Donald Trump and his fans are learning that karmic externalities are a bitch. They're learning that you can get away with a chain of scams, business failures, bankruptcies, and branding disasters and win the presidency but still fail utterly as a president and a person.
It took a global pandemic, the bursting of the Fed-fueled stock market bubble, and an opponent Trump can't face. It doesn't read Twitter, watch Fox, or respond to derisive nicknames. It took a plague to peel back the scales from his eyes finally, and even now, too many Trumpist Republicans insist this is fine. Heckuva job, Trumpie.
His enablers know the truth and have tried to turn the battleship of bullshit toward it. They know Trump didn't just mishandle the Coronavirus crisis, and he did so with his political standing and benefit in mind. Trump spent six weeks claiming to his soft-minded followers that the worst public health crisis since the 1918 H1N1 Spanish Flu was a fake news Democratic media hoax. He shook hands and shared microphones and touched his umber jowls and modeled what not to do even after he'd been in a room with people with the virus—doing his damnedest to make my warning that how Everything Trump Touches Dies a literal as well as a serious one.
Sure, we warned them a million times. The evidence before the election of 2016 was utterly clear to see and every damn minute of his corrupt and chaotic reign of misrule smacked Americans in the face like a cast-iron frying pan yielded by a vicious ex, but Republicans kept defending him. They kept excusing him. They kept cheering every fuckup, every crime, and every insult to America's charter and our character.
They excused every lie, forgave every incompetent utterance and ideological heresy. How's that working out now that the feces has impacted the rotating blades?
He can hold a thousand sweaty monster-Trump rallies, but when the call to leadership is bigger than shittweeting insults and delivering nicknames, Trump's world goes sideways. He can do press conferences full of lies, whoppers, and time-machine hindsight like “I'd rate it at 10. I think we've done a great job” and “I don't take responsibility for anything at all” and “I felt it was a pandemic long before it was called a pandemic” were capped by today's gem about how “It kind of snuck up on us.” This is a president, and a White House, out of its depth and out of its mind with the plain reality that he's making it up as he goes along. The scientists and doctors on the stage with him seem as focused on avoiding his wrath as they are on defeating the virus.
When tested by the fire of crisis, Trump showed us what he's always been: a weak, spoiled, intellectually vacant conman who has stumbled through a life of betrayal and failure papered over by bullshit and public relations. The media image from The Apprentice that hypnotized so many Trump voters was always the product of Mark Burnett's writers' room, not reality. The bold leader was a teleprompter confection, a D-grade celebrity playing a C-grade CEO in a reality show.
Sorry, MAGAs, but Trump must face blame for the viral Chernobyl that is rolling over our population now; the one thing you never get back when fighting an epidemic is time. He spent weeks spinning that Coronavirus/COVID-10 was no big deal, and that there was no crisis about to scythe through our nation.
He had the usual vigorous ass-kissing from the human centipede of Trump media bootlicks, toadies, and ball-washers from the Fox C-suite down to lunatic bloggers and social-media flotsam. They've been very busy the last few days trying to retcon Trump's colossal incompetence and indifference from January until this week.
He soft-pedaled the crisis even as it grew in scope and risk. His minions and minders repeatedly said that this crisis was contained. He promised a vaccine that is, at best, a year away. He promised testing, without the intention or ability to deliver. He compared it to the common flu, which left disease specialists and epidemiologists heads exploding worldwide. He failed as a leader, from the very start.
In my political practice, one thing I handled outside campaigns was crisis management for politicians, corporations, and governments. While it's not always glamorous, crisis management specialists do a vital job of—to use a term of political art—unfucking human errors. Good leadership helps.
Good leaders react to a crisis swiftly and honestly. Bad leaders blameshift, lie, cover-up, and try to rewrite history. Good crisis leadership has a set of consistent characteristics; it is honest, transparent, and prompt. The path Trump chose, naturally, was the opposite.
Terrible leaders pretend there is no crisis, lie to their stakeholders, the press, and the public. They are frequently shocked by how bad it really looks from the outside. They minimize impacts, and issue statements that are either overly lawyered or blustery swagger. They hold daily press briefings with more heat than light, more hat than cattle.
Donald Trump's mistake with the COVID-19 pandemic was simple; the virus doesn't follow him on Twitter. The virus doesn't care about his rages. The virus doesn't care about the Trumphadis of Fox News, Breitbart, and elsewhere. It does what it does, and exploits time and complacency in its human hosts. Trump gave it a six-week pass.
The men and women from the CDC, HHS, and corporate America being dragged before the cameras to serve as a backdrop for the daily press briefings show it in their haunted eyes. They know the CEO of this particular operation is President von Munchausen, and that their jobs have been made infinitely more difficult by his ineptitude—“Hey, let's put Jared in charge” said no one, ever—lies, delays, and the agitprop culture war strategy of this White House.
Why is every part of the Trump media apparatus trying to drag the Democrats into a culture war battle by calling the Coronavirus or COVID-19 the “Chinese Flu” or the “Wu-Flu” or the “Kung-Flu”? It's because they understand that it's the last refuge of the scoundrel culture they've created.
They want the MAGA base to have a political enemy to attack, and there's nothing that pisses off Trump's followers more than being called racists, even as they earn that merit badge over and over. Secretary of Hate Stephen Miller and Oberst-Docuhenführer Steve Bannon are rubbing their hands and cackling like movie villains. They're delighted to expand their propaganda war beyond the usual fear centers; instead of Mexican rapists, immigrant caravans, and shithole countries, they're rebooting the old Yellow Peril tropes for their remixed racist memes.
The catalog of excuses for Donald Trump's mishandling of the early, vital weeks of the Coronavirus story will go down in the annals of political mendacity, in part because the evidence is so abundant, so much video exists, and the change in tone from complacency to panic is so evident.
The Trump media agitprop arm’s desperate attempt to pretend their robust “it's just the flu” and “this is just duh librul media trying to hurt Trump” defenses never happened is astounding. The internet remembers, and they can't undo the last six weeks of excuse-making on Trump's behalf.
There are good leaders, bad leaders, and lucky leaders. Sometimes good leaders have bad luck. Sometimes bad leaders have good luck. This time, we've got a bad leader whose luck finally ran out, and whose reservoir of trust outside his base is essentially zero.
And we're not even at the end of the beginning of this pandemic. God help us.