Op-Ed: A ‘Pearl Harbor moment’? Maybe. But Trump is no FDR

The Los Angeles Times, April 16, 2020 —

When U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams said recently that the coronavirus crisis would “be our Pearl Harbor moment,” he unwittingly opened a debate on President Trump’s leadership amid the COVID-19 catastrophe. He was alluding to Dec. 7, 1941 — when more than 3,500 American soldiers and civilians were killed or wounded in the surprise Japanese attack — and today’s deaths, but his comment also reminds us of the extraordinary differences between the divisive presidency of Donald Trump and the unifying presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt.

For years prior to Pearl Harbor, FDR attempted to build bridges to his Republican opponents and encourage them to support his government. When the U.S. finally entered World War II, that outreach helped to bring the nation together in an all-out war effort. Trump, on the other hand, has savaged his Democratic opponents and other perceived enemies at every turn, hindered America’s ability to stamp out the pandemic and put the U.S. into the running for the nation with the least effective response to COVID-19.

Recent reporting makes it clear that Trump had ample warning of the pandemic and its potential toll on human life and the economy at least as early as Jan. 29, and yet at a campaign rally in late February, the president was still dismissing the novel coronavirus as the Democrats’ “new hoax.” In a single phrase, he mocked legitimate worries about COVID-19; disregarded disaster warnings from scientists, intelligence agencies and others in his administration; and accused the Democrats (again) of dirty tricks.

Roosevelt’s record was very different indeed. Without belittling Republicans, throughout the 1930s he repeatedly appealed to isolationist members of both parties to awaken to the dangers of fascism. Then, nearly two years before the attack on Pearl Harbor, FDR brought two prominent Republicans, Henry Stimson and Frank Knox, into his Cabinet in a bid to unite the nation in support of his effort to prepare for war against Germany and Japan.

Stimson had served as secretary of War under one previous Republican president and secretary of State under another. Knox, a newspaper publisher and sharp critic of FDR’s New Deal, had run unsuccessfully as the GOP’s vice presidential candidate in 1936. Stimson was named secretary of War, and Knox, secretary of the Navy in June 1940. FDR said the appointments were aimed at building “national solidarity.”

Would Trump ever try to build bipartisan unity by asking the 2016 Democratic vice presidential candidate, Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, to join his Cabinet? It’s unimaginable.

Read the entire article at latimes.com