Column: College seniors pay the price for Trump’s failure

  • USC students line up for graduation in 2011. This year's ceremony will be virtual. (Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times/TNS) Genaro Molina

Published: 5/18/2020 10:10:08 PM
Modified: 5/18/2020 10:10:03 PM

In New Hampshire and across the country, college students have seen firsthand the instability and uncertainty wreaked by the coronavirus pandemic. Months ago, we were whisked out of our dorms as the virus began to spread. Classrooms emptied, campuses quieted and, one after another, commencement ceremonies were canceled. The coming months look even bleaker. As the crisis worsens, seniors are graduating into the worst economy since the Great Depression.

For all the suffering, the painful tragedy is that so much of it was avoidable. What’s so frustrating to those of us graduating right now is that we know our future didn’t have to be this dire. This isn’t a natural disaster. It’s a governing failure of catastrophic proportions. Now, even long after President Donald Trump leaves the White House, our generation will be picking up the pieces of his slow, chaotic and unprepared response to the coronavirus crisis.

First, Trump failed us by ignoring the warning signs and advisers who were urging him to prepare for the coming pandemic. On Jan. 20, when many of us were about to begin classes after winter break, South Korea reported its first case of COVID-19 on the same day our country did. The difference is that South Korean officials leaped into action, largely contained the virus, and have now begun safely reopening their economy. That’s not what happened here.

Instead of building testing capacity, securing protective equipment or rolling out a plan, Trump was downplaying the coming crisis and suggesting that the virus wouldn’t spread beyond 15 U.S. cases. New Hampshire’s senators, Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan, raised the alarm about the virus weeks before Trump was willing to take action, but the president did not listen. Now, almost 90,000 Americans are dead and more than 33 million are out of work — including 172,000 Granite Staters. Public health experts and professionals from around the country, and here in New Hampshire, agree that testing is the only pathway to containing the virus and safely opening our economy. Yet the testing plan Trump announced would still only cover about 2% of Granite Staters.

Then, Trump failed us by being too slow to provide aid to students whose lives were upended because of COVID-19. Congress did its part by providing billions of dollars in relief for college students struggling to pay for food and rent. But just as the Trump administration has been too slow to deliver nationwide testing, it has been too slow and incompetent to get that money into the pockets of people who need it.

This assistance won’t solve every problem we’re facing, but it will give us a chance to pay our bills and, for a moment, begin planning for life in a cratering economy. Yet nearly a month after Congress approved the relief, 90% of the funding meant to help us still hadn’t been distributed by the Trump administration. Trump failed to help students when we needed it most.

Now, as a result of Trump’s failed handling of the coronavirus, we are graduating into a sicker, more unstable America. Even before the pandemic, Trump was tipping the scales against us and in favor of his wealthy friends. While corporations pocketed massive tax giveaways, half of Americans were living paycheck to paycheck. When the virus hit, that rigged, unfair economy came crashing down and brought millions of students down along with it.

Already loaded with student debt and searching for a first job, we’re entering an economy where work is harder to come by, wages are less secure and health coverage is more critical than ever. Trump’s inability to place the needs of the country over his own impulses and political ambitions has set the stage for disaster — and left an entire generation to deal with the worst of it.

The final weeks before graduation are already an uncertain time. We’re scrambling for jobs, worrying about where to live, and anxious about what lies ahead. Over the course of our final semester, those worries have given way to fears about our safety and the health of our loved ones. Anxiety about career decisions has been replaced by constant stress over a job market worse than anything we — and our parents — have ever seen. The fault lies squarely with Donald Trump.

It didn’t have to be this bad. And while we will ultimately make it through this pandemic, we can’t undo the damage that Trump has inflicted. The first reported case of COVID-19, on Jan. 20, was just the beginning of what has become one of the most painful crises in American history. There is a clear truth emerging during these trying days — the path toward a regained American prosperity runs through the defeat of Donald Trump. As we prepare to graduate from afar, the Class of 2020 is more determined than ever to ensure that Jan. 20, 2021, marks the end of Trump’s failed presidency.

Michael Parsons is a senior at Dartmouth College and the president of the New Hampshire College Democrats. Lindy Hamilton is a senior at the University of New Hampshire and vice president of the New Hampshire College Democrats.

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