Here’s how far Donald Trump is willing to go to ensure his re-election: After trying to normalize COVID-19 deaths among senior citizens and asking us to just get used to the fact that more people will die, he’s now willing to use America’s schoolchildren as pawns in a proxy fight with Democrats.
That is the only reasonable way to read the vitriol packed into the presidential Twitter feed recently, as Trump upped the pressure on state governors to reopen schools in the fall (news update, Mr. President, many districts have been working on that for months):
“In Germany, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and many other countries, SCHOOLS ARE OPEN WITH NO PROBLEMS,” Trump bleated. “The Dems think it would be bad for them politically if U.S. schools open before the November Election, but is important for the children & families. May cut off funding if not open!”
Read that again: Trump has just made it clear that he’s perfectly willing to (try) to cut off funding to cash-strapped school districts to punish his political rivals.
As an added bonus, Trump’s heartless bluster is couched in a falsehood. As the New York Times reports, Germany reopened its schools only after containing the spread of the coronavirus. That’s not the case in the United States, which crested 3 million confirmed cases this week, with 1 million coming in the last 28 days alone.
The Times also notes that “most countries also implemented virus-control steps in the schools, including mask-wearing, reduced class sizes, and keeping children in small groups at recess and lunchtime.” Sweden, which never closed schools, has been faulted in its management of the pandemic. The Scandinavian nation has “seen the death of a teacher at one school and at least two staff members at other schools, though it’s not clear whether they were infected in school or elsewhere,” the Times further reported.
On Wednesday, after Trump thundered at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Twitter, Vice President Mike Pence announced the public health agency would revise its reopening guidance, which Trump had decried as “very tough & expensive.”
“Well, the president said today, we just don’t want the guidance to be too tough,” Pence said. “That’s the reason why next week, the C.D.C. is going to be issuing a new set of tools, five different documents that will be giving even more clarity on the guidance going forward.”
The CDC’s director, Robert Redfield, said Wednesday that the agency’s directives were not intended “as a rationale to keep schools closed.”
“We are prepared to work with each school, each jurisdiction to help them use the different strategies that we proposed that help do this safely so they come up with the optimal strategy for those schools,” Redfield said.
In guidelines posted to its website in May, the CDC had recommended, among other things, using cloth face coverings to halt the spread of respiratory droplets; regular cleaning and disinfecting, and modifying classroom layouts to keep students at least six feet apart where possible.
In other words, all the lessons that most Americans have internalized since the beginning the pandemic.
But as the Times further notes, Trump’s blustering comes “as scientists grapple with rising concerns about transmission of the virus in indoor spaces,”which most assuredly cramped school classrooms. In response, officials have been looking at alternatives.
In New York, for instance, classroom attendance will be limited to one to three days a week. And while it’s true that children aged 12 and younger are the least at risk for illness, there’s a concern that they could spread the virus to classmates and teachers, who would then bring it home to potentially vulnerable family members.
None of this matters to Trump, of course, whose callous indifference to the pandemic that’s now claimed 134,000 American lives, has been proven again and again, from predicting that the virus will just “disappear” to continuing to use a racially offensive epithet to describe it.
With his strongest political tool, the economy, taken away from him, and the American public breaking with the president on his racist defense of Confederate monuments and iconography, Trump needs a win someplace. And for reasons that, as usual, have only to do with his own self-preservation, he’s now using school children as pawns in a fight against Democrats that he’s most assuredly losing.
An award-winning political journalist, John L. Micek is Editor-in-Chief of The Pennsylvania Capital-Star in Harrisburg, Pa. Email him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @ByJohnLMicek.