I hold two sad truths to be self-evident.
One is that certain Democrats and media members rushed zestfully to fault President Trump in the coronavirus affair. The other is that they were wrong only in that they rushed zestfully.
In a polarized nation, people tend to embrace one of those truths and resent the other. They go their separate ways in their half-truth clans. One thinks that Democrats and the media are out to get Trump. The other sees that Trump is dangerous. Neither is wrong.
The germ spreads, the stock market plunges, commerce slows to a recessionary pace and virus testing kits remain unavailable. And the president shows us nothing except new manifestations of his breathtaking personality disorders.
I understand but regret the zestful rush among Democrats and some in the media. I understand that they are certain by close observation that Trump is unfit by character and temperament for the office he preposterously defiles. I understand that they grow frustrated that efforts to reveal that--through the Mueller Report and impeachment--come up short.
They see a dangerous virus coming and sense that Trump will react in the only way he knows--in the context of his raging megalomania and narcissism.
And they think this is the time when his utter delusional incompetence will be laid bare. They endeavor to find a sweet spot by which they properly lament his failure but celebrate his needed exposure. It's an elusive sweet spot.
Trump, faced with a responsibility to lead, and to do so proactively, makes them as prophetic as politicizing. He denies, downplays, huffs, hunkers, stalls, ignores and misstates, all to the national detriment and peril.
He obsesses on the economic harm rather than the health threat--because the stock market is where he believes his own political fortunes rest. For him, everything is about him.
Then he panics in a national television speech he delivers as if a sulking hostage. He closes a pocket of air travel with Europe. But the virus already floats around domestically among our three or four degrees of human domestic separation.
It's now in Pine Bluff. And a doctor who had seen that Pine Bluff woman has a child attending Pulaski Academy. So they close that school. And that woman came in contact with four others who are now infected. And one of those persons works at Arkansas Children's Hospital. And the nearby schools are closed.
So, by all means, let's have the president go on national television and cancel a few trans-Atlantic flights. By all means, let our president continue to assure us that this little respiratory bug is no big deal, and, to the extent that it becomes a big deal, the fault of foreigners, not us.
All the while, governors, public health officials, doctors--and the people--rise to fill the void where a national leader would be. They lead major behavioral change to reduce human interaction and buy time against overrun emergency rooms. The point is to keep us from being Italy, though worse.
We all must rise to an occasion at which the president scoffs.
We really do need a better national politics. We must somehow re-evolve into a nation that rushes less quickly to politicize such things. But to do that, we need less of a reason to rush quickly to politicize such things.
We need more editorial writers like the objectively conservative ones at The Wall Street Journal who opined Wednesday as follows: "When President Trump sees a political threat, his instinct is to deny, double down and hit back. That has often been politically effective, but in the case of the novel coronavirus, it has undermined his ability to lead.
"It's not accurate, as the press reported last week, that the president called the virus a 'hoax.' He said the criticisms of his administration were a hoax. Yet his public remarks too often give the impression that he views the virus more as another chance for political combat than as a serious public-health problem. ... The best defense isn't to strike back as if the virus is Adam Schiff. It can't be mocked with a nickname or dismissed with over-optimistic assertions that risk being run over by reality in a week or a month. ... This means letting the experts speak, not putting himself in the front of every briefing and speculating about things he doesn't know much about. ...
"Above all, leadership in a crisis means telling the public the truth."
A healthy media would read that editorial and seek introspection in the inaccurate reporting about the context of "hoax."
A healthy president would read that editorial from a usually supportive source and seek broader personal introspection.
My guess is that this president cursed The Wall Street Journal as fake news.
November can't come soon enough. But it may be a long time coming.
John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.
Editorial on 03/15/2020
Print Headline: Rise to the occasion