Pandemic Journal (# 17): More Demonstrations of Trump’s Incompetence

Pandemic Journal (# 11) set forth at least some of the reasons why, in my opinion, Donald Trump is utterly incompetent as president. Every day seems to bring more proof for that conclusion, and I prefer to avoid documenting those reasons so that I have time to do something more personally enriching.

However, two recent incidents are so outrageous that I cannot let them go without adding them to his many sins.

 Trump’s Interview in the Lincoln Memorial[1]

On Sunday, May 3, Trump arranged to have his interview by two Fox News anchors (Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum) televised from the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

During the interview, the President said the death toll from the coronavirus pandemic may reach as high as 100,000, which was twice as high as he had forecast only two weeks ago. He also claimed that his efforts had prevented that total  from reaching “a million two, a million four, a million five, that’s the minimum. We would have lost probably higher, it’s possible higher than 2.2million.” Nevertheless, the President said he favored lifting the stay-at-home orders and other restrictions.

While he admitted he had been warned about the virus on January 23, he said it was presented as “not a big deal.”  A week later, on January 30, he decided to block entry to the U.S. by most foreign nationals coming from China, but he said that was not caused by the earlier warning.

“I am greeted with a hostile press the likes of which no president has ever seen. The closest would be that gentleman right up there. They always said Lincoln – nobody got treated worse than Lincoln. I believe I am treated worse.”

Max Boot, an historian, best-selling author, foreign policy analyst and Washington Post columnist, places this Trump interview in a broader context. Boot observes, “We are in the midst of a once-in-a century crisis, with death totals having already exceeded the number of Americans killed during the Vietnam War and unemployment numbers approaching Great Depression levels. We are desperate for leadership of the kind provided by Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt. We need a president who will empathize with an ailing nation while explaining why the current sacrifice is necessary on the road to victory.”

Instead, says Boot, “we have a president who threw a pity party for himself at the Lincoln Memorial, claiming he is ‘treated worse’ than a president who was assassinated. The Civil War leader whom Trump resembles is not the resolute Lincoln but the failed Gen. George McClellan — who was indecisive, conceited and intolerant of criticism.”

Dana Milbank, another Washington Post columnist, agrees. He says, “Only a man of Trump’s peculiar sense of victimhood could believe that he has been “treated worse” than a predecessor killed by an assassin’s bullet. And a review of press criticism of Lincoln confirms, as expected, that Trump’s self-pity is as silly as it sounds.”

In response to criticism about holding the interview in the Lincoln Memorial that his aides had arranged by getting the Secretary of Interior to waive a rule against political events inside the Memorial, Trump even said that this location was Fox’s choice, not his.

 Trump’s Response to President George W. Bush[2]

On May 2, former President George W. Bush’s three-minute videotaped segment was presented on TV as part of a 24-hour live-streamed “The Call to Unite” that also featured former President Bill Clinton, Oprah Winfrey, Tim Shriver, Julia Roberts. Martin Luther King III, Sean Combs, Quincy Jones, Naomi Judd, Andrew Yang and others.

Mr. Bush said, in part, “Let us remember how small our differences are in the face of this shared threat,” while in the background were music and photographs of medical workers helping victims of the virus and of ordinary Americans wearing masks. Bush then concluded, “In the final analysis, we are not partisan combatants. We are human beings, equally vulnerable and equally wonderful in the sight of God. We rise or fall together and we are determined to rise.” He did not mention President Trump.

Early the next morning, Trump fired off a tweet. First, he paraphrased a Fox News personality as saying, “Oh by the way, I appreciate the message from former President Bush, but where was he during Impeachment calling for putting partisanship aside.” Then Trump added, “He was nowhere to be found in speaking up against the greatest Hoax in American history!”

A Washington Post columnist, David Von Drehle, violated his own rule for not commenting on Trump’s Twitter comments by doing so for this one because it was “so nakedly revealing of its author’s values and character.” This Trump Tweet “embraced and simplified the idea that Bush’s remarks should properly be viewed through the prism of Trump’s political fortunes. . . . No doubt the president’s florid narcissism explains part of this reaction . . . . As the only noteworthy occupant of his own psychological state, Trump seems to think everything is about him. . . . Yet here, a plea for national unity [by a former president] is the occasion for a presidential rebuke. The only sensible explanation: the president has no interest in unity. . . . Bush’s statement hit Trump like an indictment. He knows that unifying the public is not on his agenda. He has no interest in bringing us together.”

Drehle concludes, “Our life-or-death struggle with a new disease has become, for Trump, just another chance to divide the country, to leverage resentments, to fuel suspicion, to antagonize his critics — in the slim hope that he’ll galvanize his supporters while demoralizing the opposition. That’s why he thinks the Bush statement is about him.”

More General Criticism of Trump[3]

Thomas Edsall, a New York Times columnist and a full-time member of the faculty at Columbia University Journalism School, quoted the following observations about Trump from prominent academics:

  • Stephen Walt, a professor of international affairs at Harvard, said that Trump has responded “to the [coronavirus] crisis with his now-familiar playbook: blaming others, denying responsibility, invoking racial differences and ‘foreign’ dangers, and trying to discredit honest reporting so that he can sell a false narrative about the great job he’s doing.”
  • Mira Rapp-Hooper, senior fellow for Asia Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote, “The U.S. government’s pandemic leadership has been its own special brand of catastrophe. The American president denied the threat, rejected scientific expertise, spread misinformation, and left state and local governments to fend for themselves in public trust violations of the highest order. With shambolic self-governance, the U.S. government has placed its own citizens in unnecessary peril, while sidelining itself from acting as a global crisis leader in a way that is unprecedented in the last seven decades. China is all too happy to fill the vacuum.”

As noted in a previous post, George Conway and several other prominent Republicans have formed a group (The Lincoln Project) to defeat Trump’s re-election this November. Conway recently reported that Trump had responded to this group in an early morning Tweet on May 5, attacking the members of this Project as “‘LOSERS,’ ‘loser types,’ ‘crazed” and ‘a disgrace to Honest Abe.’ About me, he said, ‘I don’t know what Kellyanne [Conway, a Trump aide] did to her deranged loser of a husband, Moonface, but it must have been really bad.”

This latest example of Trump’s outbursts prompted George Conway to say, “Now, it’s more obvious than ever. Trump’s narcissism deadens any ability he might otherwise have had to carry out the duties of a president in the manner the Constitution requires. He’s so self-obsessed, he can only act for himself, not for the nation. It’s why he was impeached, and why he should have been removed from office.”

“And it’s why he reacts with such rage. He fears the truth. He fears being revealed for what he truly is. Extreme narcissists exaggerate their achievements and talents, and so Trump has spent his life building up a false image of himself — not just for others, but for himself, to protect his deeply fragile ego. He lies endlessly, not just in the way sociopaths do, which is to con others, but also to delude himself. He claims to be a ‘genius,’ even though he apparently can’t spellcan’t punctuatecan’t do math and lacks geographic literacy, and even though his own appointees have privately called him a ‘moron,’ an ‘idiot,’ a ‘dope,’ and ‘dumb.’  Now, God help us, he fancies himself an expert in virology and infectious diseases.”

George Conway concluded, “Trump’s lying, his self-regard, his self-soothing, his lack of empathy, his narcissistic rage, his contempt for norms, rules, laws, facts and simple truths — have all come home to roost. Now he sees his poll numbers fall accordingly, and lashes out with ever-increasing anger. For deep in his psyche he knows the truth. Because he fears being revealed as a fake or deranged, he’ll call others fake or deranged. Because he fears losing, he’ll call them losers instead.”

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[1] Rogers, Most Events in the Lincoln Memorial Are Banned. Trump Got an Exception, N.Y. Times (May 4, 2020); Baker, Trump foresees Virus Death Toll as high as 100,000 in the United States, N.Y. Times (May 3, 2020); Wolfe, Dishonest Don’s Lincoln backdrop highlights his monumental errors, Guardian (May 6, 2020); Boot, Trump’s dithering proves one thing: We’re at war without a leader, Wash. Post (May 5, 2020); Milbank, ’I believe I am treated worse.’ Trump says. As if, Wash. Post (May 5, 2020).

[2] Baker, George W. Bush Calls for End to Pandemic Partisanship, N.Y. Times (May 3, 2020); Von Drehle, I usually ignore all Trump’s tweets. Not this one, Wash. Post (May 5, 2020).

[3] Edsall, Why Isn’t Trump Riding High? N.Y. Times (May 6, 2020); George Conway, George Conway: Trump went ballistic at me on Twitter. Here’s why he reacts with such rage, Wash. Post (May 6, 2020).

 

 

Beschloss Discusses “Presidents of War” at Westminster Town Hall Forum

On November 13, only one week after the U.S. mid-term election, Michael Beschloss appeared before an overflow crowd at Minneapolis’ Westminster Town Hall Forum to discuss his  recent book, Presidents of War: 1807 to Modern Times.[1] Below are photographs of Beschloss and the Westminster Sanctuary before the arrival of the crowd.

 

 

 

 

The Presidents of War

He made the following brief comments about the eight presidents of war who are covered in his book.

President James Madison and the War of 1812. This was the first and the most unpopular war in U.S. history, climaxed by the British burning of the White House and Madison’s  escaping to Virginia in August 1814. (The book covers this in the Prologue and Chapters Two and Three.)

President James Polk and the Mexican-American War (1846 1848). This war was started by the U.S. on the U.S.false assertion that Mexico had ambushed and killed an American soldier in the new state of Texas. The U.S. won the war and acquired more than 500,000 square miles of Mexican territory extending  west of the Rio Grande River to the Pacific Ocean.(This is covered in Chapters Four and Five.)

President Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War (1860-1865). Lincoln was the best president of war. Initially he was not a crusader and instead an enforcer of the  constitutional ban on secession, which was not a popular message. Later with the Gettysburg Address and the Second Inaugural Address he made it a moral crusade against slavery and the people began to follow Lincoln. (This is covered in Chapters Six and Seven.)

President William McKinley and the Spanish-American War, 1898.  This was another war started on a false assertion: Spain had blown up the USS Maine in the Havana Harbor, when in fact it was caused by an exploding boiler in the ship. This war resulted in the U.S.’ acquiring the Philippines, Puerto Rico and Guam from Spain and de facto control of Cuba. (This is covered in Chapters Eight and Nine of the book.)[2]

President Woodrow Wilson and World War I, 1917-1918. In his re-election campaign of 1916, Wilson’s slogan was “He kept us out of war,” but in April 2017 he had Congress declare war after German attacks on U.S. ships. In his well-meaning campaign for the League of Nations, Wilson made a lot of mistakes. (This is covered in Chapters Ten and Eleven.)

President Franklin D. Roosevelt and World War II, 1941-1945. Before the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, FDR gave very few speeches about the war in Europe, and there was strong U.S. public opinion against entering the war on the belief that World War I had been a mistake. Immediately after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, however, the Congress declared war against Japan, the last time the U.S. declared war under the Constitution. FDR learned from the war with the exception of treatment of Japanese-Americans.  (this is covered in Chapters Twelve and Thirteen.)

President Truman and  the Korean War (Conflict), 1950-1953.  According to Beschloss, Truman had read and written some history and had said one “could not be president without knowing history” and “every leader must be a reader.”(This is covered in Chapters Fourteen and Fifteen.)

President Lyndon Johnson and the Vietnam War, 1963-1969. This is another war started on a false U.S. assertion: the Vietnamese had attacked a U.S. ship in the Gulf of Tonkin, which lead to a congressional resolution supporting military action. The White House audio tapes of LBJ’s conversations revealed important information: (a) Senator Richard Russell urged LBJ to get out of the war; (b) Secretary of Defense McNamara urged LBJ to get involved, thereby disproving McNamara’s later denials of same; (c) LBJ came to believe that this was a war the U.S. could not win and could not lose; and (d) LBJ rejected the advice of General Westmoreland to use nuclear weapons in the war.  (This was discussed in Chapters Sixteen and Seventeen of the book.)

Commonalities of the Presidents of War

Beschloss identified two common characterizes of these presidents.

First, they all became more religious during their wars. Lincoln before the Civil War was a sceptic or agnostic, but during the war regularly read the Bible and talked about wars being “oceans of blood” that prompted his  seeking biblical guidance for sending young men to their death. Lyndon Johnson before the war was not a regular church-goer, but during the war, his daughter Lucy Baines Johnson Turpin, who had become a Roman Catholic, regularly and confidentially took LBJ to mass , and Lady Bird Johnson was heard to say he might convert to Catholicism.

Second, they all were married to strong women who gave good advice. In 1942 FDR  was considering internment of Japanese-Americans, and Eleanor warned him strongly not to do so. The subsequent internment caused a major rupture in their marriage.

In response to a question about whether any of the war presidents had military experience, he did not state the obvious: they had not except for Truman in World War I. Instead, he said that President Eisenhower, who is not covered in the book even though he presided over the end of the Korean War, had the “perfect” military experience resulting from his military education and training and command responsibility during World War Ii that provided him with the knowledge of the ends and means, the costs and the unpredictability of war.[3]

 The President of Peace

In response to a question, Beschloss identified only one president of peace:. President Thomas Jefferson in 1807 resisted public pressure to go to war with Great Britain over an attack by its ship (The Leopard) against a U.S. frigate (The Chesapeake) in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Virginia that killed three U.S. sailors and wounded eight others. (This is discussed in Chapter One of the book.)

 Advice to U.S. Citizens

All presidents need wisdom, courage and judgment. They need to be moral leaders.

Citizens, Senators and representatives need to evaluate and criticize presidents on important issues, especially those of war and peace.

In his book’s Epilogue, Beschloss says “the framers of the Constitution had dreamt that war would be a last resort under the political system they had invented. Unlike in Great Britain and other monarchies and dictatorships of old, it would be declared by Congress, not the chief of State.” Yet “the notion of presidential war took hold step by step.” We as citizens need to insist on obeying the Constitution and requiring congressional declarations of war.

Beschloss Biography

Beschloss is an award-winning author of nine books on presidential history. He is the presidential historian for NBC News and a contributor to PBS NewsHour. A graduate of Williams College and Harvard Business School, he has served as a historian for the Smithsonian Institution, as a Senior Associate Member at St. Antony’s College, Oxford, and as a Senior Fellow of the Annenberg Foundation. His books on the presidency include, among others, The Crisis Years: Kennedy and Khrushchev, 1960-1963; The Conquerors: Roosevelt, Truman and the Destruction of Hitler’s Germany; and Presidential Courage: Brave Leaders and How They Changed America, 1789-1989. His latest book, Presidents of War, was published in October. He is the recipient of the Harry S. Truman Public Service Award, the New York State Archives Award, and the Rutgers University Living History Award. He is a trustee of the White House Historical Association and the National Archives Foundation and a former trustee of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation.

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[1] Westminster Town Hall Forum, Michael Beschloss, Presidents of War: 1807 to Modern Times (Nov. 13, 2018) (the website also includes a livestream of the lecture and Q & A); Black, ‘Presidents of War’: Historian Michael Beschloss on leaders who’ve taken U.S. into battle, MinnPost (Nov. 14, 2018); Barnes & Noble, Presidents of War (2018).

[2] Before 1898, the U.S. had a desire to own or control Cuba that was promoted by by U.S. slaveholders desiring support of Cuban slaveholders, and after U.S. entry in 1898 into the Second Cuban War of Independence (what we call the Spanish-American War) and the U.S. defeat of the Spanish, the U.S. made Cuba a de facto protectorate that lasted until 1934. Since the 1959 overthrow of Batista by the Cuban Revolution, of course, the two countries have had a contentious relationship, including the U.S. Bay of Pigs invasion of  1961 and the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 that nearly erupted into war. (See posts listed in the “ U.S.-Cuba History, 1989-2010” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA.

[3] Another U.S. president with wartime experience, including injuries, was John F. Kennedy, who during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 helped to steer the U.S. out of a possible nuclear war with the USSR over its missiles in Cuba. (See posts listed in the “ U.S.-Cuba History, 1989-2010” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA.