President Trump’s embarrassing debacle in Tulsa was not the result of one time errors or mistakes. It illustrates the core problem of the Trump Presidency: President Trump is such a weak and insecure man that he cannot handle reality.”
A oft quoted line from that rally does as well: “When you do testing to that extent, you’re going to find more people, you’re going to find more cases. So I said to my people, ‘Slow the testing down, please.’”
Start with the rally – his campaign said that a million people were interested in attending. They estimated 100,000 to 200,000 people would flood Tulsa, far too many for a stadium holding only 17,000. They set up a stage for the overflow crowd, with plans for President Trump and Vice President Pence to speak to the raucous fans unable to get into the arena.
In politics a cardinal rule is to undersell expectations. That way, even a disappointing turnout can be labeled a success. If President Trump had competent campaign workers, they’d have realized that given COVID’s outbreak in Oklahoma, it was very possible the event could fail. They’d have said something like “we understand there are concerns, and we do not expect a full arena. That way people can see the President and practice social distancing.” If the arena filled they could say, “we didn’t think so many would come – this made social distancing impossible, but we couldn’t turn away people who traveled to see the President.”
The reason Trump doesn’t have competent campaign staff is because he rejects competence. Competent people tell a President what he doesn’t want to hear. They understand reality, and force a President to deal with hard truths. President Trump gets angered by reality. A con man by trade (I had him pegged as such back in the 80s), he’s all about image. If people think a Trump steak is high quality, it doesn’t matter if it’s the cheapest cut available. But while some con artists know they’re dealing snake oil, President Trump has come to believe his fantasies.
So the only people who last are those who tell the President what he wants to hear. They learn that if they give the President good news about image (“that CNN poll is bogus because the liberal media hates you,”) he’ll be happy, and their jobs secure.
His line about testing – and his refusal to accept his campaign’s explanation that it was a joke – illustrates how deeply embedded his addiction to image over reality has become. We don’t have a COVID-19 problem if we can fudge the statistics to make it appear we don’t have many cases. Reality is irrelevant if you can control the image.
Arguably, this President has failed across the board, even before the COVID and protest fiascos. His trade war has helped China more than the US, he’s pushed away allies, and his one claim to fame – a strong economy – was a product of smoke and mirrors. He was riding the Obama surge, and kept it going (at a slower pace) with massive deficit spending, running the debt to a record amount. It was like maxing your credit cards to make it look like you’re a great success. That couldn’t last even without COVID – but he might have kept the con going through the election.
All of this failure – this losing – is not due so much to his politics, but his weakness and insecurity. He needs to be puffed up. He needs people telling him he’s great. He needs to get his way, he gets angry when someone says something he doesn’t want to hear. So he drives quality people away and becomes surrounded by sycophants or in the case of the Attorney General, people who lack a moral core and are willing to lie, cheat and steal for the President.
My history professor at Augustana College in Sioux Falls, Dr. Lynwood Oyos, said something that has stuck with me: a leader is as good as his or her advisors. Good leaders are strong people who can handle being told they are wrong and must change. Bad leaders want advisors who will bolster their self-esteem.
Is Trump dishonest? A Narcissist? A con man? A sexist abuser of women? Amoral and disgusting? Yes to all that. But the reason he’s failing so completely at both his job and his campaign is due to a more fundamental flaw: he is an extremely weak insecure man who is so angry and scared of reality that he surrounds himself with fantasy.