Besides the sad deaths of a quarter-million Americans, the pandemic claimed another victim this month: the re-election of President Trump.
Had the election been held in February, Trump would have won against any Democrat. Unemployment was historically low, there were more jobs than job seekers, incomes were up, 401(k)s were high, manufacturing was robust, deregulation liberated small business, he engineered a more assertive U.S. trade policy, no new wars were waged, hostilities were being reduced abroad, Middle East peace deals were coming and consumer spending was strong.
Trump’s February re-election wouldn’t have been unanimous. Millions who prioritize the environment and climate change would have voted for a Democrat. People who disagreed with Trump’s right-to-life stand would have opposed him. Citizens who find him repulsive wouldn’t have voted for him. His obnoxious narcissism didn’t help, though Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s and former President Barack Obama’s obvious vanity is overlooked by a worshipful media.
But the ante-pandemic Trump would have won. Even in November he garnered 4 million more votes than Obama did in 2008, 8 million more than Obama did in 2012, 8 million more than Hillary Clinton in 2016. Trump 2020 even beat Trump 2016 by nearly 11 million votes.
Yet still, to the cheers of nearly 80 million Biden voters, Trump is likely to have lost his re-election bid after his legal challenges conclude.
The virus exposed his myopic focus on the economy and jobs and his minimizing of other critical concerns. Trump all along has preached a gospel of nationalistic capitalism. John F. Kennedy’s brilliant speechwriter, Ted Sorenson, once used the now famous aphorism, “A rising tide lifts all boats,” in a presidential address. Trump not only believed in that theory, he achieved such an uplifted economy. Unemployment was at 3.5 percent in February, the lowest since 1969. Americans were working, getting paid more, saving more, spending more. The increased demand encouraged more trade under better trade deals, such as the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement. Retirement savings plans were doing well, helping limited-income seniors feel more secure about paying their bills. Most people were living better. A pre-election poll — that received little press attention — revealed that most people felt they were better off than they were four years ago.
Then the pandemic struck. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told the president and the nation in January that Covid-19 wasn’t a major threat. That’s all the rationale the country’s CEO needed to continue prioritizing economic growth. He knew that a pandemic had the potential to reverse all of his economic accomplishments and cut America’s flourishing growth off at the knees. While he took actions, like stopping incoming travel from China, ordering vaccine research and eventual distribution to commence at warp speed, sending hospital ships to California and New York, and ramping up ventilator production, he eschewed leading a national, coordinated effort. Nor did he inspire an America-wide “Let’s fight together” effort of mutual protection.
This lack of a federal-level, all-out war on the virus gave voters the impression that Trump saw the pandemic as an annoying distraction, eclipsing the sun from shining on his accomplishments. The virus wasn’t a problem he could build, deal or fire his way out of. He ran for president to be the manager in chief, and he was good at it, but when the pandemic came, we needed an empathizer and inspirer, a credible leader who could take — and eloquently explain — tough actions, and he wasn’t that.
Covid-19 delivered the fatal wound. And when Trump caught the virus at the height of the campaign — probably by setting a poor example by not wearing a mask and ignoring social distancing — the spotlight narrowed onto his failure to lead, and all his achievements went dark.
He had fended off many cuts before. Long knives had been out even before Inauguration Day 2017: An indisputably far-left press in cahoots with social media moguls to censor MAGA speech; an infuriatingly condescending socialist elite; millionaire athletes and other entertainers; anarchists, arsonists and rioters disturbing the domestic tranquility and opposition-party conspiracies each drew blood. With little help, he prevailed against them all.
President-elect Joseph Biden’s supporters can celebrate their victory this Thanksgiving weekend. Trump’s fans should also be thankful, because the national pride they’ve relished for the last four years will prevail. Trump ignited it, but it was ours before him and will be ours after him. Reasonable patriots on both political sides make America great. We can all be thankful for that.
John O’Connell is a former executive editor of the Herald Community Newspapers. Comments about this column? OConnell11001@yahoo.com.