In all of the breaking news about coronavirus, you might have missed the announcement on Friday that President Donald Trump declared Sunday an official Day of Prayer in response to the epidemic.
The proclamation is typical of these kinds of things. The assumption is that everyone is religious, everyone will pray and that falling to your knees is just the normal reaction to a crisis like this. Trump and his advisers seem unable to grasp that not everyone in America prays, and even many of those who do pray don’t need to be directed by the government to do it.
Even in a proclamation meant to unify the country, Trump couldn’t resist some shameless self-promotion. The proclamation refers to the “bold” action his administration has taken to combat coronavirus. In fact, Trump has been widely panned for his ineptitude in the face of the outbreak, especially his March 11 error-laden nationally televised address. Trump also used the proclamation to pander to his Christian nationalist base – it quotes not one, not two, but three passages from the Bible; no other religious text was referenced.
Americans United President and CEO Rachel Laser had a powerful reply to Trump on Twitter: “People should feel free to pray – or not – but it’s preposterous that prayer alone will make us “easily prevail” over #coronavirus. How about showing some leadership, Mr. President, instead of shirking it? You can START by making tests widely available #covid_19.”
Trump is known to admire President Andrew Jackson. While Jackson is a problematic figure in many ways (especially his treatment of the Native population), he got one thing right: In 1832, a cholera epidemic swept America, and Congress asked Jackson to declare an official day of prayer and fasting. Jackson announced in a letter that if Congress passed the resolution, he would not sign it.
“I could not do otherwise without transcending the limits prescribed by the Constitution for the president; and without feeling that I might in some degree disturb the security which religion now enjoys in this country in its complete separation from the political concerns of the General Government,” Jackson said.
Trump should follow Jackson’s example and stop using the government to promote prayer. And while he’s at it, maybe he could do something to actually respond to this growing public health crisis instead of just offering pious platitudes.
Photo: President Trump discusses the response to the coronavirus outbreak. Screenshot from WBAL-TV.