The Vaccine Provided Trump a Lifeline. He Is Ignoring It
The COVID-19 vaccines are major scientific breakthroughs. Why is Trump focused on other issues?
This has been a brutal year.
The year 2020 began in the United States with an impeachment trial, and continued with a pandemic, protests over racial injustice, and a contested presidential election. When the American public was desperate for a feel-good story, a plot twist was unveiled in the year’s last chapter — the vaccines. The first health care workers have received their initial COVID-19 vaccine doses. The beginning of the end of the pandemic has commenced.
The significance of these vaccines should not be understated. Millions of lives, both in the United States and the rest of the world, will be saved by COVID-19 vaccinations. These vaccines should be compared in scale to the discovery of effective antibiotics or the mass manufacturing of insulin.
Public health experts have often warned that vaccines do not save lives, but vaccinations do. The pandemic is not over, and at least in the United States, it will likely continue for several months. (In the developing world, the pandemic may last for many more years.) Even still, history indicates more reason for hope. Successful vaccination programs have led to the worldwide eradication of small pox and the near-eradication of polio.
Why won’t President Donald Trump spend his remaining days in the White House touting the success of the vaccines? He is choosing, instead, to focus on overturning election results.
The risk that Trump is imposing on our democracy should not be understated or forgotten. Since the election, Trump’s campaign has filed numerous lawsuits alleging massive voter fraud that his lawyers have been unable to prove in court. The most significant lawsuit was filed in early December, when Texas sued four battleground states — Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — to contest their election results, citing pandemic-related changes to election procedures. The Supreme Court declined to hear the case, but the case is audacious nevertheless. Had Texas been successful, the country would have been plunged into the most severe constitutional crisis since at least the Reconstruction era.
The failure of these lawsuits has not halted Trump. He is reportedly considering naming Sidney Powell as a special counsel to investigate voter fraud. He has also invited Michael Flynn, his former short-lived National Security Advisor, to meetings at the White House; Flynn has publicly pushed for Trump to declare martial law in swing states. Trump’s attempts to overturn the election are doomed to failure but his attempts grow more brazen.
All of this while the country is facing several crises: the United States surpassed 300,000 deaths from COVID-19 in December. The country only recently realized that government computer systems have been hacked since March. Congress struggled to pass a measly coronavirus relief package where the president seemingly had no input.
This is the Trump paradox: the president is trying to hold on to a job that he demonstrates no interest in doing.
The solution for Trump is so apparent. In a time when the country is managing several simultaneous calamities, the vaccine has provided the outgoing president a lifeline. He could take credit for the success of Operation Warp Speed and hammer the significance of the vaccines to his millions of followers, tying them to his legacy. Conservative media outlets would surely parrot these claims.
And yet, Trump is incapable of bringing himself to focus on an issue other than himself. He is a slave to his grievances.
In the end, ignoring the vaccines may not even matter when the history books are written. His acolytes, both now and in future generations, may spin the events of 2020 to his advantage. Confederates were some of the worst people in American history, seceding from their country in a traitorous attempt to preserve the evil institution of slavery. Their progeny rewarded their defeat with monuments, state holidays, school names, and military bases. Trump’s supporters may likely follow the Lost Cause playbook and twist facts to safeguard his legacy.
To paraphrase Charles Dickens: 2020 was the best of times, 2020 was the worst of times. We have a vaccine, but we also barely thwarted a coup. The new year will bring new joys as more people receive vaccinations, and new fears as Trump continues to focus on staying in the White House.