And then, of course, there is COVID-19 and the enormous toll that pandemic has taken on this country, with more than 500,000 Americans now dead from that virus. Trump spent months denying the severity of that pandemic, endlessly predicting its imminent end and seemingly dismissing or downplaying the lives lost.
If those whose lives were tragically impacted by this virus—losing their mothers, fathers, siblings and even children over the course of 2020—wanted comfort and consoling, they quickly learned that they would not find it in the then-occupant of the White House.
As Francine Prose wrote for The Guardian in May of 2020—in a piece headlined, “Will Americans ever forgive Trump for his heartless lack of compassion?”—she found that in all the hours of Trump’s self-congratulatory and confrontational White House coronavirus press briefings over the previous four months, the “president’s expressions of care and compassion have occupied a total of less than five minutes.”
But she added that revelation was “hardly a shock,” arguing: “After all, a man who mocked a disabled journalist and boasted about grabbing women wasn’t elected for the depths of his kindness and the purity of his moral conscience. And it seems unrealistically optimistic to have hoped that the extremity of this crisis should have inspired, in our leader, a deep and essential change of heart.”
Brad Parscale, one of Trump’s campaign managers in 2020, even blamed the president’s lack of empathy during the pandemic for his eventual loss to Joe Biden. Shortly after the election result became official, Parscale told Fox News that voters abandoned Trump because he prioritized re-opening the US economy instead of speaking frankly about the severity of the virus.
“I thought we should have public empathy. I think people were scared,” Parscale told the network. “I think a young family with a young child who were scared to take them back to school wanted to see an empathetic president and an empathetic Republican party. I think that—and I’ve said this multiple times—he [Trump] chose a different path.”
In contrast, Biden began his presidency with a somber, socially distanced memorial for those lost to COVID-19, held at the Lincoln Memorial’s reflecting pool the night before his inauguration. “To heal, we must remember,” the president-elect said. “It’s hard sometimes to remember but that is how we heal. It is important to do that as a nation.” He added, “Between sundown and dusk, let us shine the lights and the darkness the sacred pool of reflection to remember all we lost.”
With his phone call to the Floyd family huddled together in that Minnesota courthouse on Tuesday, Biden came full circle, once again reassuring a family riven by loss and grief that they had a president who cared.