A question: would you rather be the world’s laughingstock, or the object of its pity? Note that “admired by the world” is no longer one of your multiple choice options. For a country that had for a century been looked up to as the pinnacle of democratic civilization and the embodiment of the rule of law, neither available answer feels very good.

If you’re an isolationist, I guess the current Pew Research poll that found the U.S. at an all-time low in regard from every Western European country plus Japan and South Korea will read like victory. For most of us though, going from hero to goat in the world’s eyes is an unmitigated disaster.

From the start, this president has spun any and all negative news about him as fake news. He has vilified the media as “the enemy of the American people.” So insecure is he, that he thinks acknowledging any failure will delegitimize his presidency when the opposite would be true. Instead of showing weakness, it would show strength.

As a result, only 30 percent of Americans trust the president on the subject of COVID-19. That is terribly unfortunate because shooting straight with us would have given us a chance to unite and get serious about coming together to fight for our health. Weather forecasters don’t worry about panicking people in a hurricane’s path, and people don’t panic when they see a hurricane bearing down on them. They take action appropriate to the conditions. President Trump never gave us a chance to take appropriate action. He was too busy downplaying the seriousness of the virus, while touting therapies that our medical and scientific communities deemed ineffective or even dangerous.

Now, Soviet-style, he has sacrificed the CDC’s credibility by attaching political operatives to its senior staff. Their sole job is to “sanitize” the agency’s public statements, reinforcing the false narrative that, “We’re turning the corner.”

Telling author Bob Woodward how serious the virus was in January while telling us that it was all just a hoax being foisted on us by Democrats, was an unconscionably dishonest and divisive misuse of his pulpit. At the precise moment that we most needed a leader, we got a cheerleader for whom every day is a new episode of the reality TV show he stars in. Ratings matter. Lives do not.

Comparisons to Winston Churchill are of course laughable and offer nothing more than a window into a sick mind. President Trump obviously suffers from narcissistic personality disorder, the hallmarks of which are grandiosity (“Only I can solve this”); an insatiable need for approval (including from “Qanon” conspiracists (“I don’t know much about them, but understand they like me—that’s good, right?”) who insist without evidence that George Soros—whose name is a dog-whistle-shorthand for anti-Semitism—operates a cannibalistic child sex trafficking operation with Democratic leaders; and a complete lack of empathy (220,000+ deaths have warranted nary a word of condolence, just self-praise for his “perfect” response, all while a Cornell study that finds he is “single largest driver of coronavirus misinformation.”)

Unfortunately, these traits are not things that he has any control over. One doesn’t choose debilitating narcissism.

Winston Churchill was blunt and resolute. His attitude may have been “stay calm and carry on,” but he told his people the truth. He told them they may not survive, but that they’d go down fighting. He saved his enmity for his enemies. He didn’t waste his time fear-mongering or playing to his own ego.

Real leaders revise their worldview as the world changes. For a president to denounce renewable energy sources and refer to fossil fuels as “our energy“ is reckless and dangerous. It’s like driving by the rear-view mirror instead of the windshield. The current spate of wildfires, floods and hurricanes are exactly what climate scientists have been telling us to expect for a very long time. Policymakers in denial undercut efforts to salvage the world for our children and grandchildren.

Rhetorically, what with all the fear mongering and scapegoating, the inevitable comparisons to Nazi Germany have cropped up, but I won’t go there. Donald Trump is unfit for office, but he has not committed genocide. So far, the only thing he’s murdered is the truth.

To my friends on the right who say Trump’s economic policies are why they will vote for him, and to my friends on the left who say they won’t vote for Biden because he’s not progressive enough, I say to you both that the time to talk about what color we’re going to paint the living room is not while the house is engulfed in flames. Job one has to be putting out the fire. Then we can debate policy. Hopefully with a thoughtful leader, not a deeply damaged game show host.

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