Politics, as Americans have been fond of saying since the late 19th century, ain’t beanbag.
That was an expression fiction writer Finley Peter Dunne invented to explain the rough-and-tumble, anything-goes nature of how Americans choose their leaders. Until late Thursday, it applied perfectly to a nasty, personal and, at times, childishly demeaning 2020 presidential election.
Then President Trump and the first lady tested positive for COVID-19. (Also of concern, Utah Sen. Mike Lee also has tested positive.)
When the health of a leader or a candidate is at stake, the better angels of America’s nature — its underlying thread of decency and humanity — surface. Frankly, these ought to be evident at all times, but now they have risen to the fore, and that offers a great opportunity.
As the Trumps retreat into quarantine, the nation should focus on three things:
First, pray for the health of the president and his wife, and that they will have a speedy recovery. Pray also for the thousands of Americans who are suffering from COVID-19, or who have nominally recovered but still experience lingering and dangerous after-effects. Pray for those who mourn the more than 200,000 Americans who so far have died in this pandemic, and pray for the health care workers and researchers who are tasked with caring for the sick and finding a cure.
A few years ago, a poll by the Pew Research Center found that 55% of Americans pray daily, and 71% pray at least weekly. Many people can testify of the power that comes through sincere prayer. This is especially true when millions of voices unite in a cause.
Second, Americans should rededicate themselves to wearing masks, keeping a safe social distance from others and washing their hands regularly. These simple steps have been reiterated for months and have shown to be effective, and yet some people still don’t take them seriously. If anything, the president’s illness illustrates how serious the COVID-19 pandemic is. It has no cure. No drug can effectively or predictably treat it. Even those who recover sometimes experience long-term symptoms. Everyone should resolve to follow these steps as a patriotic duty.
Third, the nation should resolve that this jarring turn of events will break the fever of heated partisan rhetoric. As the Trumps retreat into quarantine, nasty and hateful partisanship should be quarantined, as well. The nation should resolve to choose a higher road.
Campaigns for the White House should revolve around serious philosophical issues. They should be competitions among well-considered ideas, conducted with a dignity worthy of the greatest nation on earth. This is a chance to return to elevated politics.
We are heartened by the reactions of many to the Trumps’ illness, especially from his political enemies. Democratic nominee and former vice president Joe Biden said he and his wife “will continue to pray for the health and safety of the president and his family.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a frequent critic of the president, said, “Let us just all pray for the president’s health — thank God the vice president has tested negatively and the second lady, as well.”
Even Rachel Maddow, one of the president’s staunchest media critics, tweeted, “God bless the president and the first lady. If you pray, please pray for their speedy and complete recovery — and for everyone infected, everywhere.”
These are evidences that the true greatness of America — its ability to unify in a time of crisis — remains intact. That must be harnessed and put to use in what may be difficult days ahead.