I’ve been reading Erik Larson’s new book, “The Splendid and the Vile,” which chronicles the first year of Winston Churchill’s wartime stint as prime minister. He was a gifted rhetorician who used the power of words to move a nation. He combined grim candor with upbeat inspiration: “It would be foolish to disguise the gravity of the hour. It would be still more foolish to lose heart and courage.”
What we’re saddled with today is precisely the opposite. Not Churchill at his best, but vaudeville at its worst.
Did you happen to catch Trump’s act Wednesday night in the Oval Office? Nothing could be more clownish than hearing a fake president confront America’s dark hour by screwing up three policy pronouncements in 10 minutes. Either his hapless handlers loaded errors onto his TelePrompter, or, just as likely, this guy read the text wrong because he had no clue what he was reading.
And the way he read the text…as we know, inspiring fellow Americans is certainly not Trump’s metier. He looked like a drugged sullen schoolboy serving detention, forced to write “I will behave” on a blackboard. But never mind that. His fake facts were worse.
For instance, while announcing a xenophobic travel ban between America and Europe (to supposedly fight a “foreign” virus that’s already here), he said “these prohibitions will not only apply to the tremendous amount of trade and cargo, but various other things as we get approval.” What? No more trade? No more cargo imports? The Trump regime subsequently said that, oops, his travel ban does not apply to trade and cargo.
During his address, Trump also made it sound like his ban would prevent traveling U.S. citizens from returning to their country — with the exception of those citizens who’ve undergone “appropriate screenings.” The Trump regime subsequently said that, oops, his ban exempts all U.S. citizens, it’s mostly intended to target certain foreign nationals.
And during his address, Trump announced a major breakthrough with health insurers: “I met with the leaders of the health insurance industry who have agreed to waive all co-payments for coronavirus treatments.” Turns out, that was bull. A spokesman for the health insurance lobby later said that insurers will only waive “for testing. Not for treatment.”
Even worse was what he didn’t say at all. Amidst all his patriotic breast-beating, he never mentioned that the United States isn’t mass-testing its citizens the way other countries are, much less tried to explain the reasons for our poor preparedness. That he would never do, of course, because that would require owning up to his manifest failures.
Which brings us to his most notable omission: His three-year mission to hollow out the federal offices and agencies that are most needed now. “Acting” Trump flunkies — as opposed to Senate-confirmed experts — have been installed in key health and science posts at Homeland Security, the State Department, the Transportation Department, USAID, and the National Science Foundation. Trump’s proposed Centers for Disease Control budget cuts are still on the table. And worst of all, of course, was his 2018 decision to erase the global health response team that was created by President Obama.
Trump, last week, was asked why he fired all those people. This was his response: “Well, I just don’t think — I just don’t think that somebody is going to — without seeing something, like we saw happening in China. As soon as they saw that happening, they essentially — not from the White House. I mean, you know, we don’t need a lab in the White House…Who would have thought we would even be having the subject?”
And this guy thinks Joe Biden is incoherent.
Twenty-fifth amendment, anyone? What more evidence of his unfitness does anyone need? Watching him address the nation, you could almost smell the flop sweat.
Gary Kasparov, the celebrated Russian dissident now living in America, said it best last night in a tweet: “Trump is afraid not because Americans will die, or because the economy is tanking, but because he’s accountable at last, exposed as the fraud he’s been his entire life.”
And in some celestial realm, Winston Churchill, who had the good fortune to deal with FDR, is marveling how we’ve fallen so far.
Dick Polman, a veteran national political columnist based in Philadelphia and a Writer in Residence at the University of Pennsylvania, writes at DickPolman.net. Email him at email@example.com