Donald Trump’s Unprecedented Leadership in Unparalleled Times

I have little patience for armchair quarterbacking. Being a critic is cheap. A crisis like we are seeing with COVID-19 will test all of our leadership skills. Looking for blame will do little to help the situation. Donald Trump and other government leaders are not responsible for this virus. I think we all have to be patient as we work to manage this crisis. No matter how much planning and preparation we do there will always be missteps, miscalculations and mistakes. 

One of the hallmarks of leadership is how one responds under pressure and how one owns the problem. During World War II, President Harry Truman kept a sign in the Oval Office that read “The Buck Stops Here.” Good leaders don’t blame others for problems, they go to work to find solutions. A companion principle is accountability. Leaders are eager to know how and what went wrong so they can fix it. The coronavirus is an unparalleled crisis in our time. It has required unprecedented leadership. 

Mr. Trump has provided unprecedented leadership, but, sadly, it has been unprecedentedly poor leadership. He not only refuses to take any responsibility for the handling of the crisis, he looks for every opportunity to blame others. Instead of “the Buck Stops Here,”  we see a passing of the buck. Blaming and abusing the media, gaslighting the World Health Organization, as well as projecting his own failures on governors and others. He has refused to acknowledge where mistakes have been made and shows a disdain for facts. His press events are more like campaign rallies, filled with lies and scapegoating. His dismissal of the crisis early on, and the lack of tests, health care equipment etc., could be chalked up to understandable mismanagement, if it wasn’t for the constant lies, blaming and shaming (for a thorough time line of Mr. Trumps reactions to the virus check out this three part series from Steven Harper).

Some of you will read this and think I am making a partisan attack. However, a crisis like this cuts through party lines.  Governor Charlie Baker, a Republican in liberal Massachusetts, has had wide bipartisan support during the crisis. So has Andy Beshear, a Democrat in deep red Kentucky, and Larry Hogan, a Republican in liberal Maryland. All of these governors have approval ratings in the 70s or 80s. Republican Governor Herbert of Utah, and Governor DeWine of Ohio have received national bipartisan praise, as have Democratic Governors Cuomo and Newsom of New York and California. Why? Because they have exhibited the kind of leadership that we need in a moment of crisis. 

No doubt there will be a congressional panel that it will look into the national mismanagement of this crisis. Historians and other academics will expose in great detail why our response was so inferior compared to places like Germany, Iceland, Ireland, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and others. We will not need to wait for those reports to confirm what we see everyday coming from the White House: a void of leadership looking to absolve itself of any responsibility or accountability for this crisis.