The Wizard of Oz
Many people have compared Donald Trump to the Wizard in The Wizard of Oz. Both are self-promoting, grandiose charlatans, who present themselves as saviors when, in fact, they are just chubby weak men hiding behind a facade. If I were in the film business, I think a retelling starring Donald Trump would be improved by the Scarecrow singing, “If YOU only had a brain,” the Tim Man singing, “If YOU only had a heart,” and the Cowardly Lion singing, “If YOU only had some courage.”
Remember, in the original film the Wizard turns out to be smart, kind and decent, despite his bravado. He is not so full of himself that he can’t see the people he serves. He recognizes the qualities that the scarecrow, the tin man and the cowardly lion have within them, and he helps them to appreciate who they are. The movie I’m imagining is a tragedy because Donald Trump is no wizard. He is the Cowardly Lion without the courage, the Tin Man without a heart and the impotent Scarecrow without a brain.
In the face of the global Covid-19 pandemic, with Americans scared and dying, and hospitals lacking what they need for the heroic health care professionals to do their jobs, all Trump’s deficiencies are broadcast into our homes daily. His blustering performances, replete with lies and misinformation, only increase our fear of this rampant virus and our disbelief that such an incompetent, petulant person is in charge.
The Make Believe Wartime President
On Wednesday March 18th Donald Trump declared he was a wartime President fighting the CoronaVirus. It was not the first time since World War II that a president declared war on something. Several presidents made such declarations: Lyndon Johnson, a war on poverty in 1964; Richard Nixon, a war on drugs in 1971; and George W Bush, a war on terror in 2001. Trump essentially did the same with his strategy to combat the scourge of opioids in 2018.
With the exception of the war on terror following 9/11, none others represented the clear and present danger we face today. The widespread contagion of the CoronaVirus and the lack of viable treatment or preventative measures, make this a deadly serious time that requires a wartime president. Unfortunately, given his narcissism, incompetence, ignorance of history, monarchical tendencies and reelection concerns, Trump is not that leader. In other words, though talking to the nation everyday may be modeled on Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Fireside Chats, Trump doesn’t have it in him to offer what Roosevelt did.
Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Fireside Chat
Roosevelt, the only President to be elected to four consecutive terms, is a tough act to follow, but Trump doesn’t even rise to the level of a poor imitation. FDR came to the Presidency in 1933, in the midst of the Great Depression with unemployment between 25% and 33%. In addition to introducing specific, useful measures to address the failing economy, one of Roosevelt’s earliest actions was to reach out to the public by radio in what became known as Fireside Chats. Projecting calm and sincerity, he addressed the nation in straightforward, everyday language, giving an honest appraisal of the problems facing the country and how he planned to tackle them.
The Country Responds To Roosevelt
Despite the dire circumstances, the ”bank holiday” that effectively stopped the run on the country’s banking system coupled with his radio broadcast provided renewed confidence in the country and its leadership. The public readily understood and appreciated Roosevelt’s frank message and honesty. Here is the transcript of a Brooklyn resident’s letter, sent to the White House after the first fireside chat on the Banking Crisis.
Being a citizen of little or no consequence I feel the utter futility of writing to the President at a time such as this, but I trust you will accept this letter in the spirit in which it was written. For me to sit down to write to any public official, whoever he may be, it must be prompted by a very special and appealing occasion or personality. That happened last evening, as I listened to the President’s broadcast. I feel that he walked into my home, sat down and in plain and forceful language explained to me how he was tackling the job I and my fellow citizens gave him. I thought what a splendid thing it would be if he could find time to do that occasionally. Needless to say, such forceful direct and honest action commands the respect of all Americans, it is certainly deserving of it. My humble and sincere gratitude to a great leader. May God protect him.”
A Real Wartime President
Eight years later in 1941, Roosevelt faced his second major crisis, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. On December 9thth, one day after the declaration of war, Roosevelt addressed the nation in another Fireside Chat. He spoke candidly of the difficulties that lay ahead, but with confidence that the United States would ultimately prevail. He acknowledged that all the news would be bad and prepared the country to expect reports of major injuries and casualties. But he promised that he would get out the news as quickly as possible consistent with the war effort and would not hide the facts.
He also reminded his audience that if they did not believe the government was disclosing enough of the truth, they had the right to say so. He added, “But in the absence of all the facts, as revealed by official sources, you have no right in the ethics of patriotism to deal out unconfirmed reports in such a way as to make people believe that they are gospel truth.” How much better off we would be today if Trump and his sycophants abided by the ethics of patriotism.
The War Production Board
And Roosevelt understood the need to bring American industry to a wartime footing. In January 1942 he established by executive order the War Production Board to convert civilian industry to war production, assign priorities and allocate scarce materials. To speed up existing production it had every war industry working on a seven-day week basis. To increase capacity it built new plants, added to old plants and used smaller plants for war needs. It was a centralized organization with recognized experts in their own fields working in tandem to aid the war effort.
As an example of the success of its efforts, military aircraft production, 6,000 planes in 1940, jumped to 85,000 in 1943. According to PBS, by the end of the war, Ford Motor Company was able to produce, a B-24 Liberator long-range bomber made up of more than 1.5 million parts every hour.
Leadership at Its Best and Worst
Roosevelt displayed true leadership at the time of an existential crisis. In fact, I urge you to read the transcript of and/or listen to his February 11th 1941 speech to appreciate what real leadership is. FDR is the quintessential standard for the leadership required to deal with the CoronaVirus crisis. Regrettably, Trump, the incompetent narcissist is incapable of thinking beyond his own selfish interests.
When asked about the government’s response to the crisis, Trump proudly proclaimed, “I take no responsibility.” This is exactly the antithesis of the wartime leader the country so desperately needs. He failed to take timely action or commit the necessary Federal government’s resources at the beginning of the crisis, and he continues to instigate great harm by engaging in his usual pattern of lying while he stifles dissent and encourages unrest.
Truth as Seen by Trump
To Roosevelt, truth was paramount. To Trump, truth is what he says it is at the moment he says it. In fact, it is terrifying to realize that Trump’s idea of truth eerily resembles that of Joseph Goebbels, Adolph Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda, who said,
“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”
Responsibility, Trump Style
Today we have is a desperate need for the kind of man or woman who could be a real wartime president. We need a leader who would direct the Federal government to initiate, fund and coordinate a testing program for Covid-19 on a national level. It is the single most important prerequisite to safely reopen the economy and minimize the possibility of a second wave of infections. Yet in typical Trump fashion, he refuses to be a leader with any accountability. He prefers to paint a picture of a beautiful mosaic magically coming together.
Of course, if the economy reopens successfully with no significant surge of the virus, he will take credit. If the reopening is unsuccessful for any reason, he will blame the country’s governors, mayors, businessmen and health professionals. Everyone but him.
Yes, it’s too bad that Trump, even with all his bluster, doesn’t have the character or empathy of the Wizard of Oz, the Scarecrow’s brain, the Tin Man’s heart or the Cowardly Lion’s courage. Somehow, we got Voldemort instead.