Fired by His Own Team

Opening Up America Again.

For the last several weeks President Trump has been on a collision course with the nation’s governors and healthcare experts over the details of the American response to COVID-19.

His decision to let the federal stay at home guidance lapse shows his next move is to set others up to take the fall if things go badly. If there is a resurgence, it will be because the governors moved too quickly to re-open. If the economy continues to tank, it will be because governors are being too cautious. He will continue to avoid taking any leadership responsibility.

Always in search of an enemy he can rally his supporters against, Trump has slowly and accidentally found his target. He plans to take the position that the country should be re-opened despite the health risks.

He will not frame it that way of course. He will simply pander to the deep desire everyone in the country has after more than a month of isolation to get outside, to get back to work and to get back to normal life. There are bills to pay, money to make, life to live. Trump is going to place his bet that being the guy who is against all the expert advice no one wants to hear is the one the crowds and eventually the voters will rally behind. Like a doctor who convinces you to drink and smoke more.

The fact that the politics of the matter is discussed so often and openly in the midst of the crisis is the best proof that Trump’s management of this moment is a failure. In a crisis the only correct path for a leader to take is the one that puts the welfare of the people ahead of any personal political considerations. Usually, the leader who does the right thing first, without regard for the politics, is rewarded with public support. This concept is unfathomable in Trumpland.

The daily White House briefings on the coronavirus have once again put on display the depth of Trump’s selfishness, his lack of empathy, his inability to manage a crisis and his disconnected view of reality. He has no grasp on reality especially if facts do not align with his self-interest and his only interest right now is winning re-election.

Misuse of Daily Briefings

The daily briefings from the White House have been misused by the president and his advisors.

Rather than a place the public can turn for facts and guidance, the briefings begin with a recitation of self-congratulation. A reading of a list of claimed accomplishments in the fight against “the invisible enemy.” The information is meaningless to the public because it is largely impossible to verify and is deliberately vague.

The president’s opening monologue is often followed by Vice President Pence, who as brown-noser in chief, explains to the American people how Trump’s leadership has saved lives and how we are blessed to have this man in charge. Nothing could be further from the truth. The most recent reporting on the subject shows President Trump ignored early signs of a potential pandemic and his failure to engage early has cost American lives.

For nearly four years now the Trump administration, led by the president himself, has offered up spin and lies to the American people on a daily basis. The damage to the credibility of information coming from the White House is so deep that the truthfulness and reliability of information relayed by anyone who stands behind the White House podium is suspect.

Dr. Anthony Fauci’s credibility is protected by decades in the public eye, but Dr. Deborah Birx, who has an equally distinguished resume has damaged her own reputation by occasionally coming to the president’s defense — even after he suggested injecting disinfectant and using sunlight to fight the virus.

For a lesson on how a daily briefing in a public health emergency should be used we can look to the example of many of the nation’s governors. There are four simple parts:

  1. An update on the current situation based on facts.

A crisis of this magnitude is the one time citizens expect nothing but the truth from their elected leaders. This is no time to divide the country by party label or other sub-groups. This is no time to decide which states, cities, or towns should be held up for praise or singled out for criticism based on the political party of the governor or mayor. Yet that’s what President Trump does at every opportunity. He is unable to separate the responsibility of his job from his own political fortunes.

The Worst Kind of Populism

There are two ways to look at populism as a political strategy. In the best light a populist leader is in tune with the desires of his constituency and makes policy decisions that deliver the outcomes public opinion demands. The second kind of populism, the worst kind, is closer to demagoguery and seeks to deliver policy ideas meant to satisfy public opinion even if the consensus opinion is contrary to the public good.

Everyone wants the country to open up and for the economy to get back on track. People want to work and collect a paycheck, but to open too soon risks the very lives of those who are demanding a quick return to normalcy.

In the president’s behavior and rhetoric you can see him moving toward opening up regardless of the health risk. As governors, mayors and public health experts warn about the dangers and urge caution, President Trump continues to downplay the seriousness of the crisis and predict rosy days ahead. He is setting himself up as the only adult in a position of authority willing to tell everyone exactly what they want to hear whether it’s good for them or not.

Common sense tells us a quick economic come back is not possible. It may take years for consumer confidence to rebound from the COVID-19 crisis. Many companies will go out of business. Entire industries will suffer because people will be reluctant to spend or invest. Some financial experts are predicting that the financial impact of the current economic shutdown may lead to an era of personal savings over spending, much like the course followed by the generation that grew up during the Great Depression — always preparing for the next surprise downturn.

Collision Course

A few weeks ago the president declared he had total authority over the states in a crisis. Although it looked like a power grab to some, in my view, it was just another demonstration of the president’s lack of understanding of how our government works. He confuses the power of the bully pulpit — which is substantial — with actual legal authority.

Governors are politicians as well and they will make their decisions based on public health, the state of the economy and local politics. When it comes to the final decision about whether to risk lives by lifting restrictions on social distancing the governors will ask themselves: “Am I willing to take responsibility for the death of the next person who dies of COVID-19?” Once governors make their decisions — mayors will consider the risk as well. Ultimately, each of us will decide for ourselves whether going out in the pre-virus sense of the term is a risk we want to take.

So regardless of the law President Trump never had total authority. He can’t order anyone to take a risk they are not willing to take on their own.

His coronavirus task force is continually urging caution while he simultaneously and recklessly calls for a return to normal. Nearly every time he speaks he contradicts the advice of his own experts which leaves all of us no choice but to make our own tough decisions.

The attorney general of the United States, with the president’s blessing, is looking into whether any state issued stay at home orders are unconstitutional. This investigation could lead to a court case in which the Trump administration argues that a state took the administration’s advice too far. Trump would be suing a governor for doing a job he does not want to do himself.

The President Has Been Fired by His Own Team

Following the disinfectant news conference of April 23 the president and his team discussed canceling all future coronavirus briefings from the White House. The president decided they were not worth the trouble which means they were not helping him politically. Reporters with sources inside the Trump White House and his re-election campaign learned that polling shows the daily briefings are hurting the president with his base. Therefore, it is reasoned, the president should be sidelined. Two things stand out about this conclusion.

The decision to cancel the briefings (which was modified by the following Monday) was made on the basis of the political damage being done to the president. Politics was given greater weight than the need to inform the American people about efforts to control the disease.

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, the decision shows the president’s advisors, and even at some level the president himself, do not have confidence in the president to lead the country in this moment of crisis. Pulling the president out of the briefing room is the same as firing him from his job. It is a perfect expression of the incompetence the president has shown since the start of the year and the consequences. It also says there is no reason to think Trump’s leadership will improve with time. When it comes to leadership in this crisis we are on our own.

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