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Ed Koch, the former mayor of New York City, regularly asked his constituents: “How Am I Doing?” Such a question would never occur to Donald Trump, another New Yorker who now occupies the White House. For him, his performance as president has been flawless.
When asked in March what score he would give himself, on a scale of 1 to 10, he unhesitatingly said “10.” Day after day at his press briefings, the president boasts that he has done a stellar job in dealing with the coronavirus pandemic.
What is striking is that Trump’s self-promotion and self-congratulation come against the backdrop of a devastating health and economic crisis. There have been over 75,000 deaths in the United States, more than the number of Americans who lost their lives in the two-decade Vietnam War.
More than 33 million American workers have already applied for unemployment insurance. Job losses in the past two months exceed all the new jobs created since the 2008-09 recession. Many other countries have similarly alarming statistics.
The president has been unwilling to assume his share of responsibility for the calamity. He has been particularly incensed by news accounts that make it clear he dismissed warnings from senior officials about a coming health crisis, even early on in his administration. Reports show that, more egregiously, Trump was in denial and squandered a lot of time before reluctantly agreeing to a lockdown. His leadership qualities have been wanting in confronting this unprecedented crisis, which some compare to the Civil War or Great Depression. But he is no Lincoln, or FDR.
As the US entered the worst phase of the crisis, his position on the pandemic has been notably incoherent and contradictory. While on the one hand Trump realizes that he needs to be surrounded by some respected health experts, on the other hand he resists accepting their advice, worried that extended shut-down policies will destroy the economy, tarnish his image in the eyes of his supporters — that he is a tough, take-charge leader — and, most of all, jeopardize his reelection prospects in November.