While it can be argued that the threat of COVID-19 is overstated, it presents a potential crisis for the United States. Such a crisis requires good leadership—something that is sorely lacking in President Trump. Trump’s record shows that his skill set consists mainly of lying, grifting and suing. None of these are useful in addressing the virus, for obvious reasons. Trump could, of course, actually act on what he often claims he will do: get the best people. Unfortunately, the administration undercut the United States ability to respond to a health crisis—cuts to the CDC being but one example of this. That said, Trump could certainly start getting the United States back on track towards an effective defense against health threats, and I would certainly praise his efforts were he to do so.
In addition to being ineffective as a leader, Trump presents an active danger to the American people. One obvious problem is that Trump seems to be aggressively ignorant—he does not know yet makes no real effort to be informed. His remarks about using flu shots to address COVID-19 was but one example of this. While it is worth considering if existing vaccines might provide some protection, seeing Trump bring it up in real time showed that he either had not gotten any information or had forgotten it. To steal from Socrates, while it is true that we are all ignorant, wisdom involves knowing when we do not know. A leader who seems intent on not knowing presents a clear danger—they are making decisions from ignorance. Trump has a moral obligation to either rectify his ignorance or put someone in charge of the situation who knows what they are doing.
A second obvious problem is that Trump is an unrelenting liar. In some cases, this might be to cover up his ignorance. He does not know but would rather just make things up rather than admit he does not know. In other cases, he might be lying because he thinks the truth might hurt his chances of re-election. For example, Trump has asserted that infections are going down and that tests are available to anyone—neither of which is true. These are dangerous claims because people are being misled about critical facts: cases are increasing and no, you probably cannot get tested now. It could be argued that Trump’s lies are motivated from a desire not to panic Americans, but his motivation was made clear in his remarks about the cruise ship: his biggest worry was that he would look bad if the number of cases in the United States went up because the passengers were allowed to disembark. Trump said this in front of the cameras, so to claim that the media is misrepresenting him would be a lie. Trump has a moral obligation to stop lying about the situation—his lies merely make it worse. While it might be too much to expect him to say true things, he would do America a great service by not saying anything.
A third problem with Trump is that he wrongly thinks he is a genius and places great confidence in his own judgments even when they contradict the facts. For example, he simply rejected the WHO’s numbers in favor of his own—on the basis of a hunch. He, on camera, essentially asserted that he knows things and is smart because his uncle was a professor at MIT. I should not have to say that is not how it works, but that is not how it works.
A fourth problem with Trump is that although he and his supporters delight in mocking people for being snowflakes (such as women who complain about being sexually harassed or assaulted), Trump is the king of the dainty snowflakes and expects obedience and praise (as the “dear leader”) from those around him. He is the sort of nightmare envisioned by Socrates: a tyrannical personality ruled by emotions and ignorance. This puts a great burden on the experts who must deal with him. When he makes false claims about the health situation, they cannot correct him without fear of his retaliation. To avoid getting fired so they can do their jobs, they have to remain silent in the face of his lies and false claims. This makes dealing with the crisis rather difficult. Trump, as noted above, has the moral obligation to stop lying so that these experts can go about doing their critical jobs without the need to take into account Trump’s fragile, yet huge, ego.
At this point, the best thing President Trump could do for the United States is to take another extended vacation and quietly play golf while the competent experts address a crisis that he is only making worse with his lies, ego and ignorance.