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EDITORIAL: Coronavirus: Yet another wedge issue

York Dispatch Editorial Board
President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar in the Oval Office of the White House, Thursday, March 12, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

If there were ever a time for national unity, battling a deadly pandemic would seem to be it.

Having eclipsed 1.5 million COVID-19 cases, seen 90,000 Americans succumb to the virus, endured a cratering economy and withstood tens of millions joining the ranks of the unemployed ought to leave the nation’s citizens rallying together in mutual support.

And maybe they’d be doing just that, if they had a president who provided leadership, encouraged unity and preached collaboration.

But leave it to President Donald Trump and his cheerleaders to turn even a pandemic into a partisan issue.

In both word and deed (mostly word, the deeds have been few and far between), the president has sought to use the pandemic to play to his base, deflect responsibility, oversell his response and, worst of all, divide Americans against one another.

None of this is new, but’s it’s beyond disappointing that Trump returns to the same sorry playbook amid a public-health crisis that has claimed more lives than the past three wars the U.S. has fought.

He continues, for example, to pit states led by Democratic governors against those headed by members of his own party. While the federal response as a whole has been pitiful — and leaving the states to compete individually on the open market for medical equipment was both inefficient and expensive — Trump added insult to injury for high-population states hit hardest by the virus.

“All the states that need help — they’re run by Democrats in every case,” Trump whined earlier this month. “You look at Illinois, you look at New York, look at California, you know, those three, there’s tremendous debt there. … I don’t think the Republicans want to be in a position where they bail out states that are, that have been mismanaged over a long period of time.”

Even during times of extreme crisis, Trump doesn’t see fellow Americans in need, fighting for their lives and, in some cases, losing; he says Democrats and Republicans. This incredibly petty partisanship has been picked up by Republican lawmakers like Florida Sen. Rick Scott and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. Way to help America pull together, guys!

The president has also encouraged public protests of state-level health guidelines that follow federal recommendations. His backing for heavily armed demonstrators who surrounded the statehouse in Michigan, along with Twitter calls to “LIBERATE” Michigan, Minnesota and Virginia (all states headed by Democrats), are the exact opposite of what a strong, responsible leader should be urging.

Speaking of strong leaders, President Barack Obama has been among the many figures Trump has tried to blame for his own feeble coronavirus response. Trump has claimed his predecessor is somehow responsible for the Trump administration’s inability to provide sufficient testing — despite Obama having left office almost three and a half years ago (three years before the virus existed).

It’s all part of President I-Don’t-Take-Responsibility’s anybody-but-me campaign. He’s also pointed the finger at China, the World Health Organization, the CDC, governors, Democrats, the media … you get the idea.

Americans crave leadership in times of crisis. Democrats and Republicans alike stood in support of President George W. Bush following the 9/11 terrorist attacks — less than a year after an especially divisive and controversial election.

But Donald Trump is no George W. Bush. Nor is he the equal of any of his other predecessors. At a time when national unity and bipartisan collaboration are badly needed, Trump opts for divisiveness and personal political interest. It has been an unseemly, counter-productive and downright depressing performance.