Josh Sanders is a M.A. student at the University of South Florida. He majors in 20th Century American history with a minor in 19th Century American history.
Covid-19 and Presidential Libraries
As the United States reacts to the coronavirus, I have taken it upon myself to see how presidential museums and libraries have responded. I have been following their Twitter accounts to see how they have interacted with the public. Generally, there have been two standard responses. A few of these institutions have continued in their normal interactions with the public, tweeting out their usual “this day in history.” The Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Libraryand Museum has not even acknowledged the pandemic on Twitter, instead maintaining its routine. The more common and expected response is the attempt to tie the current crisis to some crisis during their presidency. For example, the Fred W. Smith National Library has tied the coronavirus to various eighteenth century diseases George Washington would have dealt with. Even if there is not a direct correlation with disease, these institutions have taken this as an opportunity to tweet out inspirational quotes of national unity and perseverance during adversity. The most active of these accounts are Lincoln, Kennedy, and Reagan, with their institutions tweeting inspirational quotes daily.
The most unique response has been that of the George W. Bush Center. Along with the typical inspirational quote, the Bush Center’s Twitter account is actively responding to the coronavirus outbreak. Rather than making a historical parallel to the uncertainty of the 9/11 aftermath, this institution has taken it upon itself to respond to the current crisis. In fact, they have made no correlation to 9/11 thus far. Instead, members of the Bush Center are writing about how to respond to the coronavirus. According to an article posted on March 19th: “Whether it’s reading lists to help with educating children from home, or teleworking tips to make your life easier, or insight from the unique perspective of Bush Institute experts on leadership during trying times, we’re working to provide a helpful, optimistic response to the unique times we’re experiencing together.” For the past several days, multiple times per day, their Twitter account has posted articles promoting social distancing, giving tips for online schooling, and suggesting activities to keep one busy at home.
This coronavirus activism seems out of place, especially in comparison to other presidential museums and libraries. However, I decided to take a look at how Dallas (where the Bush Center is located) was reacting to the pandemic. The local governments within the Dallas-Fort Worth area have been struggling to respond. A few days ago, a county judge threatened to overturn a stay-at-home order, believing it to be too strict. The McKinney mayor, George Fuller, said that he would ignore the judge’s rule and enforce it anyways. Another example is the mayor claiming on March 31 that citizens were ignoring social distancing measures by going to parks in large groups. As of April 3, Dallas county has extended its stay-at-home order until May 20. However, it seems that the struggle with the local government and actions of citizens was a cause of concern for those at the Bush Center. Since the local government was not responding efficiently enough, the Bush Center took it upon itself to actively respond to the pandemic. The Bush Center perhaps sees its role to engage with the community and provide materials to respond to the coronavirus that was lacking from the local government. It will interesting to see if the Bush Center continues tweeting coronavirus articles, or will it lessen now that the government has stepped in.