Set pol­i­tics aside in a time of cri­sis

Daily Press - - Opinion - Clarence Page is a mem­ber of the Chicago Tri­bune Edi­to­rial Board. Email him at cpage@chicagotri­bune.com.

Shortly af­ter Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump tweeted the un­set­tling news that he and first lady Me­la­nia Trump had tested pos­i­tive for the coro­n­avirus, I re­ceived a text from a lib­eral friend on the West Coast:

“I guess we’ve got our Oc­to­ber sur­prise,” he texted. “Let’s hope that Bi­den doesn’t get it.”

He was read­ing my mind, echo­ing my own thoughts and those of count­less oth­ers. You don’t have to be a lib­eral (al­though it helps) to go “tsk-tsk” over the pres­i­dent’s in­fec­tion and gloat at least a lit­tle with thoughts of “I told you so.”

But, re­gard­less of how I feel about the man, I re­spect the of­fice. In fact, I crit­i­cize the man pre­cisely be­cause I re­spect the of­fice. Out of re­spect, I be­lieve we should stand with the pres­i­dent, even when we don’t agree with him — and es­pe­cially now, as more than 2.5 mil­lion peo­ple al­ready have voted in an elec­tion process that will de­cide whether he gets to stay pres­i­dent for an­other term.

As much as I crit­i­cize this Repub­li­can pres­i­dent for his poli­cies and be­hav­ior, which have caused his ap­proval rat­ings to lag be­hind those of his Demo­cratic chal­lenger Joe Bi­den, this pres­i­dent in this his­toric moment also is my pres­i­dent.

Trump’s coro­n­avirus news comes only a couple of nights af­ter a rau­cous cam­paign de­bate in which the pres­i­dent ac­tu­ally mocked his Demo­cratic op­po­nent for wear­ing “the big­gest mask you ever saw,” as if there’s some­thing wrong with fol­low­ing the rec­om­men­da­tions of his own ad­min­is­tra­tion’s health of­fi­cials.

It takes a lot to turn the wear­ing of masks into a po­lit­i­cal state­ment, yet that’s a ma­jor rea­son why the re­cov­ery in our coun­try has been lag­ging be­hind other, less pow­er­ful in­dus­trial na­tions — where the Trump news trig­gered a trend­ing of cyn­i­cal re­ac­tions, such as “schaden­freude,” Ger­man for the plea­sure de­rived from some­one else’s mis­for­tune.

Yes, the mask-shun­ning Ma­cho Man Trump is part of Tele­vi­sion Trump’s lon­grun­ning news and so­cial me­dia drama. But the virus has no re­gard for me­dia star­dom. Af­ter six months of re­fus­ing to fol­low his own pub­lic health ad­vis­ers, he has be­come our na­tion’s No.1 case study in the haz­ards of fail­ing to take gov­ern­ment warn­ings se­ri­ously.

Even so, I sin­cerely hope he and the first lady have a smooth, swift re­cov­ery.

Mean­while, we still have a COVID-19 cri­sis to deal with. In times of cri­sis, and re­gard­less of party, Trump re­mains our pres­i­dent — the only pres­i­dent we’ve got.

I learned that les­son years ago when I, like mil­lions of oth­ers, was drafted to serve in the na­tional call-up for a war that I op­posed. Many oth­ers, in­clud­ing Trump, suc­cess­fully avoided it. But I served, partly as ar­mor against any­one who might ever ques­tion my pa­tri­o­tism when­ever I might crit­i­cize some bone­head gov­ern­ment pol­icy in the fu­ture.

That’s right, Proud Boys and an­tifa, I served just so you can have the right to flaunt or trash our flag as if it be­longed only to you, den­i­grat­ing the very val­ues of free­dom and lib­erty for which it stands.

I’m one of those who be­lieves that con­struc­tive crit­i­cism of gov­ern­ment lead­ers and their poli­cies in or­der to im­prove our gov­ern­ment is one of the most pa­tri­otic acts that one can per­form. That’s also a con­sti­tu­tional right, which is yet an­other rea­son to love Amer­ica.

It’s sad that I or any­one else has to point out prin­ci­ples that used to be taken for granted, but to­day’s frac­tured pol­i­tics have be­come a na­tional cri­sis in them­selves.

Af­ter all the protests, ar­gu­ments, para­noid con­spir­acy the­o­ries, ma­li­cious cy­ber dis­in­for­ma­tion and hurt feel­ings we have en­dured in re­cent times, it is sadly nec­es­sary to re­mem­ber the val­ues that unite us.

Those val­ues are par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant when our na­tional lead­er­ship is in ques­tion and the health of our lead­ers is in peril. When the ties that bind us ap­pear to be dan­ger­ously weak, it is more im­por­tant than ever for us to stand strong.

Now we face an­other elec­tion — the re­sults of which Trump has said he might not ac­cept un­less he wins.

Yet it’s im­por­tant to re­mem­ber that even dur­ing our na­tion’s own Civil War, the Union stood strong enough for us to hold a pres­i­den­tial elec­tion suc­cess­fully. Guided by our found­ing prin­ci­ples, crises can make us stronger. Amer­i­cans should know that by now.

Clarence page

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