On Nov. 3, we will elect the leader of our country. President Trump does not deserve reelection because he has failed as a leader. His first failure is that he has no interest in leading the 60% of the country that didn’t vote for him. When asked about his failure to deal with the pandemic, he said: “If you take the blue states out, we’re at a level I don’t think anybody in the world would be at.” As if the blue states didn’t concern him.
Trump exaggerates the violence in urban areas of the United States as if he were not responsible for them. While most cities are not the war zones Trump describes, if his description were accurate, he should be apologizing for his failure to protect them and talking about what he was going to do to fix them. Instead, he’s trying to blame any problems on Joe Biden and the Democrats. His “solution” is to cut off federal aid to these cities in order to punish the Democrats who lead them.
Trump likes campaigning but has no interest in doing the hard work of governing. He exaggerates the unrest of the cities because he wants to create fear in people who don’t live there so they will vote for him. By why would anyone vote for him on his promise to restore order? He’s already the president; if things are so bad, why doesn’t he restore order now?
Good presidents put the country first. They are confident enough to surround themselves with knowledgeable, intelligent people who will challenge them if they are wrong, as Lincoln did with his team of rivals. And good leaders will admit when they were wrong. In contrast, Trump fires people who dare to bring him bad news. Not surprisingly, Trump’s Cabinet tries to outdo themselves fawning over him. The result is the administration does not learn from its mistakes, and people who do know more than the president are unable to educate him. Since he thinks he already knows it all, what could he learn?
Dictators and authoritarians don’t care about the country, they care only about themselves. They create a cult of personality, where patriotism is loyalty to the leader. They have people around them who will do whatever it takes to keep the boss happy. Since such leaders often change their minds on a whim, their employees have to engage in a high stakes game of trying to stay on the right side of the boss, without knowing when that side might change. “Good” policies are those that please the leader, regardless of how they actually work.
Probably Trump’s most glaring failure of leadership is in his response to COVID-19. Trump is not to blame for COVID-19 entering the U.S. His failure stems from his unwillingness to act on what he knew to protect the American people. He claimed that “no one knew” how bad the virus could be, but as the Bob Woodward tapes showed, even Trump knew the dangers. Trump claimed he didn’t want to create a panic. That’s fine, but a good leader tells his people the truth while providing a reasonable plan to solve the problem so that they can have faith in his leadership. He doesn’t hide the truth and pretend nothing’s wrong. By failing to be honest about the virus Trump discouraged Americans from taking actions that would have saved lives.
Trump feared that radical actions might crash the stock market and endanger his reelection campaign, because it was so dependent on the economy doing well, and Trump equates the stock market with the economy. Trump was prioritizing his reelection over the health of the nation.
The proof of his failure is how the U.S. compares to the rest of the world. We have the most deaths and one of the highest per capita death rates in the world. COVID-19 doesn’t care what your politics are, but it does highlight a failure of leadership.
The countries with the best responses to the pandemic had leaders that created national plans that isolated people with the virus (through contact tracing and quarantine), shut down things where there was a danger of spreading the virus, and encouraged individuals to take steps to reduce the spread (social distancing, mask wearing and hand-washing). President Trump, on the other hand, refuses to wear a mask, and contrary to his own policy, encouraged people who fought against state efforts to control the spread. Trump claimed that the states should be responsible for dealing with the pandemic, not him. Good leaders take charge and solve problems; they don’t disclaim responsibility.
Good leaders lead by example. Traditionally, the president of the United States is a role model. Parents encourage their children to follow the example of the president. Does anyone want their child to act like the current president? The Marines have a tradition, “officers eat last.” The idea being that good leaders value and depend on the condition of their troops, and they will make sure their subordinates have what they need to be successful. Needless to say, this is not Trump’s style.
An ideal leader is mentally strong, knowledgeable, intelligent, focused, disciplined, caring, able to be empathetic, and confident but not arrogant. Trump is none of those things.
Trump conflates force and violence with strength. That’s why he admires dictators. But good leaders inspire people to follow them, they don’t appeal to our predilections for violence. Gandhi demonstrates this; he was physically small and non-violent, but he was a powerful leader because he inspired his followers to work heroically toward a common goal.
Donald Trump had no political experience when he ran for president, and he never expected to win. A majority of voters recognized this and voted against him; only the distortions of the Electoral College elevated him to the office. On Nov. 3, we need to correct that mistake.
Kent James is an East Washington resident and has degrees in history and policy management from Carnegie Mellon University. He is an adjunct professor of history at Washington & Jefferson College.