Recently I wrote about the Trump legacy, but what will ours be?
Rudy Giuliani's positive Covid test and hospital stay provided a wellspring of humor for late-night TV hosts, bloggers, and reporters. Rudy has become a sad and pathetic figure, one even more tragic than the president for whom he works, because Giuliani had farther to fall, and is still falling. Trump has disappointed nobody.
Giuliani will be neither the first nor the last to sully his name with late-life stupidity, but I wish him a speedy recovery, the same as I did for Trump back in October. Some deus ex machina ending for either of them, though ironic, would be meaningless—it would make it appear that no matter how stupidly we acted—in this case no matter how stupid we were to elect Trump—some benign force will always step in and make things right.
Unfortunately we don’t live in some Medieval miracle play. We live here in what still passes as the real world, and in that world, if we elected Trump, we had to unelect him. We did that. Maybe when people look back on us they’ll see a generation who was fooled once but learned its lesson.
But we aren’t finished. There’s been damage, and we’re becoming responsible for a good deal of it. As with Trump, the way we handle the pandemic will dictate our legacy, and we haven’t been very good at it. We can blame an incompetent government for bungling the crisis, but as citizens we’ve been given four simple commands to slow down the spread of the virus: (1) wear a mask, (2) socially distance, (3) wash your hands, and (4) avoid long exposures with anyone outside your household. None of these individually is foolproof, but pieced together they combine to present a formidable impediment to the spread of Covid-19. (You may have seen the “Swiss cheese” example in the Times recently.)
Simple, but even that seems unattainable. I'm afraid the history of us will be full of observations at which future generations will stare in disbelief, and history books 50 years from now (if they exist at all—if the human race exists at all) will note the following:
With 300,000 Americans half the country refused to admit there was a problem.
With strictures in place against gatherings, the White House scheduled 20 holiday parties.
Governors in states hardest hit by the illness refused to mandate mask-wearing.
The NFL and the NCAA continued to field football teams.
Congress refused to provide humanitarian and small-business relief.
We let Washington get away with it.
It is almost impossible to overestimate the damage done by Trump, his cowering party, and his rapacious family: the recovery that begins in January will be long and difficult. The armed thugs who have taken to the streets are doing so with impunity, hiding behind their cherry-picked Constitutional rights. We on the right side of this cannot do the same and still suppress the virus, but we can make our voices heard here in this representative government. Letters, phone calls, even tweets to the men and women who hold the power can help, can force them to provide some relief, if nothing else, to the millions who are going hungry, who cannot pay their rent, and who can’t afford the Swiss cheese approach because they need to be on a job site. As appalling an embarrassment as Trump may be, he pales in comparison to the videos of mile-long food lines.
We did the right thing in removing a criminal from the White House, but our responsibilities did not end in the voting booth: between now and January 20 the fate of millions—forgotten by their government—-is in our hands. So far we haven't exactly been Britain during the blitz—history will not be kind to us if we can't do better.