Franken: Hucksterism vs. leadership


Donald Trump has taken to declaring himself a “wartime president,” but the commander in chief cannot resist getting in the way of what few competent generals he has at his disposal. No matter how hard he pretends, Commander COVID is unable to rise to the occasion and rise above his flimflam flimsiness. Try as he might, he just can’t sell his con, and nothing aggravates him more than the realization that his scam isn’t working.

One thing about the Trump era, it has been a case study of the two H’s: hostility and hucksterism. And by now, a growing number of us have recognized that he never can sustain his playacting for more than a day or so. So when he assumes the role of chief executive, he just can’t pull it off. He will inevitably be betrayed by his limited intellect and an inability to tamp down his obnoxious impulsiveness. So it was that Donald Trump, despite his early insistence that this was all a “hoax,” was at the same time ignoring secret warnings from intelligence agencies that the coming crisis was a potential danger.

But when it became clear that he could no longer escape grim realities, he stopped with his phony assurances and tried to lead from behind as what few genuine experts he had retained advocated a stern response — one that ratchets up the pain that is necessary to combat the scourge. All Trump has ever known is superficial branding … it’s all about image to him. Unfortunately, this is one of these times where the substantive complexities are inescapable, try as he might. The list of his premature and outright inaccurate pronouncements grows every time he inserts himself in the regular briefings his task force gives to impart information.

Unfortunately, Trump specializes in misinformation and raising false hopes. Among his latest examples is his declaration that a drug long approved for treating malaria has shown promise of resisting the coronavirus in some exceedingly small studies. And when the Trumpster spouted off about it, phones in doctors’ offices started ringing off the hook from patients demanding a prescription, despite immediate disclaimers from the experts that it might not work at all for the coronavirus and has dangerous side effects.

So far, Commander COVID has proven to be unsafe and ineffective in reassuring the nation, as evidenced by the fact that usually every time he opens his mouth the financial markets tank. So now that his faux statesmanship has been exposed as mistakesmanship, he’s reverted to form. Suddenly he has resumed his attacks against the media. NBC’s Peter Alexander is a solid reporter. But Donald Trump prefers journalistic sycophancy.

And when Alexander dared to politely ask, “What do you say to Americans who are watching you right now who are scared?” – not a particularly impertinent question – Trump took umbrage anyway and responded with a personal attack: “I say that you’re a terrible reporter,” he told Alexander. “I think it’s a very nasty question. And I think it’s a very bad signal that you’re putting out to the American people. The American people are looking for answers, and they’re looking for hope.”

He’s right about that. We are looking for answers and hope in the face of this attack on our well-being. Unfortunately, the “wartime president” is adding to the nation’s problems.

Bob Franken is an Emmy Award-winning reporter who covered Washington for more than 20 years with CNN. (c) 2020 Bob Franken Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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