When we entrusted Donald Trump with the care of this country and didn’t remove him when the pandemic struck, we all pretty much signed our coronavirus waivers.
It would be disingenuous to suggest that the Trump rallies are invitations to virus spread and claim in the same breath that Black Lives Matter protests aren't doing the same.
But still there's a choice: we can either look back on a shameful presidency in American history and apologize for having been part of it, or reflect on a shameful epoch in that same history and claim to have fought against it. There's danger in both, but a just cause always outweighs an ongoing idiocy. It's one thing to take to the streets with the intent of initiating a more equitable life for all citizens; and another entirely to don a red baseball cap, sign a no-can-sue coronavirus waiver, and express (in tight quarters while viral droplets are shouted everywhere) an undying love for a bumbling incompetent.
I understand the dangers of large gatherings, even those of quiet protest, but I don't understand—or don't want to—how thousands of addled and befuddled Oklahomans are ready to do rally behind an absent president whom they still consider America’s savior and redeemer. And though we deride the waiver the attendees were compelled to sign, let's admit it: when we entrusted Donald Trump with the care of this country and didn’t remove him when the pandemic struck—when we let him usurp the role of the scientists and the medical professionals in providing "guidance" for citizens—when we let him declare the pandemic defeated as the second 100,000 victims began to accumulate, we all pretty much signed our coronavirus waivers anyway.
And so here we are facing crises on every front—domestic and, it appears from recent North Korean lunacy, international—and we have a president so unenlightened in so many areas that he cannot be counted on to deal with anything outside his own very small circle of concern. Imagine how a real president might act now—making one serious policy speech to the American people delineating strategies and contingency plans for the summer, the fall, the winter. He would advise best practices regarding masks, distancing, avoiding crowds, maybe hold off on political rallies and request that his opponent do the same. Dream on. Instead we got yesterday's tepid and discursive lecture about police abuses peppered with references to law and order. It could have been worse, but when one considers the horrific acts that have precipitated the protests, it could have been a lot more forceful.
No one will deny that the job president is difficult, but it's only impossible when the person doing the job is lazy and reckless, aside from being ignorant enough to sardine 20,000 screaming people into an auditorium. A better man might offer a word of warning; Trump offers waivers, as if it's some high school field trip.
I have—most of us have—grown up in an America we considered the greatest country in the world, but in believing that, we have had to brush aside a great many shameful episodes: the genocide of native Americans, Japanese internment, the Vietnam War, Kent State, the Muslim ban, the aftermath of Katrina, the imprisonment of children at the southern border. Now we are seriously confronting our most shameful legacy—the historic consignment of the black American to the lowest strata of American society. It's a situation that, met head-on by a competent leader, could turn a country toward true greatness, and yet the complexity of it—from wages to the prison system—is beyond the president's ability to comprehend. Add to this the pandemic and factor in his laziness: rallies are all he has.
Remember that fact when the red hats appear in Tulsa and the president starts delineating his list of sure-fire one-liners—remember that a country can only become "great again" if it was once great. The stigma of slavery and the shame of nearly two centuries of trying to prove that the Civil War meant something have impugned that greatness. But when we require answers and direction, we see a leader who lacks both. But we get waivers.
He falls in line with other lazy autocrats, and most resembles England's Boris Johnson who, like Trump, revels in the spotlight and the speech-making, but remains ignorant of the most basic government protocols and seldom has a clue what he's talking about. He least resembles the active autocrats like Putin and Bolsonaro, because ruling with an iron hand requires effort. Neither Trump nor Johnson can be bothered.
But here's a little factoid to mull over: the four countries most ravaged by the pandemic, the four seemingly unable to stop its spread happen to be Russia, Brazil, England, and America—Putin, Bolsonaro, Boris Johnson, and Trump. Each leader has played down the threat and taken over the distribution of information, which has often been wrong or contradictory, or missing entirely. Deaths have swelled to 115,000 in America with a prediction of 90,000 more by Labor Day, before the next potential flare-up. Already states are beginning to relive the early days of the pandemic in New York City with its apocalyptic emergency rooms and hospitals. And when corridors become choked with victims, and ventilators are being jury-rigged by desperate health care workers, will Trump once again accuse them of stealing masks?
Into this already volatile mix step the images of George Floyd and Rayshard Brooks and Amy Cooper. More than ever we need someone to unite us. Trump offers waivers.
There is a dread in this country that cannot be subsumed by the happy talk of reopened movie theaters, bustling salons, crowded bars, and miracle steroids, We need leadership that recognizes that fact, that acknowledges the Black Lives Matter movement as something vital and necessary not only for the future of black Americans but for all Americans—that at the same time tends to the needs of millions nervous about school and work in the fall—that has an eye on the world stage where fighting has broken out and détentes are falling. It's a difficult job, but it deserves more than a perfunctory speech and a trip to Tulsa.
It deserves more than waivers.