I’m pretty sure Donald Trump thinks of former President Barack Obama on a daily basis. I can hear him saying, “Anything you can do, I can do better. I can do anything better than you!”
There are far too many instances where Trump and his administration have not risen to the occasion for the American public. His latest way of dealing with the coronavirus is yet another instance of the president hoping a calamity will just miraculously go away.
Last month, he firmly stated that the United States would only have to deal with the one coronavirus case on our soil, and that the virus would simply not affect the American economy. As an afterthought, he followed up by saying the virus would not affect the American people.
As with almost all things with this presidency, the Trump administration places its priorities in the direction of the economy and Trump’s reelection prospects, instead of thinking first and foremost about the safety of the American people.
Trump could learn a thing to two from the leadership of Obama.
The first thing the president could do is fund departments that are in place for the safety of the American people. In 2018, Trump decided to disband the dedicated pandemic team on the White House’s National Security Council. Without the professionals observing national and global diseases and viruses, valuable time was lost and resources were not deployed in a timely fashion.
The job of that team was to prevent the global spread of viruses in towns and cities across the United States. President Obama famously dealt with Ebola and the H1N1 (swine flu) epidemics. He was notorious for surrounding himself with scholars and leaders in their respective fields. He was aware that there were indeed scientists who possessed knowledge he did not.
Unlike Trump, Obama did not brag about having an uncle who attended MIT, which somehow made him possess the scientific acumen and a “natural instinct” to deal with a growing pandemic.
Trump should also work with governors who are on the front lines. The president cannot resist taking to Twitter, as we have continued to suffer through his daily rants and axes to grind. Three governors who are battling the growing coronavirus pandemic in their states with limited funding and medical support are Governors Jay Inslee (Washington), Gavin Newson (California), and Andrew Cuomo (New York).
Not only are the governors struggling to contain the virus and test the citizens of their state, they are all Democrats. Trump carries grudges and personal vendettas toward these individuals and struggles to work with any members of the Democratic party. It would behoove the president to follow the lead of Obama post Hurricane Sandy and genuinely reach out to governors, regardless of political party.
Obama famously went to New Jersey after the devastating effects of Sandy and worked closely with then Republican Gov. Chris Christie to ensure that the citizens of New Jersey were safe and given the resources they so desperately needed.
More than anything, Trump needs to show some grace and lead. He wanted the job and he has it. Just earlier this week, when asked about his response to the rapidly spreading coronavirus and lack of testing for what could affect millions of Americans, the president famously said, “I take responsibility for nothing.”
He is the executive of the United States. He was once an executive of several (failed) companies, so presumably he knows what it is like to be in charge. There is no passing the blame. Governors report to the president. Americans rely on the leadership of the president. Congress is looking for direction from the president. Unlike his predecessor, Trump refuses to take responsibility for his actions or the ramifications of his inaction.
Throughout his tenure, Obama was insistent that any failures that occurred under his presidency were his responsibility. He was the leader, his cabinet reported to him and he was adamant that it was his duty to protect the American people. Trump should look to the eight years of Obama’s leadership and put his ego aside. That may be a tall order since we have not seen that level of cognitive ability from this current president.
Sadly, coronavirus has arrived and the worst is likely yet to come. Because of the president’s series of failures we are left to rely on state and local governments for real guidance and legitimate information. In the days and weeks to come, many Americans will need to rely on the kindness of strangers and the good fellowship of neighbors, friends, and family members.
In the 1960s, many Americans looked to the federal government for leadership and solutions on civil rights, immigration and voting equity. It appears that we must now look to the states to provide the necessary expertise and knowledge to assist us through what could be an unnecessarily long storm.
We will rise to the occasion as we have in the past. Let us use the behavior that was modeled by our 44th president to help us survive the tenure of the 45th.
Christina Greer is the politics editor at theGrio, an associate professor of political science at Fordham university, and the author of “Black Ethnics: Race, immigration, and the pursuit of the American Dream.”