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Trump’s viral legacy

“Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is … fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” — President Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1933.

“Let us not seek to fix the blame for the past. Let us accept our own responsibility for the future.” — Senator John F. Kennedy, 1958.

“And then I see the disinfectant where it knocks it out in a minute — one minute — and is there a way we can do something like that by injection inside, or almost a cleaning? … Because you see it gets in the lungs and it does a tremendous number on the lungs, so it would be interesting to check that.” — President Donald J. Trump, 2020.

The above quotes really tell us all we need to know about the state of American leadership in times of pending, or actual, crisis. Over the last six weeks, this nation has been held hostage to an unmitigated human disaster which, by comparison, makes the COVID-19 crisis look relatively simple to solve. At this critical moment in our history, it is my opinion that the person who carries the title President of the United States is daily illustrating his unparalleled and unchecked ignorance, his pathetic, bottomless need for self-congratulation and a willful determination to undermine the medical experts who form his Vice President’s Coronavirus Task Force. Every day. Two hours a day. The coronavirus presser cratering into no-apology re-election opportunism.

Far from inspiring either public confidence or a sense that he is seriously invested in this critical public health mission, Trump appears an affectless, broken man trespassing into circumstances well over his head. After an initial monotone recitation of sentences he does not understand and clearly has never reviewed, he reverts to the exact same shop-worn generalizations trotted out since this crisis began: “I cut off China well before …”; “They made me shut down the greatest economy the world has ever seen …”; “If we’d just done nothing, as some people told me …” Again and again, as if trying to brainwash himself, Trump relentlessly forces his way past the boundaries of credibility and responsibility. Who are “they” who made you, the President of the United states, shut down the economy? Who in his or her right mind, Limbaugh and Hannity aside, ever advised you to “do nothing?”

Every single bit of Trumpformation is “incredible,” “amazing,” “beautiful,” “bigger,” “better,” “more than ever before,” “a complete success;” while everything else is “perfect.” And that is a truly remarkable learning curve for a President faced with a crisis he himself describes in these terms: “who could ever have imagined?” or “nobody could ever have guessed,” “nobody ever thought this could happen,” and “I inherited garbage, an empty cupboard.” I guess this binary rhetorical scheme is designed to prompt the American people into hosannahs over the fact that he is at the helm during this most dangerous time. I, for one, am not “feeling it.”

Time and again over these weeks, Trump’s remarks have had to be quickly “walked back” even to enter the orbit of what the scientific/medical profession knows, or has come to understand, about this virus. The past days’ messes — from declaring himself America’s Sun King (before the next day abandoning that ridiculous stance), pooh-poohing the return of this virus in the fall (immediately contradicting advice from his hand-picked medical expert) to his latest desperate ruminations regarding the efficacy of virus victims being injected with “light and disinfectants” are among the ugliest examples of this nation’s President sapping confidence in, and legitimacy from, the scientific/medical operation behind him. And again today, the President at some point in the proceedings seems to sense that many … simply no longer believe him. Thus predictably begins the familiar “lashing out” process … again.

And the American public is left daily with the all-too-familiar image of its commander-in-chief playing reality mogul, in short order acting the savior, the victim, the bully … and ultimately, the one who proudly displays that he knows less about this crisis than anyone else in the room! He simply has the loudest mouth, and revels in the fear of those who dare to question him … But at this juncture, a traumatized economy, as well as the battered optimism of the American people, can no longer absorb such purposeless drama and debilitating ineptitude from the highest level of government without having its spirit broken.

I write this knowing many readers will disagree, and I fully accept that. My belief is that the resolution to this pandemic will evolve gradually, in fits and starts, through application of the best practices science and medicine can bring to bear, and not through the “aspirational” daily sales pitch of a carnival barker with re-election “fever.”

Apparently during a recent White House meeting, a messaging guru came up with the bromide, “The cure can’t be worse than the illness.” A nicely-rounded observation which sadly has devolved to this: “The messenger has become as dangerous as the illness.”

Stephen Huddy, retired head principal of Williamsport Area High School, is a documentary film creator, local history author and strong community advocate. He and his wife Martha reside in Williamsport.

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