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John Kerry says America needs a president like Ronald Reagan, forgetting he let thousands die during the AIDS crisis

Emma Powys Maurice April 23, 2020
John Kerry, Anderson Cooper

John Kerry tells Anderson Cooper: "We really need a Ronald Reagan (Screenshot: The Hill)

Former US secretary of state John Kerry has criticised Trump’s coronavirus response by suggesting he should be more like Ronald Reagan, a president whose handling of the AIDS crisis killed thousands.

Kerry made the comments in an interview with Anderson Cooper, who asked for the veteran politician’s thoughts on Trump’s decision to suspend all immigration to the United States.

Kerry, who served as secretary of state from 2013 to 2017, was overwhelmingly critical of the move, calling it a “sideshow” to divert attention and provide Trump with a disingenuous argument he’ll use later on.

“It avoids him having to deal with the fact that we went for almost two months or more without action by the administration to do the things they should have done,” he said.

“I mean, even when he says they shut down China, 435,000 people continued to come in on aeroplanes so he didn’t shut it. [He’s been] consistently wrong, and consistently avoiding responsibility, which he actually said publicly: ‘I don’t take responsibility.'”

He concluded: “We really need a president, a Jack Kenney or a Ronald Reagan, who would sit there and say, ‘You know, the buck does stop here, and I take responsibility.'”

There’s just one tiny problem: Kerry seems to have conveniently forgotten that Reagan reacted appallingly to the AIDS epidemic, and in the early days of the crisis his administration’s response was alarmingly similar to that of Trump.

Just as Trump laughed off the coronavirus in the early days of its spread, so too did Reagan treat the AIDS epidemic as a joke.

In 1982, when Reagan’s press secretary was asked if the president was tracking the spread of  “the gay plague”, the room erupted in laughter as he replied: “I don’t have it, do you?”

The journalist pressed on: “Does the president – in other words, the White House – look on this as a great joke?”

Reagan’s administration repeatedly shrugged off the issue and Reagan himself refused to acknowledge the problem for years.

Even though AIDS was first identified in 1981 the president didn’t even say the word until a 1985, the year of the first high-profile death from the disease.

Reagan
AIDS activists blaming Ronald Reagan for lack of funding into HIV research, New York, March 24, 1988. (Allan Tannenbaum/Getty)

Many believe his apathy caused thousands to get infected and die, in part because it delayed research critical to understanding and treating the virus.

Despite this huge, fatal flaw in Reagan’s presidency, many people – Democrats and Republicans alike – seem to have glossed over this part of history in a bid to view him in a positive light.

A far less problematic president for Kerry to have compared Trump with might be Barack Obama, who took strong leadership on HIV/AIDS and whose national strategy reinvigorated the US’s management of the virus.

Not only that, but Obama also warned as early as 2014 that the US was at risk of an airborne pandemic, and took steps to prepare public health infrastructure to combat it – steps which Trump assiduously reversed when he took power.

More: Anderson Cooper, Coronavirus, COVID-19, Donald Trump, HIV/AIDS, John Kerry, Pandemic, Ronald Reagan, secretary of state

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