EDITORIAL: Can't Trump call for unity?

York Dispatch Editorial Board

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to claim lives throughout the nation and across Pennsylvania, so, too, continue the protests.

About 200 demonstrators showed up outside Gov. Tom Wolf’s house over the weekend to make their views known against public-health measures aimed at mitigating the effects of the ongoing outbreak.

And Michigan saw an army of heavily armed protesters storm its statehouse last week in an angry, ugly display of intimidation and selfishness.

The frustration is understandable, in those cases where frustration is the fuel. But there is just as much evidence that well-intended and much-needed public health measures are being used as an excuse by aggrieved factions to vent long-held, partisan animosities.

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Count President Donald Trump’s refusal to speak out against these politicized demonstrations as among his many failures in managing the ongoing coronavirus crisis.

At a time when a responsible leader would urge public calm and unity, Trump instead throws fuel on the fire.

Those threatening, assault rifle-wielding assailants that stalked the Michigan state capitol, clashing with security forces and menacing state lawmakers? They were “very good people,” said the president in issuing a message of support on Twitter.

This follows Trump’s earlier all-caps Twitter posts in which he urged followers to “LIBERATE” Michigan, Minnesota and Virginia. (It also echoes the president’s comments following the deadly 2017 neo-Nazi demonstration in Charlottesville, Virginia, in which he claimed there were “very fine people” on both sides.)

Ironic that one of the demonstrators outside Wolf’s house held a sign reading “Stop playing politics w/ peoples lives,” because that’s exactly what Trump has been doing since the dawn of this pandemic.

From downplaying the potential severity of the outbreak for a crucial two months to arguing with state governors about the need for vital medical supplies, to self-congratulatory televised “updates,” to instigating his supporters to oppose state mandates, the president has viewed this entire crisis through the lens of his political fortunes and his unquenchable need for public affirmation.

The country is still woefully behind on testing for the coronavirus, and there is no national plan for public tracing and very likely never will be.

And yet the president’s preoccupations lay with coaxing his supporters (there are almost always pro-Trump signs at these demonstrations) to publicly defy state-level health measures.

It’s bad enough that Trump and his sycophantic circle of third-rate advisers (Jared Kushner?) have proven thoroughly incapable of managing any aspect of the pandemic. It’s asinine that states are left largely to fend for themselves, to the point of competing with one another on the global market for medical supplies. Is it too much to ask that a president at least use the bully pulpit to encourage support for and cooperation with life-saving public-health measures?

Obviously, with this president, it is.

At least one of Trump’s predecessors is attempting to fill the void. George W. Bush issued a video message over the weekend containing the type of inspirational rhetoric that has been absent from the White House these past three-plus years.

"We are human beings, equally vulnerable and equally wonderful in the sight of God,” said the former Republican president in calling for an end to pandemic partisanship. “We rise or fall together, and we are determined to rise.”

Trump responded by criticizing Bush for not supporting him during his impeachment. Predictably petty. Characteristically self-absorbed. Incredibly sad.

The public has every right to protest, of course. There was nothing wrong with the demonstration outside Wolf’s home, outside of the participants putting themselves at risk by neither social distancing nor wearing masks.

But encouraging militia-style insurrections, especially during a time of national anxiety and uncertainty, is going to get someone injured or killed.

A president ought to be able to champion unity in times of crisis. It’s not a very high bar.

Sadly, it’s a bar the current office holder is incapable of clearing.