In other words, not even a crisis as massive as the new coronavirus has prevented the president from behaving like a cranky toddler.
The features of Trump’s toddlers have significantly hampered the U.S. response to the pandemic. They are not new either. In the first three years of his tenure, I collected 1,300 cases where a Trump staff member, subordinate, or ally – in other words, someone with an interest rooted in the success of the presidency of Trump – nonetheless described it the way most of us would describe a 2-year-old petulant. Trump offers the greatest example of ubiquitous developmental delay in American political history.
Raising a toddler in the oval office intersected with a trend prior to Trump and compounded the problem: the growing agglomeration of power in the hands of the president. In the half century since Watergate, presidents on both sides of the aisle have pushed back formal and informal constraints. They resisted surveillance by Congress, forced judges to submit, and disciplined bureaucrats to obey all their whims. The increase in political polarization has facilitated the grabbing of presidential power by strengthening congressional oversight, increasing the political loyalty of cabinet members, and eroding unwritten presidential standards and rules.
As these problems mounted, the presidency was redesigned to be occupied by the last adult inside the Beltway. And then Trump was elected. Certainly his mark of immature leadership is not the only reason the United States is lagging behind South Korea in its response to the pandemic, including testing and containment. Organizational inertia and varied bureaucratic policies are also important.
Yet Trump’s White House’s inadequate treatment of the epidemic highlights his toddler instinct. The most obvious is his predilection for tantrums. Some advisers describe an angry Trump as a whistling teapot that has to let off steam or explode. Politico has reported on the myriad of triggers for his seizures: “If he is caught by surprise, if someone criticizes him or if someone prevents him from trying to do something or tries to control it.”
As an infant, Trump’s temper has exploded repeatedly as the pandemic has worsened and the stock market has collapsed. Several reports confirm that Trump was angry with prescient statements in late February from Nancy Messonnier, a senior official at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who warned that a coronavirus epidemic in the United States was inevitable at a time when Trump insisted so that ”I prevented one by prohibiting travel from China. A report in Vanity Fair quoted “someone close to the administration” as saying that Trump “was basing” on the pandemic. He launched a crisis after his address at the Oval Office in early March was largely overlooked. His temper dissuaded others from contradicting Trump’s happy pandemic speech: In early March, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper ordered overseas commanders to take no action to mitigate the potentially surprising coronavirus President. For Trump staff, crisis management revolves around managing the president’s temper, not managing the real problem.
Trump, like most toddlers, also has poor impulse control. Some White House advisers would call it a “bright object phenomenon” – his tendency to react to the latest news rather than focus on more important issues. This is a problem for competent governance. As White House Councilor Kellyanne Conway noted in 2017, “The mark of leadership is a deliberative process, not an impulsive reaction.”
During the coronavirus epidemic, Trump’s access to Twitter exacerbated his impulsiveness. He tweeted statements that assistants were quick to interpret or reverse engineer, for example if he would invoke the Defense Production Act to force manufacturers to manufacture fans. Health experts have reportedly tried to force him to focus beyond the immediate bad news cycles of increasing infections and to look at the larger picture of “flattening the curve” and preventing ‘a much greater health disaster, in vain. Maryland Governor Larry Hogan (R) complained about the file of Trump’s erratic public statements, noting that “he sometimes simply says whatever comes to mind or tweets, then someone at the television says otherwise. “
Trump’s short attention span, like that of toddlers, has been an issue throughout his administration. A former senior government official told me that a 45-minute meeting with the President was actually 45 different one-minute meetings, during which Trump would ask disconnected and rapid-fire questions such as “What do you think of NATO? “And” How big is an aircraft carrier? One book has reported that Trump would interrupt his first chief of staff to ask him about the badgers. This inability to concentrate laid the foundation for a poor response to the pandemic. During the transition, the Obama administration has prepared a tabletop exercise to educate incoming Trump staff on how to handle an influenza pandemic. The president-elect did not participate, and a former senior official admitted that “getting the president to focus on something like that would be quite difficult.”
Trump’s inability to sit has been recently exposed. His colleagues wondered if he had the ability to focus on what will last for months. White House staff acknowledged that the only time he tried to read a speech prepared by the Oval Office was absolute disaster. Numerous reports confirm that he became agitated while confined to the White House grounds. He interrupted staff meetings because he doesn’t know what else to do.
Toddlers are natural opponents, who like to test limits by pushing everything they are told. Trump too. In the first two months of the epidemic, he insisted that the coronavirus would never spread to the United States, despite expert assessments to the contrary. In late February, he said, “It will go away. One day – it’s like a miracle – it will go away. He has said repeatedly that the virus is not a serious problem, although mayors, governors and his own administration have said the opposite. After finally declaring a national emergency, he clung to the idea that most of the country would be back to normal by Easter. And he insisted that antimalarial drugs offered an effective treatment despite minimal evidence because, according to a source, he “wants this magic moment when it is all over”. Each time, Trump’s advisers have had to devote precious time and energy to change their minds and appease their ego rather than focusing on the current crisis.
The last and most disturbing parallel between Trump and a toddler is that, like in a daycare center that does not pay caregivers enough, staff turnover in this administration has hampered the government’s response. The burn rate for senior government officials was much higher under Trump than under any of his post-Cold War predecessors.
The GOP did not send its best efforts to Trump administration personnel in January 2017, and is now scraping from the bottom of the barrel. As the coronavirus crisis metastasized, Trump fired his third and hired his fourth chief of staff. Its fourth national security adviser reduced its staff by more than a third before the epidemic – including mixing National Security Council pandemic planning in a larger secondary office, diluting its power within the White House. Two-thirds of the leadership positions in the Department of Homeland Security are vacant or staffed by acting officials. Civilian vacancies at the Pentagon are at record levels.
Like the tired preschool teachers, the remaining skilled people who employ Trump have clearly passed the point of exasperation. In response to an interview question about why he did not fix Trump at a press conference, Anthony Fauci, who has led the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases for decades, replied: “I know, but what do you want me to do?” I mean, seriously. . . let’s be realistic, what do you want me to do? ”
Indeed, the rest of Washington seems as frustrated as Fauci: despite his collapses, Trump was able to use the strengthened powers of the presidency with a minimum of hindsight. When he signed the $ 2 trillion stimulus bill, he rejected congressional oversight of spending. The president told his vice president not to respond to governors who complain too much about the federal response. Despite his bad behavior, a bizarre aspect of this crisis is that some officials have complained that Trump has not used his emergency powers sufficient.
Any parent of an ill-behaved toddler can identify with what Fauci says. Fortunately for parents – but unfortunately for all of us – no household has so far had to deal with a toddler with the extended powers of the modern presidency.