The fullness of time, and now the omicron wave, have made it obvious how preposterous the chief lines of criticism against Donald Trump were during the pandemic.
It has been said, over and over, that Trump almost single-handedly killed Americans. Chris Hayes a couple of months ago called for a truth-and-reconciliation-commission-type inquiry into how Trump “willfully got hundreds of thousands of people killed.” Willfully!
During one of the presidential debates last year, Biden said of Trump, “Anyone who is responsible for that many deaths should not remain as president of the United States of America.”
Why, then, does Biden get to stay in office? Tragically, about as many people have died of the coronavirus this year as in 2020. Indeed, if you simply look at the progression of cases and deaths in the U.S. over time, you’d have no idea that a new president took office in January 2021.
That line from Biden in the debate, by the way, wasn’t a one-off; it was one of his main themes. “If this president is reelected, we know what will happen,” Biden said of Trump at the Democratic convention last year. “Cases and deaths will remain far too high.”
There are legitimate criticisms of Trump on COVID-19, from the initial testing snafu to his repeated overpromising about when the virus would disappear to his hostility to masks when they were a better option than lockdowns.
But none of this produced mass death, unless you believe we could have tested and traced the virus into oblivion at the start, which seems unlikely given the scale of the outbreaks here.
On the other side of the ledger, Trump helped develop the vaccines, a world-historical event.
A Democratic defense of Biden is that his response to the virus has been sabotaged by the refusal of many Republicans to get vaccinated. This is no doubt part of the story.
It’s made the pandemic worse that 15% of adults haven’t gotten even one shot. When comparing Trump and Biden, though, it’s important to remember that for almost all of 2020, there were no vaccines at all.
Is it better to be president at a time when a novel virus comes to our shores that we know nothing about and have no vaccines for? Or to be president nearly a year later, when vaccines have come online and we know more?
The answer, clearly, is the latter. Under Biden, 243 million people have received one dose of a vaccine. For much of 2020, zero people had.
As for the uptake of the vaccines, if Trump had won a second term, surely there would be more Democratic suspicion about the vaccines than there is now — and that presumably would have been blamed on him.
In that convention speech, by the way, Biden promised, “We’ll develop and deploy rapid tests with results available immediately.” Now that there’s an enormous shortage of rapid tests, Biden explains that the latest wave moved too fast to get in front of.
Whatever you think of this explanation, it’s the kind of thing Trump officials said at the outset of the pandemic. It goes to show that it’s possible to be earnest and well-intentioned — as Biden’s allies believe he is — and yet get caught flat-footed by the latest permutation of a once-in-a-century event.
This is the possibility that Biden and his supporters were never willing to admit existed while Trump was in office. The suffering and death were never attributed chiefly to the virus itself; the bureaucratic mistakes never attributed to well-meaning people struggling in trying circumstances; the policy disagreements never attributed to sincere differences.
No, it was just all chalked up, like in the Chris Hayes segment, to near-criminality.
If this is the standard, Biden, too, is guilty. Of course, alleging that would be simplistic and absurd — not that it stopped anyone when Trump was in charge.
Rich Lowry is editor of National Review.