Something is in the air in America right now and, incredibly, it isn’t just COVID-19. The deadly virus is still indeed around, lingering in the breath of those infected. However, what the increasingly vaccinated masses are also circulating is the sensory overload of suddenly rediscovered social lives and fading inhibitions. This summer is clearly going to be buck wild.
As excited as many are, though, most seem to treat this progress like an inevitability, as though we were simply owed an end to 15 nightmare months of doom—and thus an ending naturally hove into view. The reality is much different, if equally simple: We are only enjoying our newfound freedom because a competent government took over and got the job done.
Those relaxed CDC guidelines we’re starting to enjoy? The ability to travel again? The fact that there is now a whole music festival coming to Chicago in September? It didn’t just…shake out that way. Instead, this phenomenal new phase is the result of careful, boring coordination from President Biden’s team. By no means should we heap excessive praise on this administration just for working as it’s supposed to, but more people across the entire political spectrum should appreciate—or at the very least acknowledge—how fortunate we are that the opposite didn’t happen instead.
It’s easy to lose sight of the holy-sh*t factor around more than half of all Americans having already been vaccinated, when so much else needs addressing. The left has a litany of worthy criticisms to hold the Biden administration accountable for, from the promised $15 minimum wage hike that never was, to not budging an inch on Palestinians’ right to exist, to not fighting back hard enough against a broad Republican attack on voting rights. Meanwhile, the right has an obstructionist agenda, from Leader McConnell on down, to arbitrarily oppose anything Biden does, even if it benefits everyone.
Both sides, however, could maintain their critical positions while also conceding that all this swift progress against the pandemic is, to borrow a phrase from the president, “a big fu*king deal.”
Beyond anything that could be overturned with an executive order, the main priority at the top of Biden’s term was jump-starting mass vaccinations and getting out long-overdue relief checks. Neither process went perfectly, and that fuzzy math around $1,400 still hurts. Both efforts have proven heavily effective, though. COVID-19 cases and deaths have dropped to their lowest point in a year, while the stimulus checks have broadly decreased food and rent anxiety and improved mental health, and the economy appears to be rebounding. We’re not out of the woods yet, but we’re rapidly approaching the exit.
None of this was promised. It took investing in vaccine access and all manner of awareness initiatives nationwide. Underpromising in order to overdeliver. Where mere awareness failed to combat ingrained vaccine-skepticism, it took bribery in the form of free beer and weird, dystopian lotteries. Sure, all Biden may have personally done is approve the proposals of eggheads and direct his team to make certain things happen—but by God, they pulled it off! Something went right! After so much went so wrong for so long, and the year began with 4,000 COVID deaths per day.
Even from a critical perspective, shouldn’t this administration get at least a modicum of universal credit for getting us here?
Biden has certainly been claiming credit, though not obsessively so—and he doesn’t seem embittered about not receiving more of it, as Donald Trump tended to be about everything. However, even though Trump is no longer allowed on social media, and even though his blog is now defunct, he has still broadcast his demands for more credit around the vaccine’s success.
Does he deserve any?
Scientists did develop vaccines during his term—that can’t be denied—but it mainly happened despite him, not because of him. (Pfizer launched its vaccine research months before Operation Warp Speed, for instance, and financed those initial efforts independently.) Apart from whether Trump deserves credit for the development, however, he completely bungled the planning for the rollout, opting instead to spend that critical period demonstrably fixated on overturning the election. He could have left the presidency with the dignity and compassion of a broad and well-oiled vaccine push. He chose not to. In fact, he only got the vaccine himself in secret, leaving his millions of skeptical followers to merely speculate. Why bother making the country safer faster if it was just going to make Joe Biden look good?
Trump’s abysmal track record on the vaccine not only negates whatever credit he might reasonably have deserved for the development process, it also sheds light on how he might have handled the distribution phase had he won the election. All that conspiratorial, just-asking-questions from the Tucker Carlsons of the world? Trump loves just asking questions conspiratorially too. I shudder to think how the leader who allowed his party to equate year-end lockdowns with a War on Thanksgiving—despite how effective they proved—would’ve handled mask and vaccine messaging during the crucial, bleak early months of this year.
It was painful to be stuck at home or in a mask last summer while watching footage of New Zealand and other countries’ citizens living their lives like the pandemic never happened. Rather than lead in any way, the United States dropped the ball on COVID in 2020, proving too chaotic and disorganized to save ourselves.
This summer, however, America is an enviable place—well, at least as far as COVID-19 goes—and one that can actually help other countries with vaccinations. We have acquired a faint glimmer of the fabled American exceptionalism that so many think is an inherent attribute, rather than a goal to forever strive toward. We have finally won back some freedom from the pandemic. It’s ours to enjoy throughout what is shaping up to be a lively, hedonistic, hot vaxxed summer.
Just don’t forget how we came by it—and that we almost didn’t.