Wednesday, March 18, 2020


Greg Sargent interviews a man who literally wrote the book on presidents and pandemics. He has nothing good to say about President Trump.
“He’s likely to be responsible for many deaths,” Max Skidmore, a political science professor and the author of a book on presidential responses to pandemics, told me.

“We are weeks behind where we should have been if a competent administration had been handling the reaction," Skidmore continued. "The misinformation that he spread caused people to be cavalier.”
And it's worse than that.
Yet Skidmore told me that in one distressing sense, Trump’s handling of the pandemic may also be unprecedented. Unlike previous presidents, Trump appears to only care about appearances in a way that is entirely detached from concern about his government’s actual performance.

“We have seen presidents who refused to learn from the past,” Skidmore said. “But one great danger of the Trump presidency is that he’s uninterested in performance as long as he can create the image that he’s been successful. Actual success is irrelevant to him. The image of success is what’s important.”

Skidmore added that even presidents whose failures he has criticized — George W. Bush’s on Hurricane Katrina; Dwight Eisenhower’s on vaccinations; Woodrow Wilson’s on the Spanish flu — didn’t sink to quite this level of unconcern about actual results.

“Even if they twisted the truth, they hoped to have a good outcome,” Skidmore said. By contrast, Trump appears to be wholly “unconcerned about his performance, so long as he can look good.”
Trump's psychological makeup is uniquely awful. But beyond that, remember what he is: the rich son of a successful man. Every Republican president of the past 31 years has fallen into that category, as has every Republican presidential nominee since 2000.

They haven't all been awful people -- George H.W. Bush and Mitt Romney, for all their flaws, had some sense of personal responsibility -- but the last two GOP presidents, in particular, shared a key trait: Growing up as children of wealth conditioned them to shrug off failure, because they grew up assuming that Daddy's money would always provide a soft and luxurious cushion, no matter what they did.

For Dubya, this just meant that he didn't have a normal person's fear of screwing up -- hey, how bad can things really get if you screw up? So when he was screwing up on behalf of the country, we got the Iraq War, a botched Katrina response, and the financial meltdown.

In Trump's case, not fearing bad consequences means that he doesn't feel the need to do anything well, ever. As Professor Skidmore says, he just needs to seem competent. For years before he was elected president, he lived off his name. He didn't make good products or provide good services. He didn't need to. He'd used his father's money until he had money of his own, and then he just kept using other people's money (particularly Deutsche Bank's) to maintain his lifestyle.

He didn't need "actual success." He needs it now -- or, rather, we need it now. And he doesn't care, because, as has been the case for most of his life, he doesn't need to.

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