One of the harshest psychological blows of the coronavirus pandemic came Wednesday when President Donald Trump banned travel from continental Europe to the United States.
Trump’s unprecedented action immediately provoked a furious response from the European Union. The dispute brought to mind a line from what many historians consider to be Winston Churchill’s greatest speech. Speaking after Stalin imposed Soviet rule on tens of millions of eastern Europeans at the end of the Second World War, the iconic British statesman famously said, “From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the continent.”
The new Iron Curtain that Trump had drawn between the Old World and the New World stunned the EU for two reasons. It severed air links that more than 70 million travellers use every year. Worse than that from the European point of view, Trump took this action unilaterally without so much as a telephone call of warning, let alone one sentence of consultation, with any of his country’s closest allies.
While another telling example of how Trump conducts business with friends and foes, and the rupture this has caused between Washington and almost every foreign capital, the travel ban was a sterling illustration of the international and domestic frictions that COVID-19 has created or exacerbated. It was ironic to hear the hyper-partisan Trump calling for bipartisan action in the U.S. Congress and Senate to respond to the disease.
Not that Trump’s appeal for unity meant anything. A few hours later, a Republican senator and Trump ally stopped quick passage of an emergency bill for paid sick leave for workers who become infected with the virus.
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