Wissot: Could we have saved more lives if Trump had hawked MAGA masks?
When the historians complete their autopsy on Trump’s turbulent one-term presidency, will they conclude that it didn’t have to end the sad way it did? I definitely believe it didn’t.
In fact, I will go so far as to claim that if Trump had made even a modest effort to contain the spread of the coronavirus, he would still be president. Joe Biden didn’t defeat Donald Trump. Donald Trump defeated Donald Trump.
The tragedy of Trump is he preferred denying the virus existed to trying to end its existence. If he had admitted a year ago that the virus was really dangerous, really deadly, and that we needed to take it seriously, the American people from both red and blue states would have backed him.
We know from recorded conversations he had with Bob Woodward in early February of last year that he knew how lethal the virus was. If he had just leveled with the public, the mounting infection and death rates which soon followed would not have been blamed on him.
If he had trusted the science regarding the rapid spread of the disease and supported the scientists who said mask wearing and social distancing were critically important, nobody could have concluded that he wasn’t on the right side of the facts and recommendations. If he had acted like the wartime president he said he wanted to be by forcefully confronting a once-in-a-century pandemic, he’d be starting his second term now.
The public doesn’t usually vote a president out of office in the midst of a crisis unless they’ve lost confidence in that leader’s capacity for leadership. The one term presidencies of Herbert Hoover and Jimmy Carter are two clear examples. Trump could have avoided joining them.
What the country needed from him was simply straight talk about the pandemic. Instead he told us COVID was no worse than the seasonal flu and would magically disappear. The fact that it wasn’t and hasn’t is a big reason why he became the newest member of the one-term presidents club.
What Trump did was to ask us to believe that what was happening to us wasn’t happening. As more people were hospitalized and the death toll rose, saying at a campaign rally that the virus was the new “hoax” that Democrats were pushing after his impeachment trial amounted to telling a dead person that he wasn’t dead. There are some subjects, a pandemic being one of them, that are too big to be lied about, too important to be denied. Trump found that to be true the hard way on Nov. 3.
But what if Trump hadn’t tried to play Houdini with reality? What if he had used the pandemic to be proactive by urging his base to join the majority of the country in fighting COVID? What if instead of ridiculing mask-wearing, he began a campaign to manufacture and distribute MAGA masks? What if he persuaded his base to buy those MAGA masks?
What if rather than seeing the pandemic as a threat to his presidency, he viewed it as an opportunity to champion a national effort to defeat the virus and prevent job losses? How many American lives and jobs could have been saved if the 40 plus percent of the electorate who adored Trump weren’t resistant to mask wearing? How many of his super-spreader rallies during the campaign could have been changed into super stopper rallies if his MAGA hat wearing base had added MAGA masks to their wardrobe?
We”ll never know, because he didn’t. The grand master of branding passed up a golden opportunity to market a new product line much as he had before with Trump steaks and Trump diplomas — one that would have lined his pockets and firmed up his popularity with voters beyond his base.
Trump did receive a substantial amount of support from establishment Republicans and independents in the recent election who didn’t particularly like his manners and morals but were willing to view him as a Bad Santa. I’m referring to the Santa who smells bad and whose lap you’d never sit on but is the only guy who is going to fulfill your Christmas wish list asking for generous tax cuts and conservative Supreme Court justices.
But in the battleground states of Michigan, Wisconsin and Wisconsin, and the demographically changing states of Arizona and Georgia, too many voters who voted for Bad Santa in 2016 couldn’t bring themselves to hold their noses and do that again, which is why Joe Biden is our president now.
Jay Wissot is a resident of Denver and Vail. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.