On Tuesday, writing for The Washington Post, columnist Paul Waldman identified a key reason President Donald Trump is unable to offer effective leadership in the coronavirus pandemic.
"'I think they’re starting to feel good now. The country’s opening again. We saved millions of lives, I think.' That’s what President Trump told the New York Post in an interview Monday," wrote Waldman. "Trump has a fundamental misunderstanding about what Americans are thinking and feeling right now, a misunderstanding that has not only guided his decision-making throughout this crisis but helped cost the lives of untold thousands of Americans."
As Waldman explained, current polls show most Americans are still frightened of being infected, and are unwilling to go to restaurants or retail establishments even if they are open. "If the president saw these poll results ... he would no doubt decide that it’s all fake and that the public will tear out of their homes the moment they’re allowed, ready to save his reelection by quickly resuming economic activity."
"It’s not just about his understandable desire to see the pandemic end," wrote Waldman. "It’s also because Trump has a particularly grim view of public opinion and human nature. He assumes that people are selfish, impatient, impulsive and governed above all by their darkest emotions. You might even say he thinks everyone is like him."
Waldman continued: "From the beginning of this pandemic, Trump never believed that Americans could handle the truth or would be willing to sacrifice for the greater good. He had to tell them that everything was fine and then keep lying to them about how great he was doing. When lockdown orders became inevitable, he believed they wouldn’t be able to tolerate a collective effort to defeat the virus, so he had to appeal to their selfishness and resentment. He told them to get angry at Democratic governors and the Chinese government. He encouraged protests against stay-at-home orders. Despite his efforts, those protesters you see on TV represent just a tiny minority of Americans. But when Trump turns on Fox News and sees a few dozen lunkheads screaming that their governor is a Nazi, he concludes that they represent the true voice of public opinion."
"Trump can’t understand that because he is utterly without empathy," wrote Waldman. "He almost never talks about the nearly 70,000 of us who have died or the families and friends they left behind. He doesn’t speak their names, or tell their stories, or explain what their loved ones have lost. It’s not only because he doesn’t want to contradict his message that everything is going great, it’s also that he’s terrible at expressing sympathy, let alone sharing the pain of others."
"If you’re in a rage and want to go scream at your elected officials (if those officials are Democrats, or Republicans who haven’t been sufficiently obsequious toward him), Trump will be right there with you. But if what you’re feeling is quieter and more complicated, he doesn’t want to hear it," concluded Waldman. "So he’s missing the fact that for all the suffering Americans are now experiencing, we can feel at least some measure of unity. That’s something a president who has staked everything on division and discord could never understand."
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