This post won’t be as short as President Donald Trump’s attention span, which according to people who have had the misfortune of interacting with him on anything substantive, mimics that of a “fruit fly” (in the pithy words of his former National Security Advisor, John Bolton).
I believe that after the president loses his bid for re-election on Tuesday (or after the unprecedented deluge of mail-in votes are counted, some 50 million of them so far), he should face legal accountability for crimes against humanity, or at least abuse of power and the shocking abdication of his constitutional responsibilities.
It seems undeniable at this point — as he continues to repeatedly and publicly claim that the coronavirus pandemic is in the rearview mirror despite its worst-ever metrics of infection now spiking and a quarter million of his constituents dead from it — that his Constitutional, much less moral failure in purposefully mishandling the coronavirus pandemic in the United States represents the highest order of crime against the American people.
What makes the death count so unforgivable — it’s like 65 9/11’s — is that it was self-inflicted by this administration and mostly preventable.
Although “crimes against humanity” strictly speaking might not hold up in U.S. courts, certainly formal charges of abuse of power and willful failure to protect the president’s constituents should. Still, even the phrase “crimes against humanity” feels at least notionally valid in this historically glaring instance of presidential malfeasance and callous inaction.
Note that the president revealed in his own words in a tape-recorded February 7, 2020, conversation with author Bob Woodward for his book, Rage, that he knew then that the virus was lethal, airborne, exceedingly contagious and “more deadly than even your strenuous flus” — and yet he said he purposely chose to repeatedly “play it down” to the public to “avoid panic,” according to press reports at the time. By not telling people the truth, he simply ensured more Americans than necessary would die.
He did this before a single U.S. death was recorded from the pandemic, when there was still time to effectively react.
Although today he continues to publicly take credit for saving several million American lives by ordering a partial travel restriction from China to the U.S. soon after the “novel virus” emerged in that country, it’s a bald-faced lie. He co-opted this self-serving fantasy from a British report that projected the U.S. might lose more than two million lives if nobody, including government, did anything to mitigate its spread.
Besides the partial travel block, which still let hundreds of thousands of people from China into our country (not to mention many, many more from already-infected Europe), the Trump administration, at the president’s emphatic insistence, has done virtually nothing to contain the virus except step up manufacture of ventilators and begin a rush project — Operation Warp Speed — to produce therapeutics and vaccines that at best won’t be widely available for months. But the president and his administration have from the beginning belligerently refused to insist that all Americans wear masks and social-distance constantly in public, and avoid all crowds.
These from the start were and still remain the consistent and emphatic lead guidelines of the nation’s top infectious disease and medical experts as the most effective way to stop the scourge’s relentless spread. The president has ignored that advice, irresponsibly holding endless “super-spreader” events and political rallies that have sickened and killed his supporters, political aides and many innocent others.
He has argued that the country needs to “open up” immediately, and that kids need to return to schools “in person.” Simple logic tells us this is not a health-policy decision but a political one. The president knew in February (if not before) that touting and protecting the robust economy that he was shepherding was his best (and perhaps only) path to re-election. He also knew that so-called “lockdowns” of city and towns to try and contain the deadly virus would almost certainly blunt the economy’s rise — and threaten his political prospects.
So he decided to ignore reality and refuse to loudly proclaim to the nation the urgent need for citizens to mask, social distance and avoid crowds like the plague. Instead, for eight months now, he keeps saying about the pandemic: “We’re rounding the corner!”
It’s a lie. A damned lie. Today, the viral onslaught has never been worse. More than 70,000 Americans are being newly infected each day as we round the corner to the election, and about 1,000 daily are dying of it. Hospitalizations are soaring and intensive-care-unit beds are filling up. Hospitals are super-worried, as they were in the beginning of the pandemic, but now they also have flu season to factor in. It’s a crisis. It’s really bad.
Yet our president still, as more victims of the plague perish, fearfully suffering, and their families are forced to grieve as well, won’t acknowledge in public that it’s even a problem we should worry about. That’s a crime against the nation, in my book, and against its humanity.
The president’s oath of office enjoins him to do everything he possibly can to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States,” which also means he must do the same for all its people.
He has not only not done that regarding this vicious disease but has purposefully refused to do what all logic, common sense and scientific expertise scream out for him to do. Just to get re-elected.
The irony is that his followers, in fervent thrall to Trump’s know-nothing personality cult, are allowing themselves to be hugely at risk of infection at his virtually mask-free mega rallies. They are like devout Christians who demand being allowed to crowd into their churches because God will protect them.
No He won’t. The virus couldn’t care less about divinities. This microbial scourge is like Donald Trump on steroids, and the president, as his behavior constantly confirms, is no Christian, much less a paragon of personal character and integrity who cares about others at his own (political) expense.
The ominous charge of “crimes against humanity” is generally lodged by international states against another in times of war or national upheavals, but it also has less formal meanings. The Encyclopaedia Britannica explains:
“The term also has a broader use in condemning other acts that, in a phrase often used, ‘shock the conscience of mankind.’ World poverty, human-made environmental disasters, and terrorist attacks have thus been described as crimes against humanity. The broader use of the term may be intended only to register the highest possible level of moral outrage, or the intention may be to suggest that such offenses be recognized, formally, as legal offenses.”
Virology experts stress that if the U.S. federal government had executed and enforced emphatic masking, social distancing and crowd-avoiding policies from the beginning, before anyone died of Covid-19, hundreds of thousands of lives could have been saved that ultimately won’t be.
But the federal government, at Donald Trump’s insistence, didn’t. He is then directly responsible for helping to fuel the horrors that then ensued. He could have successfully blunted the virus, as many other countries have, but chose not to.
Tell me why Americans shouldn’t thus have “the highest level of moral outrage” toward this unconscionable dereliction of duty that “shocks the conscience.”
Tell me why the president’s lack of action isn’t a crime against humanity and the nation — a felonious assault on all that is honorable in our democracy and that cries out for justice.
After the election, which the president’s current desperation hints he himself feels certain to lose, the nation should indict him for this, and for his many, many other abject betrayals of American public trust too numerous to mention here.