Today our nation and the wider world finds itself in the midst of one of the greatest crises that has been seen in our lifetimes. It can be difficult at times to turn on the evening news and listen to reporters talk about the surge in the number of cases across the country and the possibility that the death toll may rise into the millions. What has made this crisis even more troubling is the lack of moral leadership from the White House since the moment COVID-19 first came on the radar of American officials in late 2019.
Although the president’s inability to accept responsibility and his propensity for spewing lies is to be expected at this point, the direct threat this crisis poses to the health and safety of the American people has rendered this type of behavior lethal. Up until only a few weeks ago, President Trump was downplaying the threat posed by the coronavirus, even going so far as to claim that the outbreak would “miraculously” disappear by April and that the virus was a Democratic “hoax.” These and other damaging statements were made by the president in spite of urgent warnings from American intelligence and public health officials.
In the past week alone –– while the president has come to acknowledge the threat posed by the virus only after Fox News political commentator Tucker Carlson reportedly intervened –– the daily press briefings at the White House have descended into a series of dumpster fires filled with misinformation, petty partisanship and personal attacks. In a moment plagued by confusion and chaos, the president has outlandishly proposed new, untested treatments, despite contrary statements from CDC and NIH officials. Similarly, when pressed by reporters for answers and reassurances, his behavior has been nothing short of outright insulting and dismissive.
During the darkest hours of the Great Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt described the Oval Office as being a place “pre-eminently of moral leadership.” While Trump’s actions and rhetoric have directly contradicted the example set by past presidents in times of crisis, we have seen something quite remarkable over the past several days and weeks –– ordinary Americans from all walks of life coming together to make difficult decisions and provide necessary moral leadership in the midst of uncertainty.
Casting aside partisan and personal differences, the nation’s governors have provided a stark contrast to the White House by leveling directly with the American people about the threat posed by the virus and taking unprecedented, yet necessary, steps to “flatten the curve.” Gov. Andrew Cuomo, D-NY, in particular, has become the face of these efforts, holding daily press conferences where he has not only accepted full responsibility for his decision to close schools and non-essential businesses but has also provided a much-needed sense of hope and determination in these uncertain and unprecedented times.
This same leadership has also been seen outside of government. University President Jim Ryan announced March 11 that the University would be moving all classes online –– an unprecedented step that has never before been taken in the University’s history. Since that time, students and faculty alike have come together in order to find creative solutions so that instruction may continue. In addition to this, President Ryan has also released several heartfelt statements to the University community aiming to address the needs and concerns of students, faculty and parents while also conveying his own personal sympathy for the impact that this decision has had on their daily lives.
Furthermore, doctors, first responders and healthcare professionals have worked around the clock to help treat patients, slow the spread of the virus and work towards developing a vaccine –– selflessly placing their own lives in harm’s way in order to save others. Just this past week, U.Va. Health developed its own COVID-19 test that will shorten the time that it takes to get results from a matter of days to mere hours. Additionally, major American companies like Ford and General Motors have stepped up to the plate and begun converting their plants to build ventilators and other necessary medical supplies that the country currently lacks.
Finally, on a more fundamental level, everyday Americans have done their part in helping to combat the spread of the virus. Across the country, countless small businesses have transitioned to working remotely while others have made the difficult decision to close indefinitely. Mutual Aid programs have sprung up across the country, including Student Council’s own ‘Hoos Helping ‘Hoos. The hustle and bustle of cities and towns have come to a screeching halt as individuals have chosen to practice social distancing and self-quarantining, helping to slow the spread of the virus and, in the process, save countless lives.
Though there will almost certainly be dark days ahead, in the absence of moral leadership from the White House, Americans from all walks of life have risen to the occasion. This sense of resilience and determination is exactly what America is all about –– ordinary people coming together to do extraordinary things. The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted countless profiles in courage, and it is certain that in the weeks and months to come we will see many more.
Thomas Driscoll is the Senior Associate Opinion Editor for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Cavalier Daily. Columns represent the views of the authors alone.