I have now read many articles, almost all of them from pundits who for five years heaped the most abusive rhetoric on the previous President of the United States that any POTUS has had to endure, that Donald Trump should join President Biden, or Barack Obama, or even George W. Bush for a national, joint appeal to the vaccinated to do the right thing for their nation, swallow their fears, and get their shots. Writes one Trump-detesting letter writer to the Times this morning (well, the odds are high that anyone who writes to the Times is Trump-detesting”) who imagines an Obama-Trump Kumbaya PSA spot where a smiling Trump sits next to Barack and says, “We hardly agree on anything , but we do agree on one thing: You should get the Covid vaccine now!” “It just takes two grown men to do it!” the saddened patriot concludes.
Sure, in a vacuum, this fantasy seems reasonable. In reality, it can never happen, and I find myself gravitating to an unethical position that says that if Democrats like Biden and Obama, or Bush, really want Trump to join with them on anything but especially this, they should have to pay a large, painful and probably unpalatable price.
In 1962, Darryl F. Zanuck bet his personal fortune and the studio he had just purchased on the success of “The Longest Day,” then the most expensive black and white movie ever made. He regarded the movie’s grand account of D-Day a patriotic imperative, and was able to persuade a huge cast of international stars as well as three directors to do the film at industry minimum salaries. He was risking everything including his career on the movie, and realized that it was missing an indispensable element: John Wayne. Not only had Wayne been Hollywood’s most durable and dependable box office star for two decades, he had also been the face of the American fighting man in over a dozen films during World War II. Zanuck had a big part for the Duke in the ensemble film, and knew it would lack credibility and authenticity without him.
But Zanuck, in a moment of pettiness, cruelty and schadenfreude, had publicly mocked Wayne when his own patriotic project of passion,”The Alamo,” had been a financial failure the year before. Wayne had lost much of his own wealth on the film, which he produced and directed, and deeply resented Zanuck’s cheap shot at him when he was down. So when the mogul called to ask him to be in “The Longest Day,”, Wayne told him (I’m paraphrasing), “Sure, I’ll do your film as my patriotic duty! And you can pay me $250,000 [that was ten times what any other star was getting], as well as giving me special billing in the credits [the stars other than Wayne were listed alphabetically.] Zanuck, knowing when he was beaten, agreed, and perhaps learned a lesson.
There is no chance, none, that Donald Trump would humble himself to join with Bush, Biden, or Obama in a vaccination appeal, nor Adam Schiff, Nancy Pelosi and Don Lemon either These are people who were relentlessly vicious, dishonest, unfair, disrespectful and, yes, unpatriotic in their treatment of Trump from the moment he was elected. The “good of the nation” wasn’t on their minds: revenge and raw power was. They, or those taking cues from them, condemned Trump as a racist, as Hitler, as a madman—and now because they have to deal with a pandemic that they weaponized to defeat him, he should graciously do their bidding? That would be too much for me to accept, and I’m an ethicist. For Trump, who lacks two ethics to rub together, the idea is unimaginable; in fact, I suspect it’s only being floated to find some way to shift a bit of responsibility to him as Democrats founder in the environment of distrust and skepticism they fostered. As my best and oldest friend has colorfully said in the past, “There is some shit I won’t eat.”
The only way Donald Trump would, or, frankly should become involved in the pro-vaccine efforts is on his own terms. He recruits Obama, Biden and Bush, and spearheads the effort with their profuse and public gratitude. He requires as a condition precedent their personal and public apologies for their past conduct and rhetoric, including refusing to credit his administration with the rapid development of the vaccine. He plays the central role in any videos, and when the time comes, he calls the virus the Wuhan Virus, which it was and is. That would be enough for me if I were Trump, but of course, since Trump is Trump, he would probably also demand an admission that the election was stolen and a promise to stop the kangaroo hearings on the January 6 riot, among other requirements.
So it’s not going to happen, but make no mistake: the reason it cannot happen is because Democratic leaders didn’t observe a rule of life that Darryl F. Zanuck learned the hard way.
Don’t burn bridges. You never know when you might need them.