Notes From an Extreme Centrist – Trump is his own worst enemy! Spoiler Alert: This is a pro-Trump story (sort of)
Watching Trump’s daily press briefings with his team is often painful. Typically, the president begins with a rah-rah speechlet, describing all the great things he is accomplishing because of his incredible leadership to fight the virus and its spread. This, followed by Dr. Fauci and/or other experts cleaning up Trump’s mistakes, lies and disinformation about testing availability; shortages of PPEs by the medical community, respirators, ventilators, possible treatments, vaccine development, and so on.
When the questions from the press begin, much too often Trump interprets a perfectly legitimate non-confrontational question as an attack on his leadership and pounces on the reporter, the organization the beleaguered reporter represents, and the media in general. Numerous times, when asked whether he accepts any responsibility for ANYTHING, Trump inevitably says “no,” denies the problem exists, and then blames previous administrations anyway. Then, Dr. Fauci takes the lectern, acknowledges the problem, accepts responsibility for solving it, explains what is being done and expresses sincere empathy for those suffering through the problem. Dr. Fauci is universally viewed as trustworthy, responsible, reassuring and competent – everything one wants and expects from a leader during a crisis. Compare that with how Trump is perceived by everyone except his most ardent supporters. As a New Yorker, I have never been a fan of Andrew Cuomo. But during this crisis, much like Fauci, he also has demonstrated the qualities of an excellent leader during crisis.
But here’s the thing: Donald Trump just can’t help himself. I feel sorry for him. After the 3-4 week period during which he knew the crisis was coming, but failed to either acknowledge it or respond to how serious it would be, from the time he closed our borders to China until March 13 when his tone and strategy finally matched the seriousness of the crisis, he trivialized the crisis at least publicly. He assumed he could personally jaw-bone it away and calm the tumbling financial markets by the power of his persuasion alone. Was this simply a craven tactic to boost his re-election chances? Does he really believe in his own powers of persuasion so much? Does he really believe his own horse hockey – a problem he may share with my 16-year-old grandson? All the above?
The bottom line is that none of the tactics that work for reality TV or in “the art of the deal” work for a leader responsible for managing a real crisis. Lies and/or ignorance are quickly revealed. Trust, the most important and fragile asset a leader in crisis needs, is irretrievably lost. What the nation needs most from our leaders during a real crisis is honesty and empathy, but for whatever reason, Donald J. Trump is truly lousy at both. What has worked for him for 73-plus years simply doesn’t work for a president managing a national crisis.
To his and his administration’s credit, after a terribly slow start, they are finally doing about the best we can reasonably expect. The stuff the government is finally doing should have been implemented 3-4 weeks ago, but now it is finally getting done. This crisis is unprecedented. Other administrations have made similar mistakes in previous crises. Missteps, reacting too late, unintentionally sharing false information… These are all characteristics of all crises! That is the very nature of a crisis! Americans are very forgiving. Americans want to trust the president during times like these. I know I do! But Trump won’t earn that trust with false optimism, disinformation exaggerating what is really happening on the ground, rejecting responsibility and accountability, airing his own personal aggrievances and demonizing the media or Democrats or previous administrations. He needs to learn from Fauci’s and Cuomo’s examples. Unfortunately for Trump and America, at least so far, Trump is proving that old cliché. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks!