President Donald Trump rang out in an all-caps tweet Monday morning “LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL!” It was a comment he echoed from his Sunday press conference saying that the U.S. is in the home stretch of the coronavirus crisis. He went on to say that he anticipated the country reopening in a few weeks.
The quote was one that Washington Post columnist Karen Tumulty noted was one that many other leaders have used at frightening times.
“It is difficult to imagine a poorer, more chilling choice of words,” she wrote. “Or one that more illuminates, if inadvertently, the consequences of the mixed-messages that Trump continues to send.”
She recalled that the rejoinder to the quote is generally, “Yeah, it’s a train,” which isn’t exactly the most reassuring.
“As every person of Trump’s generation should know, there is probably no phrase in modern history that so evokes a U.S. government that is not being straight with its people,” wrote Tumulty.
She recalled Gen. William Westmoreland assuring Americans that peace “lies within our grasp” during the Vietnam War.
“Westmoreland, as Trump so often seems to, saw the consequences of this in terms of his own reputation.,” she recalled.
“There is no way left for me to clear my name, my honor and the honor of the military,” Westmoreland said the day he filed a libel lawsuit against CBS for their 90-minute documentary called “The Uncounted Enemy: A Vietnam Deception.”
During the trial, “lawyer, David Boies, showed the witness a Nov. 26, 1967, cable he had sent during a visit to Washington to his deputy in Saigon, Gen. Creighton W. Abrams, in which the phrase ‘some light at the end of the tunnel’ was bracketed in quotation marks,” the New York Times reported at the time.
Boies asked Westmoreland: “Did you believe that degree of optimism was justified?”
Westmoreland replied: “I certainly did. I felt it was an accurate important portrayal.”
He eventually dropped the lawsuit.
Tumulty explained that it delivers a vital lesson for the Trump White House. It’s important to keep the country in good spirits, but a president can’t lie.
Trump, Tumulty said “cannot do that while he is shrugging off what experts recommend, touting unproven medical treatments and casting blame on others.”
“In other words, this is not the time for Trump to be throwing up clouds of dust,” she continued. “Americans, most of them, are smarter than he seems to think they are. As my Post colleague Dan Balz has pointed out, Trump is far from the first president to be caught off guard and unprepared for a crisis. The real test of leadership, the one that will determine Trump’s place in history, is how clear and realistic he is in figuring out how to climb out of it, and then in showing the way.”
She closed by saying that people more educated about history could inform Trump so he might understand. Though it isn’t exactly likely.
“The one thing that Americans deserve — and will demand in the end — is a leader who levels with them,” she said.