when at a committee hearing he said that in addition to the now nearly 200,000 deaths attributed to the COVID-19 virus, the suffering of those who became seriously ill but survived, and the economic damage, the administration’s failure to handle the outbreak has also damaged the reputation of U.S. democracy.

That’s good news for Beijing, bad news for Washington, in the struggle for global political influence in the 21st century.

“It is hard to overestimate the value of the gift that we have handed China through this administration's mismanagement of America's COVID-19 outbreak,” said the Connecticut Democrat during a Foreign Relations Committee proceeding. “It bolsters China's argument that autocratic or semi-autocratic forms of government…are more effective at meeting modern threats than democracy. When a democracy can't get this epidemic under control after a half a year, when an autocracy can get it under control in a matter of months, they believe that strengthens their argument.”

It did not have to be this way. This great democracy has many times set its differences aside and embraced self-sacrifice in effectively dealing with external and domestic threats.

How troubling it is that a people who, in confronting the threat of global domination by tyrants, were once willing to universally accept food and other consumer rationing without complaint, to share the fruits of small victory gardens or sit in darkened homes, are now so self-indulgent, so consumed with their rights, that many refuse to wear a mask to protect their fellow Americans from an invisible danger.

And one does not have to go back to World War II to see Americans passing this test of character. In the months preceding the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, this was a nation torn. President George W. Bush had only 10 months earlier won one of the most controversial elections in the nation’s history, settled 5-4 by the U.S. Supreme Court.

But after the attacks the nation rallied around its president. For the greater good, Americans, whether they had voted for Bush or not, accepted restraints in travel and in the conduct of their public lives in the interests of national security.

There is a difference between now and then. Leadership. In a fireside chat 78 years ago this month, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, noting higher taxes would be necessary to support the war effort, said, “People must stop spending for luxuries. Our country needs a far greater share of our incomes.”

Can you imagine?

Unlike President Trump, Bush called for unity, making it a point to stress that Muslim Americans were not the enemy.

And neither of those presidents downplayed the threat the nation faced.

We are convinced that if President Trump had called for self-sacrifice when confronting the coronavirus threat, had supported as a patriotic act wearing masks to discourage its spread, had encouraged nationally the closing down of all but essential commerce — as Connecticut’s governor did — the nation would have responded and the viral threat would have dwindled more quickly in size. Tens of thousands fewer would have died. A sustainable reopening and economic recovery could have begun sooner.

Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said during an interview with the Journal of the American Medical Association, “I think if we could get everybody to wear a mask right now I think in four, six, eight weeks we could bring this epidemic under control.”

He made those comments eight weeks ago.

Instead of bringing the epidemic under control, the president has let the refusal to wear a mask become a symbol of righteous independence, and support for him, including holding large rallies where no effort was made to compel or even encourage mask wearing.

“There are people that don’t think masks are good,” said the president at his ABC “town hall” meeting last week.

Monumentally and tragically, the president has failed this democracy in a time of crisis. It is time to use the levers of democracy to replace him.

 

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Tim Cotter, Staff Writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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