President Donald Trump wants everyone to know it: His coronavirus briefings are a ratings hit.
By tweeting a New York Times story about the millions of viewers his evening news conferences attract, the President made one thing clear: In his mind, it’s all about him.
Maybe, in tweeting about his ratings being on par with the season finale of ABC’s “The Bachelor,” the President thinks this is some form of entertainment. All his “people,” he says, are becoming “big stars,” as if they are contestants on “The Apprentice.”
Surely he sees the ratings as evidence that everyone is watching because they look up to him, or trust him, or await his new ideas or advice for coping with stress.
And while it may be impossible for him to see it, this isn’t all about him at all. Viewers are actually watching – everywhere, and in mass numbers – because they are afraid or worried. They don’t want to get sick or make their friends and loved ones sick. They want to know what the government is doing, not just saying, to flatten the curve. They want to hear what the doctors and scientists say and try to understand why the health care workers don’t have life-saving equipment or protective gear.
They’re craving and depending on leadership and information – including from the much-maligned so-called “deep state” – to help them figure out how to cope with this disaster. That’s all Americans have, and it can provide some solace.
It’s comforting, for instance, when New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo spends an hour each day clearly, and with empathy, telling New Yorkers and the rest of the country how things are going, how hard it is to cope and what lies ahead for all of us.
There’s even been a slideshow or two about emotions. And advice about the importance of family.
During Sunday’s briefing, for instance, the governor put up a slide asking New Yorkers to find ways to “create some JOY.” Cuomo said his family was planning to gather for their traditional Sunday dinner – with some members joining by Skype or the telephone. Moments later, he moved to a slide saying, “We are going to make it through! We are going to be okay!” The governor was the parent, comforting his New York children.
All of which serves to highlight the President’s empathy gap.
On Sunday, at least, it seemed the President was moved by having a friend in a coma, and the horror at Elmhurst hospital in Queens, New York, his old neighborhood. It’s part of the reason the doctors convinced the President to extend his self-distancing guidelines through the end of April. But in the same presser, the President also seemed to be charging health care workers with stealing masks, attacking the media and greedy governors.
So much for empathy.
The President has clearly decided he needs to lead the show, maybe after his vice president was getting high marks. So now it’s become a daily combination consisting largely of personal preening and half-baked, often corrected, declarations (the early assertion that the coronavirus would “wash” away in the summer; the New York quarantine that wasn’t and the plan to reopen the country by Easter).
In his Sunday presser, it also seemed as if he was warning news executives they had better continue to cover his briefings in full.
“I think it’s terrible. When they don’t want the President of the United States to have a voice, you are not talking about democracy any longer,” he said.
In times like these, leaders need to offer a combination of competent and emotional leadership (I know, I know). Instead, he’s telling us how great a job he is doing; how he would bludgeon business into doing what he wants; and how, if certain governors don’t play nice with him, it will be a problem (which he denies he said).
Oh, and by the way, anyone who wants to toss him a bouquet of roses can come to the podium, call him a great leader, and talk about their companies.
Happily, we also learn of new tests and clinical trials. We eventually hear from the people we want to hear from – like Dr. Anthony Fauci. But lately, they spend most of their time undoing the multiple off-the-cuff pronouncements the President makes only to later reverse himself or not follow through.
Finally, on Sunday, it seemed the President was listening to the doctors. Or maybe it was pictures on TV that affected him. In explaining his reversal on his back-to-work-by-Easter goal, he said “nothing would be worse than declaring victory before the victory is won.”
Better late than never.