It’s been said that you should never attribute to malice what can be explained by stupidity. So I will take President Donald Trump at his word when he says he played down the threat of the coronavirus because he didn’t want to “create a panic.” Unfortunately, that makes Trump look worse, not better.
This isn’t leadership. It’s not even a parody of leadership. The three rules of crisis communications are: Be first. Be right. Be credible. In a crisis, a good leader lays out the facts, follows that up with a comprehensive plan, and then reassures everyone that, while it isn’t going to be easy, we are going to pull together and beat this. That’s not the way President Trump does things though. In his mind, leadership is just like selling over-priced condos and calls for smoke and happy talk rather than honesty: “What we’re doing is we’re leading, and we’re leading in a proper way.” Trump’s idea of leadership in a crisis is pretending that no crisis exists.
Is he right? How good has Trump’s pandemic leadership been? Put aside all the arguments about travel bans and testing. Ignore all the charges and counter-charges about lockdowns and masks. There is a single chart that tells you everything you need to know about the pandemic for the presidential election.
Trump’s press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, defended Trump’s insistence on minimizing the threat of the pandemic by claiming, “At a time when you’re facing insurmountable challenges, it’s important to express confidence, it’s important to express calm.” Except the coronavirus isn’t an “insurmountable challenge.” Plenty of countries have surmounted it just fine, including Italy where chaos and inefficiency are so ingrained in the political culture that it is almost a point of national pride. And yes, schools will be opening all across Italy this month. The Italians managed to get a handle on the coronavirus. We did not. And that is entirely down to a lack of effective leadership.
Pick the evil leader, not the stupid one
If you’re forced to choose between an evil leader and a stupid one, pick the evil leader every time. Evil leaders might ignore your interests but they’ll always look after their own. And sometimes, those interests might coincide with yours just by accident. Plus, you know an evil leader isn’t going to blow himself up — and you along with him — through sheer incompetence.
Unfortunately, stupid is what we’re left with when we give Donald Trump the benefit of the doubt. Whatever you might think of his policies, he’s just not up to leading the country in a crisis. Not only does he have awful judgment — his decision to minimize the threat of the pandemic is estimated to have cost at least 54,000 lives — he cannot comprehend the leadership skills necessary to communicate a plan and get the country behind it and pulling together. He’s been tested and condemned, not just by events, but out of his own mouth. Whatever you might think of his policies, he’s the wrong man for the job.
When the chips are down, being president isn’t about policies, it’s about good judgment and leadership. Fighting a pandemic ought to spark a moment of national unity. Just as in any natural disaster, there is a single goal whether you are a liberal or a conservative. That it has been allowed to devolve into a partisan food fight is entirely the responsibility of the man at the top and his inability to lead the country rather than divide it.
Biden’s ‘pandemic war cabinet’
Credit where credit is due. Joe Biden gets this and he has no intention of turning the pandemic into a political football. He’s already spent six months quietly developing a comprehensive plan he can start implementing on Jan. 20. Perhaps best of all, to put this plan into action, he’s assembled a “pandemic war cabinet” consisting of heavy hitters from both Republican and Democratic administrations.
American presidents have a tradition of rising to meet their times. At the height of the Great Depression, Franklin D. Roosevelt told us that “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” He rose to the occasion again after the attack on Pearl Harbor with his “A date which will live in infamy” address to Congress. On 9/11, George W. Bush reassured a troubled nation that, “Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America.” And how did Trump rally the country in the face of a deadly pandemic? “Fake news!”
If Trump were the CEO of a company that he didn’t own outright, he would have been summarily fired for just a small fraction of the very bad judgment he has displayed in dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. Whether Trump’s policies are good or bad, the country can’t stand another four years of his ineptitude.It’s time he spent more time with his family.
Republican Chris Truax, an appellate lawyer in San Diego, is CEO of CertifiedVoter.com and a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors.