Alan Zendell, March 26, 2020
Do events create heroes or are heroes always with us, emerging as leaders when circumstances require them? Self-proclaimed hero, Donald Trump, believes he is uniquely qualified to lead our country in all things. But as we have repeatedly seen during his administration, declaring oneself a leader is a far cry from being one.
The coronavirus pandemic shined a blinding light on this basic truth. At a time when our nation is desperate for effective leadership, Trump continues to focus primarily on what is good for Donald Trump. He cares about minimizing the effects of the pandemic not in terms of saving lives and reducing the suffering of individuals and families, but by limiting the damage to his re-election campaign.
White House leadership in attacking the pandemic lagged for months because honesty and transparency about the likely spread of the virus would have had an inconvenient effect on financial markets, which Trump relies on to keep his base happy. Even after wasted weeks which could have been used to ramp up the nation’s preparedness and blunt the rate of infection, Trump dispenses confusion and misinformation on a daily basis. Every time he briefs us about the effects of the virus, the nation’s preeminent expert on infectious disease, Dr. Anthony Fauci has to correct and contradict him to prevent him from undermining the efforts of the medical community.
We owe a huge debt to the state Governors who have been on top of this crisis since Day One, who eschew self-praise and simply inform, support, and inspire confidence in their citizens. Several have stepped up and filled the breach, but I’d like to focus on Andrew Cuomo of New York and Andy Beshear of Kentucky.
Cuomo is one of those heroes who has been with us for decades who rose to the challenge as soon as the threat of the virus was realized. Partly as a result of circumstances, as New York State’s cases are spiking ahead of other states’, Americans have watched Cuomo talking to New Yorkers every morning. He focuses on providing information, explaining why his directives are necessary to protect the health and lives. He speaks directly to the people, easily, casually, openly, honestly. There is no ego, no self-aggrandizement, no confusion – in a word no bullshit. He never disparages the president, but he underlines Trump’s inadequacy as a leader every day just by being himself.
Many people in New York now refer to their governor as “President Cuomo,” because he calms them and demonstrates an unwavering focus the needs of his people, while they see exactly the opposite from Trump. And it’s not just New Yorkers. I watch him every morning inspired by his self-effacing truth and courage. At a time of anxiety and insecurity, confronting perhaps the most serious threat our country has ever faced, he convinces me every day that some politicians can rise above petty self-interest and partisanship. His constituents love him with good reason.
A year ago, if you didn’t live in Kentucky, you probably never heard of Andy Beshear. Running for governor in the reddest of states that voted for Trump by nearly two to one in 2016, he was given little chance of defeating incumbent Matt Bevin, an ardent Trump supporter, which in Kentucky, should have assured his re-election. But his Trump-like attitudes and his repeated attacks on teachers and other state workers, made him vulnerable, should a true leader of the people emerge.
That leader was Andy Beshear, another latent hero who rose to the challenge, who while Kentucky Secretary of State, went to court to prevent Bevins from wrecking the teachers’ retirement system. In doing so he inspired teachers and parents who valued education, without whom he couldn’t have won. His victory over Bevin stunned the Kentucky Republican establishment.
Beshear is the best kind of populist. His message is unity over divisiveness, concern for people over politics. His daily briefings on the coronavirus don’t receive the national exposure that Cuomo’s do, but his message is the same: honest, caring, inspirational. “There is no ego in any of this…no Democrat or Republican…only us as Americans versus the Coronavirus.” He is revered by red-state Kentuckians, receiving praise from all over the political spectrum and recognized as the kind of natural leader we need in times of crisis.
Memes depicting offers from other states wanting to swap their local treasures for him are going viral all over the internet. My own state, Maryland, offered Pimlico, Cal Ripken, and a bushel of Maryland crabs, the very soul of our state in exchange for Beshear, and we already have an effective governor in Larry Hogan.
Thank God for governors like Cuomo and Beshear. At a time, even before the coronavirus pandemic, when our political system seems in jeopardy of self-destructing from partisanship and divisiveness, they give us hope for the future.