Fred Kowal: What Have We Become? | WAMC

Fred Kowal: What Have We Become?

Jun 30, 2020

How many must die to satisfy the malevolent narcissism of one man?

It isn’t just that this one man, this deeply flawed real estate tycoon who has declared bankruptcy six times, and whose most recent popularity sprouted from a cruel reality TV show, has simply abrogated his constitutionally sworn duty to protect the laws of the United States. It is worse than that…much, much worse.

The nation has surrendered to the coronavirus. Whether it’s labeled economic necessity, a desire to return to normal or laziness, far too many Americans are now treating the deadly virus as if they are somehow immune to it. It’s as if they have abandoned reality, choosing instead to believe that the disease is fake or overhyped, or will simply pass them by. The chief proponent of this horrific denial? Donald J. Trump.

As a nation, we have not been challenged by President Trump to face the challenge of the pandemic. He has not called us to a higher purpose, to find in ourselves the strength to stand with our fellow Americans — physically distanced though we may be — and make each other stronger in our isolation to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

As a people, we have not been called upon by the president to find ways to be a part of the struggle. He has not told us that, though it may be inconvenient or uncomfortable, we must all wear masks to protect not ourselves alone, but each other from the virus.

We have not seen our president take up a face mask to set the example for all of us, to protect his family, his colleagues in the White House, and his supporters from this terrible disease.

As a society, we have not been told that the pandemic is dangerous and destructive of lives and fortunes, and that there will be no easy way forward. President Trump has never taken to the airwaves to sound the alarm and to prepare us for a long struggle — which this will be. Instead, he has lied, distorted facts and undermined science for one purpose alone: to serve Donald Trump. The president’s ego-driven actions are vain attempts to improve his standing with voters in advance of the election.

As citizens of a world frightened and in pain, President Trump has abdicated the role of leader of the free world. He has isolated our nation, abandoned all multinational efforts and left the world terrified of the chaos and destruction of the pandemic.

America is no longer the shining city on the hill. It is leaderless and powerless, a pariah nation in a sick and fractured world. The world cries out for American leadership. But America is silent, except for the ignorant, anti-scientific rantings of a man totally unfit for the office of president of the United States.

Great leaders throughout American history trusted the people of this nation with the truth. It may not have been what we wanted to hear, but they told us the truth in a measured way, not to frighten, but to reassure.

They reminded us that as a nation, we have faced many challenges and that we would overcome the challenge before us. Time and again, we surmounted the challenge before us and gone on to become a better nation, a more generous people and a more just society.

And that is what this nation has always been about—not false boasting about how great we are, but an acceptance that America is a great experiment. We became a nation that from its birth was flawed, terribly so, with the sins of genocide and slavery. It took a cataclysm to end slavery and a century to legislate what the Civil War was about: Equal rights for all.

And still, we struggle. And still, we fail.

But it is in that struggle that we are defined as a unique nation. Not by territory, but by principles we strive to live by. Calling all of us to those principles, that is the mark of great leadership.

Where is that leadership today? Not in the White House.

I assert that Donald Trump does not believe in the principles we claim to hold as a nation. He may not even understand them. He will not challenge us to be better, to rise above to reach a better place for our children and grandchildren. He will only call upon us to praise him, to honor his lies, and to look past the deaths of countless more of our fellow Americans, all to feed his narcissistic impulses.

He has failed, and while his failure will not harm him, it will cause grievous harm to our nation and its people.

How many more must fall sick and die? We can deliver our nation and world from this plague by the choices we make as individuals and as a community. It will take strength, wisdom, courage and compassion.

It will take overcoming the words and distractions of Donald J. Trump.

The choice is ours.

Dr. Fred Kowal is President of the 35,000 member United University Professions, which represents faculty on 29 New York State Campuses. UUP is an affiliate of NYSUT, The American Federation of Teachers, The National Education Association and the AFL-CIO.

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