Is This What Happens When You Don’t Really Have A President?

Reflecting on violent protests while attending a rocket launch in Florida Saturday

Everything we are seeing reflects a complete failure in leadership

The plainest example of this, in a way, comes as a result of Trump’s insistence on pushing ahead with a meeting of top world leaders, which he was scheduled to host in June. We all know why the President wanted to do it: to make things look like they were getting back to normal in regard to the economy.

But the idea that world leaders would be eager and willing to jet in person to the country that’s counted the most COVID-19 deaths, and sit with a President who flaunts even his own guidance on safety, (and also has a history of lambasting them in public at meetings such as these), seemed far fetched to us. But then, to our surprise, his top economic advisor (who’s not an economist, and spent most of his career as a de facto public relations person for Wall Street), said an in-person meeting was a go.

Except it’s not. They won’t come. A spokesperson for Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel telling Politico:

“Considering the overall pandemic situation, she cannot agree…to a journey to Washington”.

And why would they have come? Well, it’s hard to say no to the world’s leading economic powerhouse. And the world’s strongest militarily and by many other measures. As Trump says: “they all view us as the world leader.”

In other words, he thought they’d come because he says so. But now they’ve got no problem saying “no”.

Trump then said he didn’t want them to come anyway. Calling the leadership group “a very outdated group of countries”, and saying he’d do a bigger, better meeting in the fall, and add Australia, and India and Russia. (Russia actually used to be in on these things but was banned after it took Crimea from Ukraine).

Here’s another example: no one is calling out Trump on his threat to call upon the “unlimited power of our Military and many arrests” to clamp down on violent protestors in Minneapolis and perhaps elsewhere, which would be unprecedented and not permitted by law. (See Posse Comitatus Act.) Maybe Trump was just talking about the National Guard, which has been deployed by federal officials in the past (and had already been called upon by the Governor of Minnesota). But “the unlimited power of our Military” sure seems like it could be construed as more than that.

Trump then fired off a divisive and misleading Tweet blaming Democratic politicians for not getting the job done and implying it only got done (which is something we’re not even sure actually happened) because he’s sooo tough.

But the lack of response to his blustery threats and rush to come in and take credit, may also be a reflection of the fact that nobody’s even pretending anymore that Trump’s really in charge. And in a way, Trump lost the claim that he is when he threw all the responsibility for COVID-19 response onto the nation’s governors.

Trump’s first hand play-by-play of what it was like to be in a White House on lockdown, surrounded by protestors served up in a series of Tweets, reads out like him reporting the news the way he’d like it to be reported. Although in his fantastical narration of events—which includes screaming “protestors” and “the most viscous dogs” and “ominous weapons” and encroachers who might’ve been “really badly hurt, at least”—he doesn’t portray himself as in charge at all. Instead he seems retracted. Merely an onlooker “inside” who “couldn’t have felt more safe”. Maybe we’re being unfair because he was letting the professionals do their jobs, which is appropriate, but he usually likes to take at least some of the credit. Yet here he is, just watching and waiting for history to go by…

Yeah, Trump talks big, and he’ll always pick fights, but this time we think isn’t the same same.

So we think the New York Times is a bit off (though eloquent) when it concludes:

With a nation on edge, ravaged by disease, hammered by economic collapse, divided over lockdowns and even face masks and now convulsed once again by race, President Trump’s first instinct has been to look for someone to fight.”

Because we’ve learned so many times now, in times requiring strong leadership, Trump seldom has a plan or the will or the interest or the empathy to back it up. So now, in a time of heightened unimaginable crisis, he’s increasingly being ignored. Even his base didn’t leap up to immediately heed his call this time, after he Tweeted, following the first night of protests outside the White House: “Tonight, I understand, is MAGA NIGHT AT THE WHITE HOUSE???

Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean his supporters won’t show up to vote for him, so this doesn’t mean Trump will lose in November. Protestors will become the new “caravans”. He’ll send a message of terror deep into the country that they’re coming next for you… That he’s tough, and Democrats are weak. That Joe Biden is doddering (although it was Trump who just called Minneapolis “Mindianapolis”). That Democrats and leftists are the root cause of all the unrest. He’s already doing that. And a similar strategy worked for Nixon in 1968, after riots outside the Democratic National Convention in Chicago that year. He sailed into office. And Trump could absolutely scare people who are now disgusted by him because of his COVID-19 response into switching back, and voting for him again.

At the same time, Trump and his allies will work hard to send a message to people in cities: don’t vote. Because it changes nothing. Trump may not be a good President, but he is a good campaigner. So can’t take anything for granted.