Pelosi talked about the historical connection between the congressional delegation that she led to Ghana, the “Door of No Return” for slaves bound for America and the tragic history that awaited those who survived the Middle Passage. She talked about what she had seen at the Legacy Museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Ala. But it was Pelosi’s response to my last question — Is a Democrat going to win the White House? — that stuck with me.
“I thought our Democrat would win last time. A Democrat has to win this time,” Pelosi said emphatically. “Our great country is resilient and great, and it could survive even one term of somebody like Donald Trump. Two terms and what he could do to the courts, to the system of law and order in our country, to the air our children and grandchildren breathe is almost irreparable with a second term.”
That same evening, more than 700 miles south at Trump’s private club Mar-a-Lago, a party was underway for his son’s girlfriend that exposed another reason that a second term poses a danger to the nation. As the New York Times reported, in the week since that lavish party, “the presidential estate in Florida has become something of a coronavirus hot zone. A growing number of Mar-a-Lago guests from last weekend have said they are infected or put themselves into quarantine.”
From a health standpoint, it is worrying that the president has come into contact with so many people in the past two weeks who have tested positive for the coronavirus. From the prism of leadership, the president and his administration have been an absolute failure. The buck never, ever stops with this president.
Trump’s March 11 address from the Oval Office, sloppily shepherded by his son-in-law, was meant to calm a jittery nation and markets. Instead, his ad libs and errors led to a market meltdown in real time. The address was also heavy on xenophobia and blame-deflection, as Trump tried to ignore his days of playing down a crisis, despite Italy’s efforts to put its 60 million residents under nationwide lockdown.
By Friday afternoon in the Rose Garden, Trump was commanding the nation’s attention again to declare a national emergency. Great. But then he oversold a coronavirus testing effort being devised by an entity owned by the parent company of Google. The president also failed to model the behavior public health experts are pleading with the rest of us to observe while refusing to acknowledge that he might need to be tested for the virus. The next day, Trump revealed that he indeed had gotten tested and the White House announced that his test came back negative. Considering his daily lies, color me unconvinced. And then there was the chaos at airports across the nation Saturday night as the president’s ban on flights from Europe went into effect.
Still, nothing was more shocking for the future of this country than the president’s response to questions from Kristen Welker of NBC News and Yamiche Alcindor of “PBS NewsHour.” Welker wanted to know whether Trump took responsibility for the lag in testing for the coronavirus. “No, I don’t take responsibility at all,” the president said. Later, Alcindor followed up with a question about his decision to disband the White House pandemic office. “What responsibility do you take [for] that?” Alcindor asked. After declaring the query “nasty,” Trump went on to say, “And when you say ‘me,’ I didn’t do it.” When Alcindor reminded him that it is his administration, the president said, “I could ask perhaps — my administration — but I could ask Tony [Fauci] about that because I don’t know anything about it. I mean, you say — you say we did that. I don’t know anything about it.”
Ever since Harry S. Truman put a sign on his desk that read “the buck stops here,” presidents have embraced the mantra as a responsibility that comes with the job. Not Trump. When things go wrong, he rarely knows anything. More often than not, he blames his predecessor, Barack Obama. But it is in these moments that the American people most want to hear their president acknowledge mistakes, express sympathy for those harmed by his errors and demonstrate empathy for the aggrieved.
Leading our nation requires selflessness. It demands putting one’s personal interests far behind the national interest. It means striving to be a reflection of our better selves and projecting the moral authority that comes from doing all of these things. To varying degrees, these are the characteristics of Trump’s 44 predecessors that helped to make the United States a superpower. Unfortunately, Trump has shown time and again how void he is of any of them.
This is why, as Pelosi told me, a Democrat “has to win this time.” The election is about more than defeating Trump. It’s about saving the nation at home and restoring the hopeful idea of America abroad.
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