My initial draft of this editorial began with the sentence, “Had Trump been President during World War II, you would be reading this piece in German or Japanese.” I went on to excoriate the President for his recent bizarre behavior and to revisit a handful of other issues that have made his presidency so memorable. You can guess what I mean.
A wise teacher once advised me that when you write in anger, it’s a good practice to set the piece aside before you hit send and reread it in the morning. I did this. My angry draft lacked civility. I ended the piece by calling Trump the Orange Menace. Upon reflection, I know that would not have changed any minds. It is cathartic to write this stuff, but usually succeeds only in strengthening the opinions of people who had already arrived at the same conclusions.
Thus, I set my draft aside and spent some time reflecting on why I am so angry. Part of the reason is that I do not understand how anyone, let alone the President, could act as he has in recent days. Who would dare to speculate on the curative impact of drinking or injecting bleach as an answer to the pandemic? Why did Trump ignore quality intelligence indicating that the pandemic was all but inevitable? Why did he announce that the virus would disappear in a few days when his own experts begged to differ? Inquiring minds want to know.
No doubt the thinking behind these and related episodes will be examined in depth in future days. Most likely, his lack of leadership on the virus will be shown to be part of a series of colossal misjudgments. The same type of thinking that led him to claim that he won the popular vote in 2016 is at play here. Also, remember, this is a man who claimed to trust Putin on the issue of election interference over his own intelligence agencies. He also claimed credit, thousands of times, for the strong economy that ended abruptly in February. What has happened since, of course, is the fault of the Democrats.
One might ask whether Trump understands the difference between truth and lies. He appears to believe that if you say something often enough and believe it yourself, that somehow it will come to pass. If this is true, saying the pandemic will end might end it. Saying that there are miracle drugs waiting to be used to “cure” the virus, will, in fact, do so. And saying that the economy will roar back in a few months’ time will heal the economic havoc wreaked by the lockdown.
When some of us call Trump bizarre, it is more a reference to his divorce from reality. There are many weird, eccentric, awkward people in the world, but only one is President of the United States and in a position to get us all sick, killed, or incinerated in a nuclear war. How did someone with little appreciation of how government works, other than, perhaps, how to game the rules, conclude he could succeed as President? Did Trump believe that familiarity with the Constitution and at least a passing knowledge of how Congress writes laws to be irrelevant? How did he choose the curious bucket of themes on which to base his Presidency—things like xenophobia, rejection of science, and open hostility to the press? Does he believe these themes make America better? And, how did this guy get elected? He may have stolen the election, but the fact that a good 40 to 45 percent of us voted for him has not been explained, at least not to my satisfaction.
Thus, I have unanswered questions. My lack of understanding is perhaps the real reason for my anger. Maybe once I figure it out, I will stop thinking of nasty things to say about the Orange Menace.
J.E. Dean of Oxford is a retired attorney and public affairs consultant. He is a former counsel to the House Committee on Education and Labor. For more than 30 years, he advised clients on federal education and social service policy.