former president Donald Trump popped up briefly mid-week from his retirement home in Florida, to fire off what might have once been a tweet on official-looking former-presidential letterhead. “I hope everyone remembers when they’re getting the COVID-19 (often referred to as the China virus) vaccine, that if I wasn’t president, you wouldn’t be getting that beautiful ‘shot’ for five years, at best, and probably wouldn’t be getting it at all,” his statement read. “I hope everyone remembers!”
The almost self-parodying reminder of the former president’s needy, self-glorifying bragging couldn’t have contrasted more sharply with Biden’s solemn, outward-focused address. Repeatedly, Biden told Americans “I need you” to help, and expressed his gratitude for Americans’ efforts. Trump’s message, as always, was “you need me” and demands for thanks.
The publicity flaks working for a heck of a lot of politicians might have grown wistful at the reminder of the days when they got to contrast their bosses with Trump’s explosive populism, rather than Biden’s soft-spoken popularity.
A trip down that memory lane for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau briefly emerged when my colleague Tonda MacCharles reported on newly revealed documents that show Trudeau’s government almost a year ago trying to play some version of hardball — or at least fast-pitch softball — with Trump when he threatened to cut off Canada’s supply of COVID masks and ventilators. It’s not that Canada’s government threatened the U.S., so much as they quietly compiled a list of ways Canada is helpful to Americans that could be endangered by protectionism: nice supply chain we’ve got here, would be a shame if anything happened to it.
Whether it was the prospect of New Brunswick shutting down power to Maine hospitals that turned the tide or not, the pleas to keep Canada in the PPE loop worked out somewhat at the time. And it was a time when Canadians felt confident that their COVID-19 response was vastly superior to that of Trump’s America. Now, after the second and third waves of infection and death (depending on how you count), and into the vaccination-rush stage of the pandemic that comparative confidence might be somewhat shakier.
But Canada’s PM isn’t the only one who doesn’t look quite as heroic now that Trump’s bluster and denial aren’t the most prominent measuring stick.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, celebrated for his pandemic leadership a year ago, is seeing his career absolutely fall apart as he faces an impeachment investigation on revelations of mishandling COVID-19 and misdirecting information about it, and multiple accusations of impropriety from women who worked with him. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, who was heralded as the sensible Republican in the early lockdown phases of the pandemic, stunned and puzzled observers when he suddenly announced a full reopening of his state effective Friday — even though Maryland still suffers middling infection and vaccination numbers and has all three dangerous new virus variants. The widespread praise showered on Premier Doug Ford for his open-ish communication and federal collaboration long ago dried up. “Yes, we can prevent a third wave in Ontario,” my colleague Bruce Arthur wrote this week of Ford and his government. “But no, we won’t.”
There is good news in Ontario and Canada about vaccines these days. But compared to Biden’s sunny ways — offering hope of backyard barbecues by the July 4 holiday — there’s still frustration. This week I paid a visit to the Baltimore Ravens’ stadium where a mass vaccination site is in full swing. Next week, at that one site alone, they expect to vaccinate 28,000 people. In one day in late Feb., the U.S. administered 2.8 million vaccine doses in one day. Canada has administered 2.8 million doses in total.
Of course, Biden could help with that. But he won’t, at least so far. If I’d travelled a few minutes away in Baltimore, I could have visited a warehouse where tens of millions of doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine are sitting idle, and may go to waste, according to a report in the New York Times. That vaccine is not approved yet in the U.S., and may not be before the whole population is inoculated with other vaccines. AstraZeneca is approved in Canada, the European Union, and elsewhere in the world. In Baltimore, and in another facility in Ohio, they are sitting on a ready supply more than big enough to dose the entire adult population of Canada.
Of course, it isn’t just Canada that would like the U.S. to share — right now, the heavy lobbying around AstraZeneca doses is to send them to the EU and Brazil. There are lots of places in the world where, like Canada, a little help would be appreciated with supplies. No word yet on whether menacing lists are quietly being prepared mapping out the international supply chain to wave at the Biden administration.
For his part, the new president has repeatedly said he’s looking forward to sharing the American vaccine supply with other countries — but not until every American who wants one is vaccinated.
As this week showed vividly, there are plenty of ways the new U.S. president is vastly different from the old one. But in at least some respects, the policy remains “America first.”