“Greatness in the last analysis is largely bravery – courage in escaping from old ideas and old standards and respectable ways of doing things.”
Crises can make or break a leader. The 1979-81 Iran Hostage fiasco decimated Jimmy Carter’s final year in office and assuredly caused him to lose his 1980 reelection bid. The 1995 Oklahoma City Bombing helped secure Bill Clinton’s image as a stalwart president. The Hurricane Katrina debacle, on the other hand, proved George W. Bush was incompetent and ineffective as Commander-in-Chief.
The current COVID-19 scourge is Donald Trump’s national crisis. It could be the savior of his presidency; the one element that ensures his place in the pantheon of great world leaders. Or it could be his death knell; the catastrophic event which will equate him with failure, except his most devoted followers. As things appear now, it’s turning into the latter.
Yesterday, March 26, Trump signed a roughly USD 2.2 trillion stimulus package unanimously passed by the U.S. Congress. Because the COVID-19 mess has created a new set of “social distancing” protocols aimed at subverting the virus’ spread, a large number of Americans have suddenly found themselves jobless. Restaurants, nightclubs, gyms, and tattoo parlors have been forced to shut down. History will determine if that achieved its intended goals. But, as of March 26, the number of jobless claims set a record at 3.3 million. Who would’ve thought an invisible microbe could wreak such havoc?
Amidst this cataclysm, our dear leader, Donald Trump, has openly considered easing restrictions to the practices of social distancing. Earlier this week, he suggested the U.S. could return to normal by Easter. “I would love to have the country opened up and just raring to go by Easter,” he said. That’s akin to the captain of the Titanic shouting, “Pool party!”
It’s almost painful to watch Trump and his band of clueless minions pretend this crisis will obey a presidential command. Many conservatives tried to explain George W. Bush’s pathetic handling of the Hurricane Katrina fiasco by claiming his adversaries wanted him to stop the storm from terrorizing the Gulf Coast. I heard a few actually say that aloud! And I had the pleasure of telling them, ‘No. The issue was RESPONDING to the hurricane!’ Bush and the Republican Party were quick to declare war on Iraq in 2003. But, when a REAL threat emerges, they failed miserably.
If anything, the start of the AIDS epidemic in the U.S. some forty years ago proved how dangerous social conservatism can be to a health crisis. Admittedly, thousands of people didn’t come down with HIV in a matter of days, as with the COVID-19 virus. But the reality is that national policy should never be based on individual predilections or religious ideology. Every time people make health-based decisions on their own personal religious beliefs, people die. Every single time!
But the AIDS epidemic showed that a slow federal response to a health concern can be lethal. I’m watching the COVID-19 pandemic unfold here in the U.S. in stark realism. As of March 27, the U.S. has achieved the dubious distinction of the most number of COVID-19 cases in the world. Meaning we’ve now surpassed China and Italy. Trump always declared America is #1 – and what do you know?! The old bastard has finally been proven right!
I really don’t want to see Donald Trump fail in this entire imbroglio. It’s not good to wish your national leader stumble and falter as a national crisis of any kind grips the nation. But, thus far, Trump has shown no real leadership, with the exception of the aforementioned stimulus package.
It doesn’t need to be this way for him – or for anyone. This could be his golden moment to prove he’s an authentic leader, not the failed businessman / tax cheat others claim he really is. Every country’s leader is forced to confront a national emergency of some kind or another. It just comes with the territory. The U.S. presidency, in this case, is not school a crossing guard-type of position. It requires more fortitude and clarity than most jobs, when in fact, the presidency is not a standard job. It’s more of a calling – kind of like human rights work, or teaching.
As I view it in this moment of national surrealism, Donald Trump is not listening to the tragic sounds of that call.