“In periods where there is no leadership, society stands still.”—Harry S. Truman
|President George W. Bush at Ground Zero
To be clear, I was never a fan of George W. Bush, and that’s putting it mildly. As President, I can barely count on one hand the number of times I agreed with him or thought he did something good for the country. But his leadership in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington on September 11, 2001 stood out. #hocopolitics
Three days later, while holding the shoulder of an elderly firefighter, Bush stood on top of some of the rubble left by the destruction of the twin towers. “I can hear you!” he declared, speaking into a bullhorn. “The rest of the world hears you! And the people – and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon.” The crowd reacted with loud, prolonged chants of “USA! USA!”
What President Bush accomplished in that seminal moment cannot be overstated. He brought an apprehensive America together the likes of which the country has not seen since World War II. It didn’t matter then if you were a Democrat or a Republican, Black or white, rich or poor, urban and rural, we were all Americans and we pulled together and gave President Bush full support at that time.
About 3,000 perished on that fateful day nearly 19 years ago. By contrast today, almost 140,000 have died from COVID-19 with 3 million positive cases in the country. Health officials are projecting fatalities to be a quarter million by November.
The statistics from these two crises in America do not represent the full contrast. We have a president in Donald Trump who, unlike Mr. Bush, has sought to divide the country and demonstrate zero leadership when leadership is needed most. Rather than unify the country, Trump speaks essentially to his base. There was no national call-to-arms. It was a medley of self-congratulatory messages and exaggerated claims at the same time downplaying the virus’s severity. He declined responsibility.
It was clear early on that this would be a divisive, politically-charged crisis as I had pointed out in March.
Trump fumbled the ball from the beginning by characterizing the coronavirus as “another Democratic hoax.” He reacted late, and lives were needlessly lost as a result. His followers took his cues and denied the seriousness of the virus, and since Trump eschewed wearing a mask in public for vanity concerns, his followers made mask-wearing a partisan issue. Experts have noted that tens of thousands of lives would be saved had masks been universally worn from the start.
He blamed Democratic governors and mayors for the inaction that his administration is actually guilty of. Instead of communicating a national strategy for testing, delivering personal protective equipment, articulating consistent guidance, and most importantly, listening to the advice of experts, Trump has minimized the effects of the virus, calling it “embers” and offered dangerous therapeutic treatments. Health experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci, spoke truth to power but Trump would have none of it.
With his sights on re-election, the coronavirus pandemic complicated Trump’s argument that only he
can offer a
strong and growing economy. As such, he pressured all governors to open up their
states after massive shutdowns caused by stay-at-home orders, and the servile governors—especially
in Florida, Georgia, Texas and Arizona—dutifully complied but did so prematurely
before the number of cases leveled off. Today
those states are hot spots with record-setting numbers of cases each day
|Refusing to wear masks during a pandemic. Photo: CNN
By contrast, Trump’s presumptive opponent Joe Biden offered a reasoned, thoughtful and clear approach in dealing with the pandemic. He has been a breath of fresh air during Trump’s chaotic response.
In a scathing indictment on Trump’s leadership, Republican governor Larry Hogan of Maryland opined in the Washington Post that Trump’s delays in reacting to the virus and distributing test kits have been costly to the states. Hogan also commented on Trump’s leadership.
“Instead of listening to his own public health experts, the president was talking and tweeting like a man more concerned about boosting the stock market or his reelection plans,” Hogan wrote.
Trump cannot face the reality of an election that as of now is slipping away. His substitute for leadership is emphasizing what a great job he is doing though the U.S. leads the world in the number of cases. A fix for that, Trump believes, is to have less testing. If you don’t test, there won’t be cases. Wow!
What we need during this pandemic with such an uncertain future is not a cheerleader but rather a leader. Our lives very much depend on it.