It was, admittingly, the oddest combination of video footage to see within the same day.
In my attempt to focus a part of each day on learning more history I pulled up a video of former President Dwight Eisenhower, who in 1964, returned to Omaha Beach with CBS newsman Walter Cronkite. The interview and program which aired on television is a reminder of what titanic decisions were made in World War II. What I found of most interest, these decades later, is how leadership is viewed in hindsight.
There are striking images galore in the video and truly intense moments when one can feel the weight and enormity on the shoulders of the man we would come to know affectionately as “Ike”. There was a portion of the interview that was truly memorable in light of what followed from the Trump White house.
Eisenhower made the following statement to Cronkite.
I devoutly hope we will never again have to see such scenes as these. I think and hope, pray, that humanity will have learned more than we had learned up until that time. But these people gave us a chance, and they bought time for us, so that we can do better than we have before.
At the same time I was watching this interview on my computer, Donald Trump was pumping out a 46-minute series of nonsense and factless charges about the election from the Document Room. At a time when there are records cases of new COVID infections, record hospitalizations, record deaths, and more pain and suffering than this nation has known in our lifetime Trump did not utter one word about the public health crisis.
Forget the people who are dying alone, other than with perhaps a medical professional who themself are stressed out and utterly dismayed at what’s happening. Put aside those who struggle and survive COVID will face long-lasting, serious after-effects. Forget the devastated families who are losing loved ones to death at the holidays. No reason to talk about any of that when there is a conspiracy theory to prolong and ramp up from the White House!
Let me point out this pandemic has created more deaths than there were battle deaths in any war this country has fought except World War II. BUT, let me add we are only about 15,000 deaths from exceeding that total! And all in less than one year.
When Eisenhower looked at the crosses on the burial grounds at Normandy he was most aware of the crushing burden he needed to make in 1944. But he said of those who died “But these people gave us a chance.”
When the Trump administration saw the loss of life in New York this past winter with the refrigeration trucks and the fast burials, along with nurses who were breaking down in interviews…that was the moment to stir into action a series of federally mandated plans to fight the pandemic. When medical professionals told this administration that the deadly virus would come back with full fury in the fall they did their part by imparting the needed information. They surely hoped that elected officials who could make the difference with policy moves would then do their jobs.
Trump never once looked at the burial sites and considered what could be done from Washington to stop the spread of the disease and the huge loss of life.
Just as Ike relied on professional weathermen steeped in science to provide him essential information so to fight Hitler, doctors alerted our nation’s leaders to the dire needs when fighting this pandemic battle. The difference is, of course, Ike listened to the ones who were grounded in science.
It was an odd alignment of video to sift through and ponder but it was most telling. When events call for a person to step up and lead, history will record what followed. Ike proves one way of responding. Trump proves the exact opposite.
And so it goes.