For the last 3 plus years we have been treated to photo-ops of Trump seated at the head of a long conference table while those in attendance take turns flattering him. Those who are blowing kisses and throwing flowers have got to be sick to their stomachs before, during and after these shameful experiences. No one wants to be filmed groveling. It must be humiliating in the extreme, but they do it anyway. Why? My best guess is that they do it because of fear. Those who get to the point of not being able to take it anymore leave or get fired. The result is an administration depleted of highly valuable talent, competent and dedicated career civil servants and an inability to attract the type of person the country needs.
It is a study in human nature to carefully watch Trump’s coronavirus press briefings. When Trump finishes butchering the prepared remarks, mangling the facts, going off-script, setting exactly the wrong tone, airing his grievances and bashing the assembled news media, the Democrats and Obama (and, maybe a few foreign governments), Pence steps to the microphone to do damage control, but you will notice that he always begins with profuse praise for Trump and sprinkles in copious amounts of praise throughout his remarks. (Video property of Guardian News)
Has there ever been a more sycophantic, obsequious guy than Pence? I don’t know where he has put his pride and self-respect, but it is darn sure hidden from public view. Pence is clearly afraid not to praise Trump. He will never say Trump was wrong or mistaken and no one else will either. That leaves us in a position of receiving two (2) messages: one from Trump that is likely wrong (intentionally or mistaken) and political, and another message, hopefully the correct one, from a more credible source such as Dr. Anthony Fauci. You will note that Dr. Fauci never criticizes or praises Trump. He also carefully avoids controversy. Thank goodness we have him. He is only concerned with the facts.
There was a moment recently in a press conference (briefing) that, for me, said it all. Trump was asked by a member of the media if he accepted any responsibility. Trump replied that he accepted no responsibility, “none at all”. Another reporter then asked if he accepted responsibility for dismantling the National Security Council’s pandemic response team in 2018 that was responsible for responding to global health issues (pandemics, etc.). Trump said no, he was not responsible, and then immediately blamed “his people”. He fumbled for a moment or two more with nonsense or gibberish and, when he got flustered because of the obvious implications of the question, he turned to his entourage and asked “Tony” to answer the question. The broadcast I was watching didn’t cover “Tony’s” response, but I assume he was asking Dr. Anthony Fauci (Tony?) to save him. In less than 60 seconds Trump had totally denied any and all responsibility for anything and everything, blamed unnamed others for an obvious big mistake in judgment, and asked someone who is respected to bail him out when he didn’t know the facts and/or couldn’t come up with a suitable answer. It is no sin to not know details on the spur of the moment, but if you are the president, it is a big sin to not know a major fact about why your administration presided over the dismantling of a team of experts charged with the responsibility of preparing us for a global health emergency when you have been criticized for weeks for that very thing. This was no gotcha question. He should have known the question was coming and should have known the answer if, indeed, there was an answer. There is no legitimate excuse for our country not being better prepared. Pandemics have always happened and they always will happen.
It has been argued that many who have served in the Trump administration have done so because they are putting the good of the country ahead of everything else, but that shouldn’t be necessary. A truly good leader attracts the best to himself, gladly accepts their input, defers to them in their area of expertise, and never wants, much less requires, personal adulation. Those who serve “at the pleasure of the president” are serving the country, not the president in his personal capacity. The price for public service should never be the sacrifice of honesty, pride and self-respect. Those who are willing to pay that price do us more harm than good.
I’m an admirer of Winston Churchill and his writing (Image property of Wikipedia.com). In the mid-1930s Churchill commented to his wife, Clementine, about the appointment of another politician to a very important Cabinet office at a critical time before World War II. Churchill said: “I’m afraid the appointment to such a high office will catch him out.” By that Churchill meant that the demands of the office would reveal the inadequacy, limitations and shortcomings of the politician. Failure would be obvious and there would be no hiding from responsibility. Churchill also said at this critical moment in pre-World War II history: “War does not always wait for the combatants to be ready.” He believed in being ready. The cost of not being ready was annihilation. Not only was Trump not ready, he chose to eliminate the very people at the National Security Council whose job it was to be ready.
It is always difficult to see the blessings during a crisis, but it could be a lot worse. It will eventually pass and we will find our way through by the “one day at a time, one step at a time” method. We are finding new leaders. We are relearning forgotten lessons of preparedness and teamwork. Because we are relying upon them for accurate information, we are remembering the vital importance of legitimate news sources. We are, for the most part, pulling together and those that aren’t, can’t or won’t do their part will be brought into line through social pressure. Last, but certainly not least, we are seeing who is and who is not up to the task of effective leadership, i.e., who is caught out and who is not. There are some who are good surprises and some who are big disappointments. In the end, we will be better off if we discover who our true leaders are in this survivable crisis rather than one that could be far worse.
A final thought from an inspirational speaker I heard on the radio last week: “Don’t look for the blessing – be the blessing.”