A serious national crisis exposes the best, or worst, of a President

In this day and age of political spin, it is often difficult for the public to separate truth from fiction when it comes to the performance of a president. One cable network may heap praise upon the commander-in-chief for a certain action, while another bemoans the president’s abysmal performance for the very same act. With the plethora of news and opinion sources blasting out content today, it is hard to judge whether a president is a genius or a dunderhead.

The true test of a president is how he or she responds to a serious national crisis–war, economic collapse, pandemic, or the like. When confronted with a looming catastrophe, there is no room for political spin. The president either acts quickly and decisively to protect the nation from the threat or goes down in history as a failure–think Andrew Johnson, who is regarded as one of our worst presidents because of his dismal handling of Civil War reconstruction.

Franklin Roosevelt is revered for bringing the country out of the Great Depression and winning the Second World War. Harry Truman will be remembered for bringing an end to the war with Japan, despite continuing controversy over his use of the atomic bomb. John Kennedy backed the Soviet Union down in the Cuban Missile Crisis and Ronald Reagan is credited for winning the Cold War with the Russians. George W. Bush brought the nation together with his speech at Ground Zero after 9-11. Unfortunately, he used that political capital to launch the disastrous and unnecessary war against Iraq. Barack Obama inherited a collapsing economy and successfully brought the country out of the Great Recession.

President Trump had his rare opportunity to be a hero or a goat with the coronavirus pandemic and has earned a failing grade. After being warned in January by health experts, intelligence agencies, his trusted trade advisor, and any number of others of the looming threat, Trump just blew it off.

Trump claims his January 31 order, banning travel from China, solved the problem. But that does not explain the 614,180 confirmed Covid-19 cases and 26,061 deaths in the U.S. as of April 15. Those numbers will continue to climb. It should be noted that 40,000 people came to the U.S. from China after the travel ban and that more than half of the deaths resulted from infections that originated in Europe.

The frightening pandemic warnings the President got from Peter Navarro, who is Trump’s close and trusted advisor on China trade, are of particular interest. Navarro wrote memos to Trump on January 29 and February 23, warning him the coronavirus crisis could cost the U.S. trillions of dollars and put millions of Americans at risk.

It is not clear how those memos made their way into the public arena, but we did learn some time ago that Trump officials often write what are often described as “cover your a__” (CYA) memos to document their advice to Trump and protect their reputations in case some substance later hits the fan on the issue. Don McGahn, the President’s former counsel, wrote a number of CYA memos to the file during the time leading up to the Mueller probe. We are likely to learn that Navarro repeatedly warned Trump in person of the pandemic threat, was rebuffed, and then prepared the two CYA memos to show he was not to blame for the inaction.

The long and short of it is that Trump had numerous warnings that a disaster was looming but refused to take effective and decisive action to stop it. Many people have suffered or died and untold damage has been inflicted upon the economy as a result. No amount of spin will change the story because the video footage of his denials from January to mid-March are there for all to see. He could have emerged as a hero by jumping in to protect the country, but he chose to deny that any problem existed and will be remembered in history as a failed president.

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