Our country is living through a tragedy of unthinkable magnitude.
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COVID-19 has hammered the world, but America — with 4.25% of the world’s population — has suffered a quarter of its cases and fatalities.
Other developed nations, such as Italy, Spain, France and the United Kingdom, have suffered greatly but have now managed to control the spread of the virus. Here, though we have the world’s most advanced economy and medical and scientific capabilities, COVID continues to run rampant. On Wednesday, led by surges in Texas, Florida, Arizona and California, America officially passed 3 million cases.
It is no secret why. America’s tragedy results from the largest failure of presidential leadership in our history. Donald Trump threw out the pandemic response playbooks left by his predecessors; weakened the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; refused to acknowledge the seriousness of the virus; promised its early disappearance; fantasized about miracle cures; and then, after a series of uninformed television briefings, chose to declare victory and pronounce the problem over.
He defied the warnings of public health experts and showed contempt for social distancing and wearing masks. He has created misunderstandings and sowed division by encouraging Americans to rebel against the reasonable public health measures put in place by their governors and mayors. He’s trying to end insurance coverage for millions, and on Tuesday, as America set a record for new daily cases, he began to officially withdraw the United States from the World Health Organization.
An unhinged leader at a time of crisis
If that record of misjudgment, negligence, incompetence and lying was not enough, in his recent rallies in Tulsa and Phoenix, Trump knowingly exposed thousands of Americans to disease and death so that he could receive their applause. He acts more like the leader of an apocalyptic cult than a president.
America faces the gravest possible challenge, with an increasingly unhinged leader. Along with most other Americans, I have tried to comfort myself knowing that the election is coming and that Trump is virtually certain to be defeated. But it will be more than six months until former Vice President Joe Biden is sworn in as president. Having seen the past six months, it is frightening to contemplate how much more damage Trump would do in his final six.
We are not bound to stand by while thousands of Americans get sick and die, and our country goes down the drain. To paraphrase Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson, the Constitution is not a “suicide pact.”.
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A bipartisan stand by Congress could put pressure on Trump to leave office, but there is no reason to believe that Senate Republicans, even after disgracing themselves in the impeachment trial, will break with Trump in an election year. The 25th Amendment specifies how the Cabinet can remove a president whose disability makes him incapable of doing his job, but a Cabinet led by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Attorney General William Barr will not put “country first” any time soon.
Governors could end Trump tragedy
One group of Americans has the experience, credibility and stature to end this catastrophic presidency that iliterally killing America. The nation’s governors, 26 Republicans and 24 Democrats, have been on the front lines leading the fight against the virus. Struggling to build hospital capacity, find personal protective equipment and make agonizing decisions about closing and reopening in the absence of clear federal guidance, the governors know better than anyone how completely Trump has failed the country and undermined their efforts to contain the virus.
Many governors have distinguished themselves; some who have followed the president and downplayed the virus have learned a bitter lesson. Their astronomical approval ratings show that they have earned the admiration and respect of their people for their unstinting efforts to deal with this unprecedented crisis. The National Governors Association, led by Republican Chairman Larry Hogan of Maryland and Democratic Vice Chairman Andrew Cuomo of New York, should call for Trump to resign.
I recognize that such an action seems unlikely. The Republicans are constrained by party loyalties, and Republicans and Democrats alike will worry about federal aid and retaliation from a vindictive president. But the governors are both patriots and practical people, and they understand the stakes. If Hogan and Cuomo were to get the ball rolling, others would have the courage to follow their lead, and pressure could quickly build that would rid us of the dangerous narcissist sitting in the White House.
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To be sure, the damage Trump could do in the next few months extends well beyond the pandemic. He will continue assaulting the rule of law, eviscerating our alliances, spewing racist hatred, driving capable people out of government, and working to suppress the votes of those who oppose him. But all those issues are properly the subject of the election. Dealing with the virus is a national emergency that justifies — indeed, requires — extraordinary immediate action.
I take no pleasure in the thought of Mike Pence as president. He has worked in lockstep with Trump. Consequently, he bears no resemblance to Gerald Ford, who had nothing to do with Watergate and commanded universal affection and respect when he succeeded Richard Nixon. But it is Donald Trump who poses the clear and present danger to the country.
Ira Shapiro, a former Senate staffer and Clinton administration trade ambassador, is the author of “The Last Great Senate: Courage and Statesmanship in Times of Crisis” and “Broken: Can the Senate Save Itself and the Country?”. Follow him on Twitter: @ShapiroGlobal.