Talk Us Through This
Talk is cheap, but apparently too rich for Donald's blood.
In a crisis such as the one we find ourselves in today, the single most important thing a strong leader could do for the country is talk to us.
It wouldn't be sufficient. It's not the only thing that needs doing. But if we had a president who did everything else right in terms of coordinating production and distribution of resources, testing, allocating research money, and passing relief measures and who did not appear before the American people to speak with a strong, clear voice? It wouldn't matter.
We do not, as President Obama noted, look to be ruled, but we do look to our leadership in times like these. The difference between a world in which we have a president who tells us, "These are tough times and they are going to be tougher. We here in Washington and in the state capitols across this country are doing all that we can to get through this, but we can't do it alone. I am calling on each and every one of you to do your part. No one can get through this alone." and the world in which we have a president who shrugs and mumbles, "I dunno. Maybe China did it. Governors are trying to steal your dog's Beggin' Strips. There's nothing wrong and it's the Democrats fault. Have you tried gargling aquarium gravel? Look, the important thing is that I'm doing a great job so if your grandma dies, that's kind of on her, isn't it?"
We don't have a government that speaks with one voice because we don't even have a president who can stick to a single message. His version of the truth changes at will, at need... day by day and sometimes even minute by minute. In Trump's world, the truth is whatever he needs it to be, which means he can shift from promising millions of test to telling the states they're on their own. He can talk about the somber seriousness of the virus and then tweet calls to "liberate" blue states from the tyranny of not dying from it.
All of this is worse than if he said nothing. As he has always done, what he's accomplishing is to deny the very nature of truth. The truth is whatever you want it to be, whatever you need it to be. If you don't want to be stuck at home, the truth is the virus can't hurt you. If you don't want to believe that human mortality is a vast and unalterable fact of human life, the truth is that there's a miracle cure with 100% effectiveness and no side effects. You can simultaneously believe that no one under the age of 75 is in any danger from the virus and that a bunch of people under the age of 75 were cured completely and saved from death by whatever snake oil the King in Orange touted most recently.
This is a moment in our history that cries out for strength. Not even a particularly demanding or strong form of strength... just strong messaging, a strong image. The image of strength.
This is supposed to be what Donald is good at. It's branding, for heaven's sake. If he were willing and able to commit to a single message, the right message... I have to say, I wouldn't like our chances of defeating him in November, if he would trade in his daily Airing of Grievances and free association improv theater for some fireside chats, if he would emulate those "wartime presidents" whose power and respect he envies, if he would stop trying to assign blame and instead take responsibility.
We'd all be better off if he did this, so much better off that it would probably be his best chance at re-election.
Far from cheering for his failures, as the right-wing meme insists we're doing, I find myself wishing he had it within him to be successful. This is a moment that cries out for strength, or even just the image of strength. And this fateful test has revealed that even Trump's illusory strength cannot be counted on when we need it.
It's not just that he's a paper tiger. The paper is sopping wet and caught in a windstorm. At a time when more of the United States is engaged together in a single civic-minded endeavor than most of us can remember, it's being done in spite of the waffling, blundering, rage-fueled "leadership" of our president who lurches day by day from one target to the next, undercutting prevention efforts at the community and state level.
We'd be better off if he'd just shut up and get out of the way. But all he'd have to do to be a hero, to get the acclaim and credit he so obviously wants, would be to stand in front of us and tell us that it's not going to be easy but that we can get through it.
He can't even do that much. When the going gets tough, Donald Trump isn't even tough enough to talk the talk.