Before our very eyes, America’s would-be “Dear Leader” has again demonstrated how one “truth” can be replaced by another, though there are no data to explain the gap’s jump. His secret, of course, is that it wasn’t data that supported the first, nor for him is it data that support the second. Some alternative facts are simply more conducive to his needs than others. It was his need, not facts, that made COVID-19 just a hoax perpetrated by Democrats and “experts” (the latter being untrustworthy, of course, as experts are). His base understood how right he was to start with, a type of evidence that in itself proved him right.
But unlike his inauguration crowd, things were changing fast. Most Americans became convinced and worried about the experts’ facts but Trump’s base was also attracted to Trump’s comforting variation on those facts (Yes, he said, the pandemic is real, but it’s under control and will likely vanish in warmer weather.) But Trump’s self-praised concoctions and make-believe solutions stood up less and less to experts’ fact-based explanations. Consequently, the personal needs on which Trump needed to focus began to shift. Reality—which is to say in Trump’s world the more personally fulfilling set of alternative facts—could be changed, for the first set of alternative facts was no longer serving his needs as well.
There was an embarrassing period when he bellowed one version of reality at excited disciples attending the we’ll-believe-anything rallies and his emerging new version when face to face with scientists. His demeanor and language in the first matched “hoaxes,” and “fake news,” while in the second appeared words like “social distancing,” “epidemiology,” and “risk analysis.” Two factors made that incompatibility easy for him. First, Trump’s embarrassment gene is as nonexistent as his empathy and consistency genes. Second, alternative facts can be exchanged for other alternative facts with little effort, as I said above.
He doesn’t even necessarily have to believe what scientists say, but his brand new perception of facts can be aligned with the experts, particularly if the needs he focuses on could be the newly proclaimed, heroic wartime presidency. This new role and persona called for getting in front of the parade and leading—or seeming to lead—the experts, at least those on the President’s Coronavirus Task Force (look who started leading the sessions)!
Granted, it would be difficult for most of us to pull off such a shift in realities. It more often suits us to keep belief systems consistent. Except for those deluded enough—for either political or religious reasons—to have decided Trump is a gift from God, most of us expect ourselves and other humans to have difficulty being faithful to one reality Monday and its opposite Tuesday.
For example, on January 22, Trump was asked, “Are there worries about a pandemic at this point?” His reply was, “No. Not at all. And we have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China, and we have it under control. It’s going to be just fine.” Then, among other claims, he changed history to this: “I’ve always known this is real—this is a pandemic. I felt it was a pandemic long before it was called a pandemic.” It was so declared by WHO on March 11. Any number of such denials are scattered throughout Trump’s history, so we can expect it to be repeated, a reason no one should ever trust his “facts” or his promises, for he lies so routinely as to be frightening.
One Trump incompetence that is shared with other presidents in American history is the distinction between “I didn’t do that” and “I’m accountable for everything.” Truman’s phrase, “The Buck Stops Here,” captures only part of the managerial principles involved. Few presidents (or CEOs in other settings) would be so irresponsible about where the buck stops as Trump is regularly.
Within the past week, Trump was asked by a reporter if he took responsibility for disbanding the White House pandemic team as early as 2016. That small team had been established by Obama after lessons learned from the H1N1 virus experience. It had been charged with monitoring and reacting to potential pandemics including our readiness for national action should one appear. American readiness is still coming up short even this week with further news of virus exam kits, hospital bed availability, and so on.
Trump could have easily left that function in office to keep the country and appropriate parts of government up to date on possible pandemics, status of available beds, readiness of kits, and whatever else is appropriate (all altered as needed by the Trump Administration). It was a holdover from Obama (that may be the reason for discarding it—a stupid reason, but one not out of keeping with other Trump childishness.) One wonders if we would be in an entirely different and happier place now. I’m not blaming the virus on Trump, but I am saying he has definitely extended the social pain of this virus.
Even as late as today, he issued information that had not been considered by the expert task force. I see no reason to think he was lying, but he does jump too quickly often enough that his recommendations unless validated through those familiar with the medical/scientific issues. One expert had to correct Trump’s statement. For anyone in the employ of the federal government, that is a good way to get fired. Trump is more interested in being the fount of all truth than that Americans get the scientifically valid information.
Trump’s excuse for having insufficient personnel to prepare for COVID-19 was that he doesn’t “want thousands of people around when you don’t need them,” an absolutely ridiculous point for him to make inasmuch as he had been asked if he takes responsibility for discarding the pandemic office, a handful of persons addressing ongoing pandemic possibilities and government readiness. Having received no discernable answer to her question about accountability, the journalist continued, “You said you don’t want people around when you don’t need them, but you did disband the White House pandemic office.
Trump dressed her down, charging in a snarky voice, that she had raised a “nasty” question, leaving no doubt he should not be held accountable. He said he didn’t personally close the office and get rid of the pandemic personnel. “I didn’t do it. I don’t know anything about it. . . . and what we’ve done is to…save thousands of lives because of the [quick . . . results].” The CEO’s thin skin and childish refusal to be responsible has a terrible effect in any organization.
In Trump’s flawed version of managing through many layers of organization, the “buck” seems not to stop with him, though he is quick to claim successes. Whatever his real estate or debt skills, Trump is not a skilled manager, is thoroughly incompetent in the art of multi-tiered management, nor does he have the first idea of how to incorporate a sense of responsibility. He should—as he likes to say of others—go back to school.
If enough American voters find Trump’s attitude and performance to be acceptable, we deserve what we get.