In the course of this crisis created by the coronavirus I have been pulling for the federal government to step up and fulfill its duty under the solid direction and knowledgeable leadership of the president. I have given up hope that it will happen. This leads me to wonder whether Donald J. Trump is the worst president in our life time or the worst president ever? In my opinion, he is the worst ever.
Many historians compare Mr. Trump to President Herbert Hoover who is universally considered one of the worst. He took no action to avert or to mitigate the Great Depression putting all of his faith in the capitalist system and the ethos of the survival of the fittest. Indeed, he vetoed a 2.1 billion dollar relief bill (about 38 billion in today’s dollars) because it was full of “pork” and what he considered to be unproductive jobs such as federal works projects.
But Mr. Hoover is not considered the absolute worst. That honor generally goes to President James Buchanan who favored the expansion of slavery and did nothing to stop southern states from seceding from the Union, resulting in the Civil War. Mr. Buchanan, rest easy. You are no longer the worst.
Where to begin to count the ways that Mr. Trump has earned this accolade? To me there is one over-riding fact that cannot be ignored. The greatest country on earth with the best health system in the world has the largest number of identified COVID-19 cases and the largest number of deaths. In. The. World. People are dying. Over 32,000 Americans have lost their lives as I write this. It isn’t theoretical anymore. How can this be? It is the result of the president’s dithering, lies, inaction, and a congenital need to be the center of everything but the leader of nothing that got us to this place. Precious time was wasted as the president told us it would magically go away. Over the weekend, two newspapers laid out time lines of what the government knew and when they knew it. As Mr. Trump told us it was all under control, dire warnings were relayed to him. People tried to take action and he stopped them. He wants credit for stopping travelers from China from entering the U.S., a necessary but not sufficient action. He fails to mention that after he declared the border shut, roughly 40,000 people entered the U.S. from China. He then wasted nearly two months during which serious action could have been taken. Thank you Mr. Trump.
Beware. It will get worse in so many ways. Two important areas of concern are his attempts to do away with all of the safeguards of our democracy and the other is his foolhardy need to “open up for business” in two weeks or less. He cannot be trusted. As one pundit put it, to Mr. Trump, truth is an adversary.
Some examples of his intolerance for criticism or oversight include the fact that there are 14 Inspector General (IG) positions vacant in the U.S. government. Infamously, Mr. Trump fired the IG for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) because he did his job and followed the law in forwarding a whistle blower complaint to Congress. In the short term, Mr. Trump demoted the IG in the Department of Defense who had been chosen by his fellow IGs in the government to oversee the recently passed stimulus package. Now there is no one. There are no Senate confirmed officials in the entire ODNI. All have been fired or pushed out. Mr. Trump likes “actings” as he calls them, because they do not have to answer to the Senate and he can make them do his bidding.
Yesterday he threatened to adjourn Congress by presidential decree so that he can appoint more “actings” without Senate approval and thus do away with all oversight from Congress. This on top of his claim during his live melt-down on camera Monday that “when somebody is president of the United States your authority is total.” Clearly he thinks he can run the entire United States like he ran the Trump Organization by just sitting in his office, talking on the phone and telling people what to do with little to no input. Only, as he says, based on his “gut.” Speaking of guts, where are the elected Republican members of Congress? Why is there no rebuke to a president that wants to be an autocrat and is actively working in that direction?
More importantly to many Americans, is the question of how do we address this dual nightmare of a staggered economy and a virulent pandemic? I do not trust the president to do the right thing. I never thought I would write that. I have disagreed with many past presidential policies over the years, but I always at my core thought that while I disagreed with them, they were doing what they fundamentally thought was good for our country. Not so with Mr. Trump. He does only what he thinks is good for him.
He is desperate to take credit for anything positive that takes place — such as putting his signature on relief checks to appear as if he, the benevolent monarch, is personally giving away money and not that it is tax payer money — while contorting himself into grotesque statements attempting to blame anyone or everyone for his massive failings.
Here is the ugly truth. Many people, including the president, do not understand what flattening the curve of this pandemic actually means. He misleads us on what mitigation means. The steps that we have all taken to wear masks, practice social distancing and to stay home only buy time. The coronavirus does not magically go away on 1 May or any time until there is a cure or a vaccine. This idea that everything will be normal and no one else will die is the biggest lie of all.
Study the curves for yourself. Most models do not go beyond sometime early this summer. What do you think happens when the restrictions are lifted? The number of sick and dying sky rocket. Study the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918-1920. Even a cursory review reveals that many of the same mitigation efforts that we are using today were used then. Cities like St. Louis and San Francisco had very strict regimes in place. Cities like Philadelphia did not. The differences in death totals is staggering between the two extremes.
How did it end? When people built up a natural immunity or died. There was no vaccine. Just as we have no vaccine now.
Our current measures are designed to buy time. Time to get sufficient treatment spaces and medical equipment in place to treat those infected. Time to figure out the best way to treat the virus. Time to develop a vaccine. Time to build up our ability to test vast numbers of people. Time to put a system in place to identify hot spots, isolate those specific people impacted and stop the virus from spreading.
So far we have none of those things and we won’t have them on 1 May.
A very difficult decision lies ahead. It could be a year or more before all of those necessary conditions are in place. Our economy cannot continue as it is for a year. How many lives should be lost in exchange for restarting the economy? I don’t know. There are those that argue that we should just let the virus run its course. If hundreds of thousands die, so be it. It is the natural resolution to the crisis. Just as with the Spanish flu pandemic, one builds up an immunity or you die. Then it’s over. Somehow I cannot bring myself to believe that we as a country want or accept that.
So what to do? In the short term, the emphasis should be on saving lives. As we try to restart the economy it should be in very small steps in a localized way. As the saying goes, “build a little, test a little.” Be prepared to try new ways of doing business. In every step it will be necessary to be ready to acknowledge that it didn’t work, or that it was too much too soon, and adjust. When it does work, build on those lessons learned.
I do not think that Mr. Trump is capable of that kind of leadership. He has already earned his place in history as the worst president ever. I fear that he will work hard in the coming weeks and months to cement his standing as the worst leader our country ever experienced.