Ideas
October 6, 2020 4:08 PM EDT
French is a senior editor at The Dispatch and a columnist for Time. His new book is Divided We Fall: America's Secession Threat and How to Restore Our Nation. He is a former major in the United States Army Reserve.

As Americans have begun to vote in the presidential election, one must make an important distinction in Donald Trump’s record in office. It’s entirely fair to call him nominally anti-abortion. It’s not credible to call him pro-life. And the distinction matters.

As a young pro-life activist, I still remember the publication of Pope John Paul II’s Evangelium Vitae, its words touched this Protestant’s heart, and when he rooted the pro-life principle in the “incomparable worth of the human person,” it crystalized not just my opposition to abortion but also an aspirational ethic of care for all persons – from conception to natural death.

“Life on earth,” said John Paul, “is a sacred reality entrusted to us, to be preserved with a sense of responsibility and brought to perfection in love and in the gift of ourselves to God and to our brothers and sisters.”

To be sure, it is often difficult to discern which policies are best-crafted to uphold and protect every person’s “incomparable worth” – and even well-intentioned policies can have negative effects – but it is abundantly clear that while pro-life leaders will often be forced to make tough choices, their words and deeds must be grounded in that fundamental truth.

Trump has failed this test, and his response to the Coronavirus pandemic makes that failure plain. He’s not only failed the American people, his recent conduct after he was stricken with the disease demonstrates that he has even failed his friends, colleagues and those sworn to serve him.

It’s a testament to the speed of the news cycle and the sheer number of Trump scandals that the public has apparently moved on from Bob Woodward’s revelation that Trump knew the virus was “deadly stuff” and “worse than even your strenuous flus” in early February yet continued to intentionally downplay its severity to the American people, including by comparing it to the flu, as he’s still doing today.

This deception was of course accompanied by an avalanche of right-wing mockery of and resistance to mask-wearing, including mockery from Trump himself. At the first presidential debate (when Trump may have already been COVID-positive), Trump said, “I don’t have — I don’t wear masks like him. Every time you see him, he’s got a mask. He could be speaking 200 feet away from them and he shows up with the biggest mask I’ve ever seen.”

The administration’s disregard of basic health protocols, including both masking and social distancing was on full display at the White House ceremony introducing Amy Coney Barrett to the American people. For a nation now accustomed to prudent masking and limiting close personal contact (especially indoors), the images were shocking. Unmasked leaders, including people with potential health vulnerabilities, were hugging and close-talking. And now the roll call of attendees who have tested positive for Coronavirus is shocking and long.

Compounding the deception and disregard, what did President Trump do after he was released from the hospital? He once again compared the virus to the flu – misinformation so obvious that Twitter immediately flagged it as “potentially harmful” and Facebook removed the post.

By deceiving Americans he left millions in denial about the spread of a deadly virus, and they behaved accordingly. By scorning mask-wearing, he helped create a ridiculous mask culture war that renders it politically incorrect in parts of the right to engage in one of the easiest and most basic practices to protect the health of your neighbors and colleagues.

One is flatly denying the “incomparable worth of the human person” when they fail to follow basic, common-sense masking guidelines. One is instead indulging in a form of petty selfishness that has cost an untold number of lives.

The pandemic would be challenging under any circumstances, but the United States has so far recorded one of the worst responses of any advanced democracy in the world. A terrible total of over 210,000 Americans have died, and hundreds more die every day. Excess death data indicates the true toll is likely much higher.

By any measure, the Coronavirus pandemic has been a public health catastrophe. Yet the president and his team still downplay its severity. They still mock Joe Biden’s mask-wearing.

Nothing about this is pro-life. Nothing.

Yet there are Americans who will go to the polls convinced that Trump is the only pro-life candidate – exclusively based on his professed opposition to abortion. But how committed is Donald Trump to restricting abortion, really? If you look at his record across his time in office it is revealing. For instance, Planned Parenthood received a record amount of taxpayer funds in 2019, and this year received $80 million in federal coronavirus relief funds. Or take the fact that the two Supreme Court justices he nominated and confirmed (so far) did vote to uphold a mild Louisiana abortion restriction, but they notably did not join Justice Thomas’s dissenting opinion that clearly condemned Roe.

We know what it looks like when Trump is committed to a cause. Witness his deployment of the military to the border and his defiant diversion of military funds to begin construction of his border wall. Has he showed the same commitment to, say, ending taxpayer support for the nation’s largest abortion provider?

The bottom line is that Trump will end his first term with the nation’s abortion laws largely intact and without engaging in a single serious effort to defund Planned Parenthood. He will also end his first term with a legacy of deception, failure, and callous disregard for the lives and health of even his friends and colleagues in the face of an infectious disease that has killed more than 200,000 of his fellow citizens.

Look at Donald Trump’s complete record. Examine all his rhetoric. Is his presidency characterized by words and deeds that affirm the “incomparable worth of the human person”? Has he treated “life on earth” as a “sacred reality” entrusted to him? The answer is clearly no. His selfish and reckless actions have cost lives. They’re still costing lives. By no fair measure is Donald Trump truly “pro-life.”

Contact us at letters@time.com.

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