Martin Schram: America deserved a patriotic debatable debate

By Martin Schram, Tribune News Service on

Published in Op Eds

Throughout this most disastrous year in U.S. presidential history, President Donald Trump dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic perils by first denying we even had a problem. Then declaring he fixed it. Then pointlessly chasing around in circles, except when he was pausing to proclaim we had finally "rounded the corner."

So it surprised no one when, in his very first answer at Thursday night's final 2020 campaign debate, Trump declared: "We're rounding the turn. We're rounding the corner. It's going away."

Nor did it surprise us when we awoke Friday to see this breaking news stretched across our news screens. MSNBC: "Coronavirus Pandemic: U.S. sets new record for daily COVID cases. 77,640 cases yesterday breaks July record of 75,723." CNN: "Coronavirus Pandemic: Cases, Hospitalizations soar as pandemic in U.S. worsens."

And so it goes. Some say it's so 2020. Others say it's so Trump. But we know they are not mutually exclusive. And we know there is one thing more that really troubles all of us, deep down. Even those who are definitely voting for Trump.

We all cannot really understand or justify why it is that the president has seemed so willing to put in grave pandemic peril his most trusting and faithful political supporters — just to secure the sort of video news scenes that appear, at a glance, to be free of all evidence that America might still have a pandemic problem.

That was what Trump was promoting way back in early spring, when he kept trying to convince his trusting Trump supporters to ignore the guidance of his administration's medical and science experts — and push politically and through social media to reopen churches for Easter. And then he pushed his young faithful Trump frolickers to go to beach bars and pools to party through spring break and Memorial Day and Independence Day. And, after Labor Day, to celebrate your political convictions by sending your children back to real schools — just trust him when he assures you your kids somehow won't catch COVID hell the way you might.

And mainly, Trump wanted to wallpaper your news screens with video proof that his political world was pandemic free. So he had his staff make sure that those of you who are Trump's most trusting supporters would be sitting cheek to jowl, wearing no masks — ignoring the real peril you might face from the tragically real pandemic.

What if you became infected with COVID-19 at one of his rallies? You came to discover that your political hero really didn't care about that. Just so long as he got his pandemic-free pictures.

What all of that was really about was our 45th president succumbing to sheer political panic. He had always believed one thing most of all. He was always sure he would be reelected no matter what, as long as he could always point to the roaring success of what he could call the "Trump Economy" (never mind that his economy's success was a legacy he inherited from the Obama presidency's soaring recovery after the shattering G. W. Bush recession).

When the global economy was forced into a COVID-19 shutdown, Trump plainly panicked. His only surefire solution was to cure the pandemic the reality-TV way — just generate videos that showed no trace that there ever was a real pandemic. No face masks. Bluff and bravado. And maybe the world won't notice.


On Friday, former Vice President Joe Biden, fighting mad yet speaking as much in sorrow as anger, attacked Trump's conduct by telling America: "He's quit on you. He's quit on your family. He's quit on America."

But the night before, at the debate, Biden missed a one-time only chance to create a politically historic moment, not by attacking Trump angrily, but by engaging him conversationally — and creating a highly debatable moment during what has become our presidential non-debate debates. Imagine Biden turning to his right and quietly asking his opponent what he personally is thinking when he is onstage at his rallies, and he looks out at those trusting, mask-less Trump followers that his staff has jammed together:

As you are on stage, Mr. President, do you ever think about the statistics your task force could give you about how many of those faces in that crowd of maybe 5,000 are people who at that moment are being exposed to COVID-19 — and will become infected? Probably a lot more than 100. Do you ever look at those faces and wonder which ones will become deathly sick, merely because they came to cheer for you that day?


It's all so wrong. We are America. America has always been better than that. We can be, and must be, again.



Martin Schram, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, is a veteran Washington journalist, author and TV documentary executive. Readers may send him email at martin.schram@gmail.com.

(c)2020 Tribune Content Agency, LLC, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.



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