I have never felt like less of a kid than I do right now. This pandemic has been my loudest wake-up call to adulthood — in its full glory of begging responsibility and troubling unpredictability. Beyond my parents’ goodbye’s when I moved into Dickson Hall freshman year. Beyond my first job and first heartbreak. Beyond my swim test in Helen Newman and all else that my time in Ithaca has asked from me, I can finally rest assured that Cornell has launched me (prepared or not) into a real world with real consequences. In the 36-hours between President Pollack’s email that school was effectively suspended to my farewell in my friend Liv’s pick-up truck, I had no time to question the changes that had just occurred, and arguably, that was for the best.
Although by now, through trial and error we have learned that the coronavirus is more unconditional and unforgiving than any email or storage unit or 8 a.m. road trip. As reality has taken over any glimpse of hope we may have been latching onto, we are forced to accept that in this neoliberal age, Washington doesn’t have our backs.
Maybe you voted for President Trump in 2016. Maybe you’re planning on voting for him in November. Maybe you’re one of the many people who, although you may not love him, just don’t believe he’s that bad. But whoever you are and whatever challenges you’re currently facing, you have suddenly been forced to accept that President Trump is making this pandemic that much deadlier.
On May 2, President George W. Bush released a video statement concerning the coronavirus. It was eloquent and genuine and timely and exactly what the world needed: the truth, with a dose of empathy. Make no mistake, I am no friend to the Bush administration — I’m typically far from it. If you know me, you may be surprised to hear that I have a few nice words to hand out to our former president. To be completely honest, I’m surprised too. But I have no problem handing out a compliment when a compliment is deserved: And it’s undeniable that Bush stepped up to the plate this time.
In the video, Bush championed a message of unity that is not foreign to his leadership. Immediately following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Bush spoke in a voice of tolerance and inclusivity. Post-9/11 and prior to the Iraq War, his approval rating shot up to a remarkable 90 percent. A quasi-experimental study published in the International Society of Political Psychology notes that, “At a place and time when the nation needed presidential leadership, George W. Bush fulfilled the office of president.”
History will not be kind to President Trump in this way. “President Trump would benefit from taking notes on Bush’s leadership in a crisis, rolling back the Tweets, and considering just why Bush’s post-9/11 message of unity was so powerful,” says Henry Lavacude-Cola ‘22 — “our country is in desperate need of Bush’s moral leadership right now.” Historically, U.S. Presidents have called on their predecessors for advice time and time again. Trump’s skyscraping ego and inability to empathize prevents him from asking for help — and this time, the cost is fatal. While Bush reminds us that “we are not partisan combatants” in this crisis, Trump’s self-righteous reply of partisanship is further proof of his cemented role as the odd-one-out in U.S. presidential history…and he knows it.
Former Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama have also released heartfelt and informative video messages about the importance of solidarity during the pandemic. However, Bush’s address stands out because, even though it doesn’t mention Trump, it highlights the inner-party tension that has been building up ever since Trump’s 2016 inauguration. Another undergraduate student remarks on how “divisive Trump’s demeanor is among Republicans.” According to the source, Trump’s coronavirus briefings have caused a rift in opinion between the student’s parents — who both identify as Republican.
The cherry on top is that Trump actually believes he’s doing a good job. Jared Kushner describes this administration’s coronavirus response as “a great success story.” As long as Trump remains dangerously convinced that he’s the victim in all of this, the real victims will remain vulnerable. Like Bush aptly pointed out: “Let’s remember that the suffering we experience as a nation does not fall evenly.” Compassion does not have to be lost on the American people just because it is lost on our President. When it comes to empathy and tolerance, Trump has a lot to learn from the last Republican President.
Odeya Rosenband is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Passionfruit runs alternate Tuesdays this semester.