We no longer need to wonder how the president will respond to his first national crisis. In the days following the white supremacy march on Charlottesville, and the first terrorist attack on his watch, President Trump’s leadership skills and moral authority came down to one phone call.
How long did it take him to call the victim’s, Heather Heyer’s, mother? The answer: five days. Five long, unconscionable days before the president could be bothered to offer condolences to the mother of a 32 year-old victim of domestic terror.
The president also did not attend Ms. Heyer’s funeral. He did not offer to give the eulogy. He did not use his words to comfort the Charlottesville community or the country. The president chose this time of national crisis to, predictably, rant defensively during a press conference.
Is this what America First looks like?
Many Americans voted for Trump’s America First pledge and in spite of his lewd and derisive rhetoric. They voted for him because they wanted a businessman, a non-politician, to run the country. They voted for him because they saw in him a fighter who would, in turn, fight for them. Some simply voted against Hillary Clinton, saying they did not trust her and worried she might spend her presidency under FBI investigation.
We have been made fools on all counts.
The president is under investigation.
The president fights, but mostly for his own self-preservation. He fights daily, and in public, with members of his own party, including his senate majority leader. “McConnell is outraged that Trump refuses to learn about governing, and continues to attack his own party’s senators. Trump is blaming McConnell for not protecting him from the Russia investigation.”
Most ironically, Trump does not bring any solid business acumen to the executive branch because he never ran a company with production standards, nor has he ever been held accountable to a board of directors or stockholders. And though he claims to be a master negotiator, the best dealmaker, he simply strong-arms and threatens.
“Do what I want or else” is not dealmaking or negotiating. It is bullying.
And for a man who ran for president as a non-politician, he continues to spend most of his time running for office. During his 2020 campaign rallies, which began exactly one month after his inauguration, he whines about the media (“CNN is so bad and so pathetic and their ratings are going down”), calls his perceived enemies names (“Little George Stephanopolous”), and tosses around the same, old, tired red-meat lines (“Build the wall, fake news, lock her up”) to fawning, cult-like crowds.
As conservative Joe Scarborough described his latest rally in Phoenix, “It was a hateful, derisive speech. It was a frightening speech.”
In his brilliant, unflinching book covering the 2016 campaign, Jared Yates Sexton nails down the substance which infuses the president’s style. “This kind of hatred, this back-against-the-wall mentality, is the feeling of raw panic that Fox News and its predecessors and contemporaries have sought to cultivate for the last 40-some-odd years. Every election is one more opportunity to stop the growing fascist momentum of liberalism, a last chance to slow the rising tide of immigrants and moochers and enemies of the state before they finally kill off the Constitution and come for your family.”
It is no accident that the president, now the most savvy of politicians, gets most autocratic, animated and passionate when he is free from the teleprompter, playing to that “feeling of raw panic” in his crowds, stoking division and maniacal rage from the rally stage.
Is this presidential? Is this leadership?
At his most recent campaign stop in Arizona, the president did not visit, mention, or offer thoughts and prayers for the state’s senior Sen. John McCain, a war hero who has served this country for decades and who is currently undergoing chemotherapy and radiation for one of the most insidious forms for brain cancer.
We need the president to call upon his better angels, though we have to wonder, seven months in, if such angels exist.
The president did not call Heather Heyer’s mother for five days. She was not his priority. We are not his priority. We no longer have to wonder how he will respond in a crisis.
The Trump Train has jumped the tracks. How can any honorable American remain on board?