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SPIGOLON: A potentially easy re-election year ends ironically for Trump
Kemp greets Trump
Gov. Brian Kemp, wearing a mask, greets President Donald Trump on his visit to Georgia shortly after Air Force One landed at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport on July 15. - photo by Deborah Stewart

Isn’t it ironic?

Looking back at 2020, I recall President Donald Trump referring to U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah as a “loser” who, as the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, couldn’t even defeat a sitting president in the midst of a bad economy.

The most openly sensitive president in modern history tweeted his opinion after Romney became the only senator of a president’s own party in history to vote to convict him on impeachment charges in February.

How ironic, then, that Trump just lost an election he was positioned to win in a landslide against an apparently weaker opponent — pandemic or no pandemic? 

All Trump had to do was exhibit some national leadership on COVID-19. 

He could have heroically led us out of this pandemic by merely following a pandemic “playbook” his administration already had access to.

He could have boosted his image and re-election prospects while helping the rest of us by leading the economy back to some semblance of pre-pandemic normalcy.

Instead, he politicized the pandemic and played the victim — he was always being criticized by the “fake news” media after all — and sought to divide individual states in their efforts to defeat the virus.

When Barack Obama left office in January 2017, the economy was growing at a 2.3% clip after emerging from the deepest recession in generations.

Trump inherited the ongoing economic growth of the previous administration and was overseeing a slightly higher 2.5% annual increase in his first three years, according to the BBC.

Even with an impeachment trial in January that everyone knew was doomed to failure — the Republican-led Senate voted to acquit him — Trump could keep boasting about the economy on Twitter and the numbers would back him up.

But gathering dust on a shelf somewhere in the White House was the playbook the U.S. wrote on how to effectively deal with a pandemic — just as one was brewing in China.

The 69-page document was written by members of the Obama administration in 2016 after they saw how badly some countries dealt with the Ebola outbreak in 2014.

It laid out the decisions to be made and agencies to be mobilized in a health disaster, according to a report from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

“Throughout its pages, the document stressed the need for an early public health response coordinated by the federal government” and was designed “so there wasn’t piecemeal thinking when trying to fight the next public health battle,” said one former official who contributed to the playbook in a story published by the online news outlet Politico.

Trump’s homeland security adviser, Tom Bossert, even expressed enthusiasm about its potential as part of a broader strategy for the incoming administration to fight pandemics, two former officials told Politico.

But Trump was focused as ever on his image and worried about such inconsequential things as the size of the crowd at his inauguration.

He apparently believed anything the Obama administration passed on to his administration had no value.

As a result, other countries have done far better at dealing with the pandemic and did far less harm to their economies than the U.S. did.

Taiwan, for example, did not record a single locally-transmitted case of COVID-19 for more than eight months before early December.

Soon after dealing with its first case, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc told his country’s citizens that fighting COVID “means fighting the enemy.” Posters from the government stated “to stay home is to love your country.”

By contrast, Trump sent out tweets urging governors to “LIBERATE” and lift the stay-at-home orders three weeks into the lockdowns of Michigan, Minnesota and Virginia, the Milwaukee newspaper reported.

“While leaders of other countries united their citizens behind the idea of collective sacrifice through lockdowns and other measures, U.S. leaders, especially the president, politicized the pandemic. When Americans most needed to pull together, they slipped deeper into bitter polarization.”   

It also noted in the October news story that Trump “routinely dismissed the advice of his own health experts, downplaying the severity of the pandemic” and admitted to journalist Bob Woodward that he downplayed it to avoid triggering panic.

With no national leadership or single response, governors like Brian Kemp were left to fend for themselves and compete against other governors for scarce PPE.

As a result, Kemp and other governors had to deal with the disease — and often constant criticism from a president who should have taken responsibility — the best they could.

In my view, Kemp inherited a mess and has helped bring Georgia’s economy back in better fashion than other states, giving us a comparatively lower jobless rate than many despite increasing infection rates in recent weeks.

As a result of a lack of national leadership, the American economy could require years to rebound while other, better-prepared countries require far less time.

These are countries, like Nigeria, that we’ve historically looked down on for their public health practices. 

But their willingness to sacrifice for the greater good, rather than not taking it seriously, left them with COVID death rates that in some cases were 10 times lower than the U.S.

He’s done his best to politicize a tragedy that’s resulted in 335,000 Americans dead from his “China virus.” 

Mr. Trump, it’s time to go and make way for someone who is serious about trying to lead us out of the mess you helped cause.

Tom Spigolon is news editor of The Covington News. He may be reached at