July 30, 2020
The vacuum at the top
A headline on an email from Der Spiegel in May was “China Is Happy to Fill the Leadership Vacuum Left by the U.S.” That is an apt commentary on Trump’s boast that he would make America great again. Internationally, he made us irrelevant when not obstructive, and generally pathetic. Domestically, he doesn’t know how to make America safe again, or doesn’t care, probably both. Thanks to raging infection, Americans are not welcome in Europe.
A leader would unite the country, especially in the face of mortal danger. In a time of crisis, the people should be able to look to him for information and advice, for the truth. By any measure, Trump has failed. How far we have fallen since FDR said this: “I am certain that my fellow Americans expect that on my induction into the Presidency I will address them with a candor and a decision which the present situation of our people impel. This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly.” Instead Trump has lied, evaded responsibility, promoted dangerous behavior and encouraged division. As if to underscore his indifference to the suffering in the country over which he presides, he is pressing a lawsuit to destroy the Affordable Care Act.
Mary Trump’s recent memoir destroys whatever might have remained of Trump’s image as a self-made business success, neither element of that claim being true. His life has been a pose, a cover-up. He is so pathetic a creature that one could feel sorry for him if he had any humane instincts, but he seems not to. Resentment, envy, and excuses flow into that empty space. His niece put it thus: “[F]or Donald there is no value in empathy, no tangible upside to caring for other people. David Corn wrote, ‘Absolutely everything is transactional for this poor broken human being. Everything.’ ”
Many Trump voters, those who continue to support him, are deluded, although there may be an element of self-delusion involved. Another category of followers is the converted, people who at one time were capable of independent thought, but now have joined the cult. They trail behind him, attempting to spin his egocentric incompetence.
His press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, is an example of this conversion to the dark side. She had said, in 2015, of Trump’s comments about Mexican immigrants: "To me, a racist statement is a racist statement. I don't like what Donald Trump said.” His comments were "derogatory" and "hateful." Also: "Donald Trump has shown himself to be a showman. I don't think he is a serious candidate. I think it is a sideshow." She saw his weakness as a spokesman for the Party: “Look, the GOP doesn't need to be turning away voters and isolating them. We need to be bringing them into the tent. Donald Trump is the last person who's going to do that." She saw him as "a Republican in name only" and, horrors, “a progressive.”
Soon after that, having been advised that Trump would be the nominee, Ms. McEnany was converted. After Trump became President, she served as a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee and then for the Trump re-election campaign. Having become a Trumper, she was fully in line as to the present crisis. On February 25, she said on Fox (where else?): “This president will always put America first. He will always protect American citizens. We will not see diseases like the coronavirus come here. . . . And isn’t that refreshing when contrasting it with the awful presidency of President Obama?” In her debut at the White House podium, she rewrote the Mueller report: it was “the complete and total exoneration of President Trump.”As with Lindsey Graham and many others, her critical appraisal turned to sycophancy. The moral and intellectual vacuum at the top sucks them in.
1. Too Much and Not Enough, p. 210
3. See https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/27/us/politics/kayleigh-mcenany-trump-coronavirus.html
4. https://www.politico.com/news/2020/04/07/kayleigh-mcenany-new-press-secretary-coroanvirus-comments- 172185
5. https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2020/05/01/kayleigh-mcenany-just-made-thoroughly-trump-ian- debut/