The Israeli statesman David Ben-Gurion, while a resistance leader, admonished his followers to fight the Nazis as though the British Mandate didn’t exist, and fight the British Mandate as though the Nazis didn’t exist. (For those not familiar with Israeli history, the British Mandate refers to British control over Palestine, which Ben-Gurion wanted to replace with a Jewish state.) I’ve always thought that this was a clever rhetorical formulation, something more easily said than done.
Similarly, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote that “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” The question, then, becomes how one can retain the ability to function in such a context.
This is exactly the situation the Democratic Party finds itself in now. On the one hand, to fight the Covid pandemic, Democratic Senators, members of Congress, governors, and mayors must cooperate with President Trump, and offer him their best advice. On the other hand, they want to defeat Trump in the presidential election in November.
The problem they face is more difficult than Ben-Gurion’s, because defeating the Nazis would not have made British colonial rule any more palatable. However, Trump will base his case for re-election on his success at controlling the pandemic, so co-operation by the Democrats, especially if their best ideas are implemented and prove effective, improves Trump’s chances of re-election. Conversely, Trump and his proxies have already accused Democrats of hoping that the US fails to control the pandemic so that he will be defeated.
One thing that will make it possible for the Democrats to maintain this paradoxical position is that different players are involved in fighting Covid – 19 and in fighting Trump. Democratic mayors, governors, and senators and members of Congress are all focusing on their executive or legislative duties, rather than campaigning. So they can advocate that he do what is best to fight the pandemic. The only person who has tried to politicize the response to the pandemic is Trump, through cheap shots like not inviting any Democratic legislators to the signing ceremony for the Covid aid package.
Trump’s daily press conferences – arias of lying, boasting, ignorance, and medical quackery – have created an endless trove of public statements to be used against him by Democratic copywriters, indeed a gift that will keep on giving. A recent
ad by Priorities USA, a Democratic PAC, has this message exactly right, juxtaposing many of Trump’s clueless statements about the pandemic (“we have it totally under control,” “it’s one person coming in from China”) with a graph of Covid – 19 infections in the US increasing exponentially as he was making those statements.
One can envision other ads directed at particular regions of the country, for example Trump’s scorn for Governor Cuomo’s plea for ventilators shown to voters in congressional districts in New York State held by Republican incumbents and Trump’s glee at hearing Mitt Romney is in self-isolation broadcast to voters in Utah.
Ultimately, the important thing for Democrats, as they prepare for the election campaign, is to hold Trump accountable for the many failings of US Government policy towards Covid – 19 and to argue that its successes were achieved despite Trump.