If the coronavirus turns out not to be the 21st century’s Spanish influenza, I think that outcome will occur because of simple, blind luck. That would be nice, if it falls out that way.
It’s clear that there is no real plan, Trump won’t listen to epidemiologists or anybody else he thinks wields expertise, and the doctors that actually DO fit within Trump’s inner circle (Rand Paul, Ben Carson) do not seem motivated to say “Hey, let’s send a coherent message about not panicking and taking measures you can: hand-washing, staying home if sick, etc., sending your employees home if sick,. etc. ”
We are in this moment with a guy whose supporters—supporters–say that what he says should be taken “figuratively, not literally.” Now that we are two years into locking up children, that was all BS, but people still say it. Now, what, exactly, do you do with figurative actions about a virus that a president blames on a conspiracy?
Donald Trump lies and brags incessantly. When he talks, nobody can judge anything for what it is. And he never shuts up, so that anything real he does say gets lost in the noise.
That works to his benefit when he and his people want to further obscure the questionable conduct documented in the Mueller Report. But just as all that lying, bragging, and spinning hides the bad things Donald Trump has allegedly done, it also hides the real…..and the urgency of the real.
Donald Trump, according to himself, conducts “perfect conversations” and “the best deals.” He writes “beautiful letters, perfect letters.” Come on. Nobody writes perfect letters, and if they did, who cares? Ronald Reagen wrote some damn good letters, and he didn’t expect us to give him a cookie for it.
By contrast, Barack Obama could announce the death of Bin Laden to an American public that had been primed into justifying the terrorist’s death by two presidents capable of a) shutting up and b) talking about something other than themselves. After 9-11, Americans had had periodic news of Bin Laden’s activities, videos, and latest threats. Americans could then understand what Bin Laden’s death meant in the larger history about our struggles with terrorism in the post 9-11 world. Leadership means helping your people see what they need to see.
In Trump’s presidency, there is no news about anybody other than Trump, and he does his level best to make sure of that, and to make sure nobody can see anything but him.
Thus having not discussed anybody else for three years and bragging about minutiae, Donald Trump announces to the American public that our special forces trapped al-Baghdadi. Or he has a press conference to reassure us all that It felt, as the kids say, random, instead of part of a sustained effort in anti-terrorism. I’m betting most of us had to Google al-Baghdadi. After that, I suspect most Americans just filed what was, in reality, a world-changing report about al-Baghdadi’s death with all the rest of Donald Trump’s seemingly endless cheap talk. They put it in the blather file along with beautiful, perfect letters and raids on revolutionary war airports and buying Greenland and how Christy Teigen says naughty words.
All politicians lie and self-promote. This statement is not an indictment of politicians’ character. It acknowledges that politicians are human and that human beings lie and present our best selves to the world.
Because politicians wield power, political lying is consequential, and as such, lying has preoccupied some of history’s most influential thinkers. Liars and cheats run amok in the Old Testament, doing all sorts of shady things for important political and social ends. Plato discussed the need to create peace-keeping fibs to keep society stable. Machiavelli, that grumpy realist, instructed his princes that they must employ both force and fraud in a cutthroat world. Kant discouraged lying as a legitimate means to specific ends. Public ethicists today debate lying in politics along all these facets.
The president’s supporters have told me that Donald Trump has redefined politics so that all his chatter is merely a performance beloved by the masses of real Americans. I do not buy it. Always there must be a strategic reasons for lying, and always—always—a point where leaders keep things real, if not always factual.
In the early days, President Trump’s supporters could view his bloviating as showmanship and project onto him whatever they wished for. After all this time, however, we must now see a president who has run out his strategy. He can’t lie enough to cover his conduct with Ukraine or the embarrassingly dumb Doral mess. And he cannot clear away the confusion he has fostered for years when his genuine “al-Baghadi moment” finally arrived— a moment that could have delivered to him the respect he so obviously craves.
We the people cannot be faulted for failing to recognize the diamond amongst all the cheap imitation glass that Donald Trump has tried to sell us for years. Nobody expects a political leader to be a saint, or if they do, they are likely to be deeply disappointed. But nobody wants to be doused in bull poop all the time, either. If Donald Trump wants the respect of the office, he has to start being real. He has to stop making things up during press conferences, tweeting nonsensically, and rocking the boat just to get attention with silly celebrity feuds. If he can’t be real—if this constant jibber jabber really is all he is– he shouldn’t be in office.
Sometimes, the truth really is that simple.