CAPE ELIZABETH — I write this as I, along with most of the country, are in our first week of “social distancing.” I am sure I am not alone in wondering how the world we thought we knew has changed so much so quickly. I do not presume to have all of the answers, but one inescapable conclusion to me is that the Republican Party created the conditions that caused America to be overtaken by the coronavirus. To be clear, no political party created the virus, and it respects no parties or national borders. But over the past several decades, and especially in the past three years, the Republican Party has done three things that have made America especially vulnerable.

• First, rather than recognize that the federal government has a critical role, the Republican Party has spent years denigrating and demonizing the government and its important role in society. From Ronald Reagan’s oft-repeated assertion that “government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem,” to Donald Trump’s tweets about the FBI and the so-called “Deep State,” the party and its leaders regularly mock, belittle and delegitimize the government. This misguided attitude has real consequences. It discourages talented people from serving or staying in the government. It also supports the party’s efforts to cut necessary services and programs, which leads to a vicious cycle where a government starved of necessary resources performs inadequately, leading to further criticism of the government and, in turn, further withholding of needed funding.

• Second, the Republican Party has sought to diminish the role of experts and science and replace them with ideology. The party and its leaders mock and ignore our nation’s experts, whether they serve in the State Department, the FBI, the Environmental Protection Agency or the National Weather Service. These actions have real-world consequences. Given the party’s disdain for experts and their inconvenient science-supported conclusions, is it really a surprise that our government disbanded the National Security Council’s pandemic preparedness staff? And should we be surprised that our government disregarded the advice of all epidemiologists to immediately ramp up testing for the coronavirus when it appeared in China? Although banning travel from China bought us time, our leaders squandered it by ignoring the experts because the Republican Party does not respect their role in our society.

• Third, the Republican Party has supported a president who manifestly is not fit to lead. The leadership of the free world is an awesome responsibility and would be a herculean task for any person. That’s why our political parties have a responsibility to vet and present the American public with potential leaders who are competent, intelligent, have sober judgment and are prepared to serve the nation’s interests. Back when Donald Trump was the party’s nominee, our own senior senator, Susan Collins, recognized that in selecting Trump, the party had failed in this basic responsibility. As she wrote in a Washington Post op-ed in August 2016, Mr. Trump was “unworthy of being our president” and that “regrettably, his essential character appears to be fixed, and he seems incapable of growth or change.”  Once he was elected, however, and despite ample, daily evidence that her initial conclusions were correct, Sen. Collins and her Republican Party colleagues praised and supported him.

Again, these actions have real consequences. Should we really be surprised that a man whose businesses filed for bankruptcy six times has run our country into a financial ditch? Should we be surprised that when we need a leader who tells us the truth, we as a nation are deeply unsettled by a man who lies about the spread of the virus and overstates or misleads us about the status of his administration’s efforts to combat it? Did we really expect a man who, according to the Washington Post, made 16,241 false or misleading statements in his first three years in office suddenly to start telling us the truth?

As you sit at home over the next several weeks and wonder what happened to our world, I would urge you to ask yourself why it is acceptable for the Republican Party’s misguided attitudes toward government, science, expertise and leadership to have left our country so unprepared for the current crisis.


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