By Maria Lebron, March 2020
In order to build trust and hope during an evolving national crisis, a President must be responsible, credible, consistent, diplomatic, and emotionally mature. A President needs to seek reliable facts in order to plan a course of action, admit fault when necessary, and change course when needed. A President needs to communicate the facts, no matter how dire, in order to mobilize the country. Unfortunately, Trump’s psychological makeup prevents him from having the qualities necessary to properly handle the Covid-19 pandemic.
In the early days of the crisis, Trump’s inaction, denials, and lies in even acknowledging that there was a pandemic and a health care crisis cost us the time needed to get ahead of this crisis and put plans in place. Unfortunately, as the crisis intensifies, Trump proves that he is incapable of rising to the demands being put on him.
Trump’s Fragile Ego
Trump is a poor listener who is distrustful of anyone who gives him information he doesn’t agree with or which he finds unpleasant. Trump’s ego prevents him from admitting that he doesn’t have the scientific and medical knowledge needed to deal with a pandemic and that he needs to rely on those who are more qualified than him. Even when Trump’s public health officials correct and clarify his misstatements, his inflated sense of self-importance requires him to tell the press how “smart” he is and how the doctors admire how much he knows about this pandemic.
Trump doesn’t want any real feedback or teamwork, he only wants “yes-men.” Trump doesn’t welcome feedback from people who he perceives as not supportive of him or his ideas. Prior to this crisis, Trump had difficulty hearing facts from his aides which he didn’t want to believe. In the Covid-19 task force press conferences, you see the need for the public health officials to try to correct Trump’s misstatements in a way which won’t be perceived as a criticism by Trump. Now during an evolving and severe crisis, Trump’s ego cannot take precedence over looking at the hard facts and taking proper action.
The Task Force Press Conferences Are the New Rallies
Trump uses the Covid-19 task force press conferences to feed his excessive need for admiration. In addition to presenting the image of his Presidency he wants to project, all the speakers seem required to take the time to congratulate Trump on his decisions and actions.
In these press conferences, Trump will attack and discredit any reporters who ask questions of him which he finds threatening. When asked by NBC News reporter Peter Alexander “What do you say to Americans who are scared?” Trump’s answer is “I’d say you’re a terrible reporter.” Trump is unable to respond to a question requiring empathy and understanding because he perceived what the reporter said prior to that question about the rising numbers of Americans who were infected as a criticism of him rather than a stated fact. The American people can’t feel assured and protected by a President who feels he’s being attacked any time he hears anything which is not inflating his ego or painting a rosy picture.
Trump’s Inability to Take Responsibility and Stay on Track
Trump is unable or unwilling to take responsibility and rein things in when he’s proven wrong. Trump’s narcissism won’t allow him to accept or admit he’s made mistakes and false statements. Trump will gaslight when his verbatim statements are read back to him, and when reporters persist in holding Trump accountable, he attacks the reporters and deflects by calling the reports “fake news.”
Anyone who thinks that Dr. Fauci and Dr. Birx can control Trump and lead him down the right path is wrong. Trump will read prepared statements and refer to the facts learned from the public health officials but shortly after will contradict those statements. After signing an order to manufacture more ventilators, Trump felt a need to say he doesn’t agree with New York Governor Cuomo’s estimation of the 40,000 ventilators which would be needed for the apex. Trump ordered the production of more protective equipment but questioned why a New York hospital would need 300,000 masks and asks reporters to investigate whether the masks are leaving through the “back door.”
Trump’s Excessive Need for Admiration
Many governors and mayors are trying to react to the emerging facts and reality that their state’s health care system is not equipped to deal with the anticipated caseload of very sick individuals. These officials acknowledge their limitations in being able to handle this crisis without the help of the federal government. Trump’s admission that he won’t take calls or respond to governors whom he feels aren’t “appreciative” is not only shocking and immoral, but shows there is no awareness that as President he is mandated to protect and service all people.
Hope Grounded in Reality
Part of a President’s job is providing hope during a national crisis, but the hope needs to be grounded in reality and facts, not magical thinking. Of course, we all welcome hearing there are clinical trials and medical interventions taking place to fight Covid-19. It’s not helpful when the facts presented by the public health officials regarding these interventions are contradicted by Trump because he has a “good feeling” and he’s “smart.” As we already know, a couple poisoned themselves taking chloroquine phosphate after hearing Trump promoting chloroquine as a possible cure. The husband later died. Neither one had Covid-19.
Many people were distressed and in disbelief when Trump said he wanted full churches on Easter since many states would be near or at their apex by that time. Trump also said people needed to go back to work because the “cure can’t be worse than the problem.” These statements are made without presenting a well thought out plan as to how they would be carried. These statements do not assure people that they are being said based on the reality of what is happening currently and that they are being made in the best interests of the country.
The President needs to be grounded in reality and facts, otherwise people won’t trust their government can keep them safe. Trump is unable to be the leader we need during this crisis. Precious time will be lost trying to get him to listen to the facts, plan accordingly, and not undermine and contradict the message which needs to be given.