Leadership, Trump Style

Alan Zendell, March 12, 2020

Donald Trump’s leadership style has always been to bully people into getting what he wants. That often works in business when you’re bigger than your adversary and you can afford to outspend him in litigation. And when it fails, you pay a fine and move on. But that style has shown itself to be a dismal failure since Trump has been president. Not only has his leadership been lacking here at home, the notion that the United States was the leader of the free world is now only a distant memory.

Trump’s North Korea policy has been a total failure. He got nothing from his summit meetings with Kim Jong Un, except to damage our relationship with South Korea. And North Korea continues to test missiles and work toward having an arsenal of nuclear warheads with impunity.

Withdrawing from the Paris Accords on Climate Control and the Iran Nuclear Deal have also achieved nothing positive for our country. Our allies refused to support either action, and the result is that we are diplomatically isolated and Iran, like North Korea, is working rapidly toward developing nuclear weapons. 

The promised Middle East deal, which Trump delegated to his son-in-law Jared Kushner, eschewing the advice of professional diplomats with decades of relevant knowledge and expertise, has been a total failure. And his Stephen Miller-inspired immigration policy has achieved only confusion and suffering for thousands of people. We are no closer to a comprehensive immigration policy that can pass the test of constitutionality than we were when Trump took office. Throughout the thirty-eight months of his presidency the only thing he accomplished was signing a tax law that rewarded the wealthiest Americans while saddling everyone else with a skyrocketing national debt.

Trump faced serious challenges, and in every case he has either made the situation worse or kicked the can down the road for the next generation to deal with. All that was unfortunate, but none of it represented an imminent catastrophe – until now. Nothing calls out for leadership and re-assurance like a pandemic, and to date, Trump has failed to provide either.

When he slashed the budget for the division of the Centers for Disease Control responsible for containment and prevention of diseases like the COVID-19 virus, he justified the action by claiming they spent huge amounts of money planning for things that were never going to happen. Medical professionals warned that that was a very dangerous decision, but the then Republican-controlled Congress went along with it.

As a result we now have an emergency prevention system at the federal level that Dr. Anthony Fauci described today as a failure. Fauci noted that European and Asian countries have been able to mobilize plans of action to test for and control the virus because their public health systems were designed to enable central administration and distribution of needed medical supplies and personnel. In a word, he said, ours is not, and as a result we have squandered valuable time that might have allowed us to at least partially contain the epidemic.

It is clear from the draconian actions of the Chinese government in locking down millions of people, that they understood the nature of the COVID-19 virus immediately. They may not have been truthful in the statistics they released, but we know from their actions that they were terrified of a pandemic that would engulf the world. If they understood it, so did all of the medical professionals responsible for protecting Americans from disease. But our president, who has always shown his disdain for science and acted as if he knew better than doctors, clinicians, generals, and diplomats chose to ignore them.

The COVID-19 virus is going to infect virtually every part of the United States. The fourteen day asymptomatic incubation period made it impossible to fully contain, but the debacle of not having either adequate testing or a viable plan to combat the virus has assured that we will be facing the worst case scenario instead of a partially contained epidemic. That is unconscionable, a complete failure of leadership.

How did we get here? It’s simple. Trump gambled on minimizing the outbreak because he feared a collapse in the financial markets. The eleven-year-old bull market was the only thing his re-election campaign could hang its hat on, and winning re-election was his only priority. It will become clear in the coming months that while countries like China and South Korea were able to limit the spread, the delay in our government’s response will have worsened the impact of the virus here.

The world has known about the Wuhan virus for more than three months. But Trump’s wrong-headed priorities and lack of leadership prevented our medical establishment from mobilizing in time to do anything but treat people who become seriously ill and hope they can prevent millions from dying once they’ve been infected. Last week, when he threw a tantrum and tried to bully the researchers he pointedly ignored until now to come up with “something big” long after the cow was out of the barn, he merely underlined his failure as a manager.

It’s too late to change that, but not to assure that he never gets to do it again.

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