Pierre Atlas: Leaders matter. On coronavirus, Trump is a failed leader.

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Pierre AtlasPresident Donald Trump has likened the coronavirus pandemic to a war, and he has proudly called himself a “wartime president.” Trump has proven himself to be an abject failure in that role.

Imagine a wartime leader sending our troops into battle without providing them with enough body armor or ammunition (or in this case, personal protective equipment, ventilators and testing), then declaring victory and advocating withdrawal from the battlefield (or ending stay-at-home policies and opening the economy) when the enemy was still on the offensive. And imagine that leader blaming everyone else for his own mistakes, recklessness and incompetence.

This is how Trump has performed.

Trump’s chaotic, stream-of-consciousness press conferences are laden with factually incorrect (and sometimes, dangerously incorrect) information, self-praise, blaming of others, and bemoaning of his own victimhood. With each tweet and each public appearance, Trump’s insecure narcissism is on full display.

Harry Truman, who led this nation in war—hot as well as cold—said of the presidency, “The buck stops here.” On March 13, when asked about the federal government’s slow and shoddy rollout of coronavirus testing, Trump offered his own, now iconic, retort to Truman: “No, I don’t take responsibility at all.”

With each passing day, more information is revealed that shows the president ignored early warnings of a pandemic from scientific bodies and his own administration (including classified intelligence briefings).

To the extent that Trump didn’t take this information seriously and failed to act in January and February, that is incompetence. If he deliberately ignored or downplayed mounting evidence of a deadly pandemic out of concern for the stock market or his reelection prospects, that is inexcusable malfeasance.

American presidents are expected to be “consolers in chief” during moments of monumental grief or crisis. Think of Roosevelt’s fireside chats, Reagan’s moving speech after the Challenger space shuttle disaster, Clinton after the Oklahoma City bombing, or Bush after 9/11. Trump is arguably the only president in American history who lacks the capacity to feel empathy—or even the ability to fake it.

His lack of empathy has been empirically verified: The Washington Post analyzed 28 hours of coronavirus briefings in March and April; Trump’s remarks took up 60%, or 13 hours, which included “just 4-1/2 minutes expressing condolences for coronavirus victims.”

In a single 24-hour period spanning April 15-16, more Americans died of COVID-19 (4,591) than the total number of U.S. troops killed in the Iraq War. Trump did not acknowledge the dead or display any sympathy for their families. Instead, the next morning, he sent off a series of incendiary tweets encouraging residents of Michigan, Minnesota and Virginia (which all have Democratic governors) to rise up and violate those states’ stay-at-home orders. Trump is likely the only president in history who has openly incited Americans to break the law.

More Americans have now died from coronavirus than the total number of U.S. troops killed in the Vietnam War. Over 1 million Americans are known to be infected. Nearly 30 million Americans have become unemployed because the economy had to be placed into a necessary, “medically induced coma” to flatten the rising curve of deaths.

We still don’t have enough tests or PPE, states are being left to fend for themselves, and we might be unprepared for a second, possibly more deadly, wave in the coming months. All this, on Trump’s watch.

Leaders matter. On coronavirus, Trump has utterly failed as a leader.•


Atlas is a professor of political science and director of The Richard G. Lugar Franciscan Center for Global Studies at Marian University. Send comments to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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7 thoughts on “Pierre Atlas: Leaders matter. On coronavirus, Trump is a failed leader.

  1. Hope living under your rock hasn’t been too uncomfortable…Incorrect counts and inaccurate counting of deaths actually as a result of this virus are elusive..Trump allowed the Bureaucratic career Drs(Fauci and Birk) and Scientist to overkill this Covid Virus and now our country…Shut down was overkill..Open all of country up now, protect the vulnerable and go on with life..House arrest not appropriate nor needed.. World is not sterile now and never will be ..

  2. Yeah, Pierre, and what were the Dumbocrats doing in January and February, wasting the country’s resources on Impeachment proceedings….and when Trump limited incoming flights from China to help stem the tide, he was labeled racist.

    You and your kind deserve the worse this crisis can meter out. It’s too bad the rest of us will be dragged along by the likes of your narrow-minded stupidity and the manifestation of your Trump Derangement Syndrome. Our enemies are the Communists running China, not the duly-elected President of the United States and his supporters. Get a grip on that if you can.

  3. Are you really a “political scientist”?

    You always write from a Socialist Marxist Communist Democrat narrative. It would serve if you are a professor, you would be teaching in a balanced unbiased way as it pertains to Constitutional Law.

    How about teaching instead of indoctrinating? It’s indoctrinators as you that are dividing our country generationally selling the lies of Socialism, Communism, and Marxism to the next generation’s self demise!

    Do us a favor and be honest with yourself. If you truly love this country, resign!

  4. Well, let me echo and support the comments of the author, Pierre Atlas. To Kurt, you may feel free to call BS and your conjecture about Hillary is spurious at best and completely, irrelevant, at best. Your defense of actions of the President by invoking Hillary’s name shows the lack of depth of your decision to call the author’s statements, BS. Candidly, you should be ashamed, but I doubt that you are. Darrell, could you support your label of Mr. Atlas? It seems you’re pretty good at name calling, but you lack substance to your argument. Again, the reality associated with Pierre’s claim may be very difficult for you to hear but, honestly Darrell, is it necessary to stoop to name calling. Perhaps you could speak to what the opinion offered in relation to the facts with which you disagree. I would appreciate your factual account of the President’s activities and his mis-information and the use of the daily Covid-19 briefings as a platform to share mistruth and dangerous advice? Please, enlighten me? Bob, as for your comment….yes, the Democrats were doing what they are duly elected to do. They had hearings (that the President chose to bar key individuals within his administration from testifying) and the President, so deeply concerned about the Coronavirus that he played golf, held rallies for his re-election and, when questioned about the virus, he said it would magically “go away”. Doesn’t sound like the kind of leadership we should expect from the President. I know that he claims he was “distracted” by the Impeachment hearings and you seem to imply the same, but clearly he had time for those things I just mentioned. Oh, and by the way, and senior executive in my companies had better be able to multi task and if that means dealing with more than one critical issue important to the function or our companies, I would submit that they should not hold the position in which they are placed. I would double down on that conclusion were I to find out that, while “so distracted” they played golf and held rallies to feed their ego. You gentlemen should really stop the blind allegiance and stop being afraid of the Democrats and recognize that President Trump and his Administration just simply, obviously, undoubtedly dropped the ball.

  5. I can’t help but notice that all of the negative responses here are ad hominem attacks and none actually refer to or critique any factual material I cite in the column. I used to think of myself as a Dick Lugar-Mitch Daniels Republican, and I was proud to serve in the US Army under Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush. So it was pretty funny to learn that I am really a “Socialist Marxist Communist Democrat.” (That’s quite a mouthful!) I guess maybe I’d better stop assigning chapters from Adam Smith, Fredrick Hayek, and Milton Friedman in my international political economy class?

  6. While I didn’t call you a “Socialist Marxist Communist Democrat”, Pierre, I did accuse you of having Trump Derangement Syndrome, and I firmly believe you do. Probably a “Never Trumper” RINO too, eh? To say “Trump has utterly failed as a leader” is a pretty broad statement, wouldn’t you say? Because this pandemic happened while Trump was President, does that make it his fault?

    You never answered my question about the validity of Democrat’s priority being a dead-end impeachment pursuit while the virus was ramping up, did you?

    Really, Trump Derangement Syndrome is a serious matter. I don’t know if it is curable, but you ought to try to find out. Until then, it will color your writing an ugly shade of pale.