Previous presidents from opposing parties have found amazing ways to cooperate with each other for the sake of the common good. Even though former President George W. Bush had sharp political differences with his predecessor Bill Clinton, they traveled together in Africa in a joint effort to fight AIDS and address underdevelopment. When an earthquake devastated Haiti in 2010, Clinton and Bush contacted President Barack Obama with only one joint question, “How can I help?” Obama quoted them as saying. Former President Jimmy Carter, famous for his help with Habitat for Humanity homebuilding projects, found the time, even at age 96, to join Bush, Clinton and Obama in recording messages urging Americans to get vaccinated against the coronavirus.
It’s called elder statesmanship. Contrast their actions with former President Donald Trump, who with a few words of advocacy could radically alter Republicans’ widespread reluctance to get vaccinated against the coronavirus. Yet he insists on stoking the flames of partisanship over a global pandemic that recognizes no religious, social, sexual, racial or political boundaries.
Trump participated in this week’s presentations at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference in Dallas, where speakers went wild with misinformation about the virus and cheered — yes, cheered — when told that U.S. vaccination rates had fallen below President Joe Biden’s original forecasts.
“It’s horrifying. I mean, they are cheering about someone saying that it’s a good thing for people not to try and save their lives,” infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
With a few words, Trump could calm the partisan waters and enlighten the willfully ignorant. All he’d have to say is that vaccines and other precautionary measures are essential to prevent another deadly coronavirus surge. Trump could even brag that this is his vaccine, since his crash program is what made the vaccines so widely available so quickly. Nobody could credibly dispute such a claim. He deserves the credit for making it happen, as we have written before on these opinion pages.
Instead, Trump chose to pout in a statement Sunday about how the news media gives him “no credit” for the vaccine. In the same sentence, he bragged about his supporters knowing who was responsible for the vaccine, adding, “that’s why I got 75 million votes!” Except that Trump followers are among the biggest segment of the population refusing to get vaccinated. That’s largely because Trump has remained stubbornly silent while his loudest defenders go on Fox News to encourage vaccine skepticism.
As a result, misinformation and stubbornness across the conservative spectrum continue to proliferate. So, yes, give Trump credit for the vaccine solution. But also give him credit for creating the conditions for the pandemic to surge anew — exactly as it is now doing.