A Crumbling Presidency

Alan Zendell, June 1, 2020

Whether it was national defense, the environment, international trade, public health, or nuclear proliferation, the America Donald Trump inherited in 2017 was one that was fully engaged with the rest of the world. Over the course of three years in office, he has trashed or withdrawn from virtually every major international treaty and agreement. He has vilified our allies and lionized the autocrats who have been happily working to destroy us. If you’re a fan of isolationism, that sounds like a record of success. If you’re a student of history, you know that portends disaster for our standing as a nation. 

From day one, Trump’s base cheered his attacks on truth, science, and the media. Many of them still do, but for most of us, the Trump clown show has grown as old as rotting fish. A Washington Post-ABC News poll released today found that nearly twice as many Americans now distrust the president as believe he is honest and truthful. The poll reports that nationally, Trump, who has used the Coronavirus Task Force as an ongoing campaign rally is trailing Joe Biden, who has mostly remained silent during the pandemic, by 53-43%, and that since March, Trump’s approval/disapproval rating on his handling of the coronavirus pandemic flipped from plus seven percentage points to minus seven.  

No one takes polls very seriously five months before an election in absolute terms, but a relative change like the reversal over Trump’s response to the virus is very significant. If we break the electorate into three parts, one third who would vote for the president even if he carried out his threat to shoot someone on New York’s Fifth Avenue, one third who wouldn’t vote for him if he was running against the Devil, and one third who pay attention to facts with open  minds, that seven percent  flip is more than one fifth of group three, and from that viewpoint it’s huge. They are very likely the swing voters who will decide the next election. 

The poll was based on interviews that took place largely before the country exploded in violent protests over the murder of George Floyd by four police officers in Minneapolis, all of whom were described as complicit by the Minneapolis police chief when he fired them. It does not reflect our national horror over seeing peaceful, mournful protests taken over by anarchistic, destructive elements who would rather burn cities and relationships than heal them. It doesn’t reflect the actions of Governors, Mayors, Police Chiefs, and Sheriffs who reacted with compassion and calm leadership. Nor does it reflect the actions of thousands of police officers who faced angry mobs throwing rocks and bottles as they worked to protect citizens and property. 

It also does not reflect the actions and words of the president during this crisis. It doesn’t represent our national shock at his incendiary remarks that implied protesters should be shot. It doesn’t address his public silence or his private lambasting of governors who prefer to sympathize with and support peaceful protesters instead of ordering a military-style crackdown without distinguishing between legitimate mourners and thugs. In his conference call with governors this morning, Trump said any governor who doesn’t smash legal protests with overwhelming, indiscriminate force is weak. 

No one should be surprised by any of this. In abandoning his leadership role with respect to both the pandemic and nationwide rioting and burning, he behaved exactly as we knew he would. Donald Trump is a sociopath. Look it up – a sociopath is an antisocial individual who lacks both social responsibility and moral conscience. That sounds like a perfect description of a man who prioritizes his re-election over saving tens of thousands of lives. It correctly labels a man who hides in a bunker issuing venomous tweets against perceived enemies while ignoring the genuine pain and suffering of millions of Americans, while the real leaders are out there on the front lines. 

It’s one thing to describe Donald Trump’s severe mental health disorder in psychiatric terms. It’s another to see its impact on his ability to function in a crisis. Trump hasn’t expressed compassion and understanding for either pandemic sufferers or victims of police brutality, because he is unable to comprehend them. If we didn’t already understand that, he made it clear this morning when he told America’s governors that the whole world was laughing at them for their weak handling of the protests. Really, Mr. President? I haven’t noticed anyone laughing. I’ve heard crying and appeals for justice. My guess is that the leaders of our former allies are shaking their heads in dismay, wondering how America could have so quickly abdicated its role as leader of the free world.  

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