Whatever Happened to Personal Responsibility?

It may be hard to imagine but, a couple of decades ago, Republicans described themselves as “the Party of personal responsibility.” The Grand Old Party imagined itself as the Party of rugged individualists, folks who clawed their way to the top with an unstoppable combination of ambition, perseverance, and moral rectitude. Republicans claimed the moral high ground. No more.

In the last year, we’ve seen Donald Trump, and his Republican cohorts, dodge responsibility for the Coronavirus pandemic and for the January 6th insurrection. Each of these actions was shameful and should  be sufficient to tarnish the GOP for decades.

In every regard, Donald Trump mismanaged the pandemic. When he left office, at noon on January 20th, he was responsible for 25 million U.S. Covid-19 cases and 400,000 related deaths. It’s an understatement to say that Trump did a terrible job; it’s more accurate to say that he made a bad situation much, much worse.  The prestigious medical journal Lancet (https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(20)32545-9/fulltext) recently observed: “Trump’s mismanagement of the COVID-19 pandemic—compounded by his efforts to dismantle the USA’s already weakened public health infrastructure and the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) coverage expansions—has caused tens of thousands of unnecessary deaths. His elimination of the National Security Council’s global health security team, and a 2017 hiring freeze that left almost 700 positions at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) unfilled, compromised preparedness… The number of people without health insurance had increased by 2·3 million during Trump’s presidency, even before pandemic-driven losses of employment-based coverage increased the number of uninsured people by millions.”

It wasn’t entirely incompetence.  Trump politicized the pandemic.  He had a chance to act responsibly and, instead, chose “the dark side.”  In a recent CNN documentary (https://edition.cnn.com/2021/03/29/politics/coronavirus-deborah-birx-donald-trump-joe-biden/index.html), Deborah Birx, coronavirus response coordinator for the Trump White House, said, “I look at it this way. The first time we have an excuse.  There were about a hundred thousand deaths that came from that original surge. All of the rest of them, in my mind, could have been mitigated or decreased substantially.”  (In other words, Trump is responsible for 300,000 of the 400,000 deaths that occurred on his watch.)  In the same CNN documentary, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious diseases specialist, said: “Trump’s demands for a reopening of the country in contravention of the advice of government health experts came as ‘a punch to the chest.'”

(On March 29th, Trump responded to the CNN documentary (https://www.politico.com/news/2021/03/29/trump-fauci-birx-cnn-documentary-478422) calling Birx and Fauci “self-promoters.” “They had bad policy decisions that would have left our country open to China and others, closed to reopening our economy, and years away from an approved vaccine — putting millions of lives at risk.”)

The truth is Trump made a political calculation that it was in his best interests to discount the pandemic.  In the 2020 presidential election exit polls (https://www.cnn.com/election/2020/exit-polls/president/national-results ), Trump voters were much more likely to report that “the recent rise in coronavirus cases” was NOT a factor in their vote.  Only 15 percent said the pandemic was “the most important issue” in their vote  – most Trump voters said the most important issue was “the economy,” because they trusted Trump to reopen the economy.   Most Trump voters saw US efforts to contain the coronavirus as going “very well” or “somewhat well.”  Most Trump voters saw wearing a face mask as a matter of “personal choice” rather than a “public health responsibility.”

Trump set an example for his base: minimize COVID-19, refuse to wear a mask, and disavow social distancing.  After being hospitalized with Coronavirus, Trump tweeted: “Don’t be afraid of Covid,  Don’t let it dominate your life. We have developed, under the Trump Administration, some really great drugs & knowledge. I feel better than I did 20 years ago!”

This reckless attitude has greatly influenced his base: A recent PBS/NPR/Marist Poll (http://maristpoll.marist.edu/npr-pbs-newshour-marist-poll-results-the-biden-administration-covid-19/#sthash.z0TLROd9.dpbs) found that 30 percent of respondents have no intention of being vaccinated for the Coronavirus: 49 percent of Republican men. (And of course, Red states are now rushing to reopen.)

Trump has never taken responsibility for the pandemic.  In an August interview (https://thehill.com/policy/healthcare/510393-trump-on-coronavirus-death-toll-it-is-what-it-is) he claimed the Coronavirus was “under control as much as you can control it.”  When asked about the rising Coronavirus death toll, Trump responded: “It is what it is.”

My point is not to belabor Trump’s incompetence or his lying.  I want to emphasize Trump’s absolute failure to take responsibility for the mistakes of his Administration.  Thousands of deaths and millions of illnesses are his fault.

Since the beginning of the 21st century, we’ve seen remarkable evidence of Republican incompetence: the 9/11 attacks, the unnecessary war in Iraq, and the 2008 financial crisis — to mention only a few.  Trump’s failure to handle the Coronavirus pandemic stands alone as a testimony to GOP self-serving greed.

Trump may be gone.  (I hope.)   But, the appalling failure of the Republican Party must not be forgotten. They can no longer claim  the moral high ground.  The GOP is not the party of personal responsibility.  At best they are incompetents; at worst, traitors.