Unmasking the “Wartime President”

Photograph Source: The White House – Public Domain

There is an insidious attempt by President Trump to manipulate workers and consumers into believing they are “warriors,” fighting to save the American economy from the coronavirus. His aim is to motivate citizens to return to work and to shop prematurely, in the belief that they are saving the country, when, in fact, their unnecessary sacrifice of health and life is about his attempt to save his 2020 re-election campaign.

President Trump told reporters that he viewed himself as “a wartime president” as the U. S. was at “‘war’ against an ‘invisible enemy.’” He compared America’s achievements during World War II with what is required today: “Now it’s our time. We must sacrifice together, because we are all in this together, and we will come through it together.” (“Trump labels himself ‘a wartime president combating coronavirus,” By Caitlin Uprysko and Susannah Luthi, POLITICO, March 18, 2020)

If it is a “war,” the “wartime president” is not arming American workers and consumers with the weapons needed to protect themselves and fight this “invisible enemy.” President Trump talks a good game of providing testing to identify, contain and treat those with coronavirus to stop the virus from spreading. During a visit to the Centers for Disease Control in early March, he said, “Anybody that wants a test can get a test. . . . That’s what the bottom line is.” And he repeated himself: “Anybody right now and yesterday, anybody that needs a test gets a test. They’re here. They have the tests and the tests are beautiful.” (“Trump calls coronavirus test perfect’ and compares it to the Ukraine phone call,” CBS News, March 6, 2020)

“The bottom line” is that testing was not available “now and yesterday.” An analysis by CNN revealed a “lack of coronavirus testing,” which “may blunt Trump’s planned economic revival.” Staff writer Stephen Collinson “found multiple errors in the government testing program that squandered a critical month during which aggressive testing may have reduced the spread and scale of the pandemic as it took root on US soil.” Collinson added: “The administration failed to make early use of private labs, released a flawed test it took weeks to correct, and barred private labs from making their own tests.” (“Lack of coronavirus testing may blunt Trump’s planned economic revival,” Analysis by Stephen Collison, CNN, April 10, 2020)

Today, over two months later, President Trump repeated, “If somebody wants to be tested right now, they’ll be able to be tested.” As reported, he was “flanked by large posters that proclaimed ‘America leads the world in testing.’” He “also declared victory over the pandemic, saying that ‘we have met the moment and we have prevailed.’” But, “under questioning he revised his comments, saying he only meant to say the country had prevailed on increasing its access to testing.” Still, his “claim that ‘we’ve prevailed on testing’” was also reported to be “premature,” as “the current rate still remains far behind the five million daily target he set last month.” (“White House Orders Staff to Wear Masks as Trump Misrepresents Testing Record,” By Michael D. Shear, Maggie Haberman and Linda Qiu, The New York Times, May 12, 2020)

“We have met the moment and we have prevailed.” Sounds like former president George W. Bush’s pre-emptive criminal invasion of defenseless Iraq in 2003; and two months later he raised a banner declaring “Mission Accomplished” But the ruination and deaths Bush unleashed in Iraq continue to this day.

President Trump is still misleading American “warriors” in continuing to say that testing is available to anyone. That’s still not so. Again as reported: “It is one thing to have enough testing capacity for everyone who is symptomatic or has been in contact with someone who has tested positive, but that is quite different from having enough to provide reassurance to people considering returning to normal life.” (Ibid)

The risks American “warriors” face do not concern “the wartime president.” He is willing to have workers and consumers sacrifice their lives, if that is what it takes “to open the country” – and insure his re-election. “I’m not saying anything is perfect, and, yes, will some people be affected? Yes. Will some people be affected badly? Yes,” he said. “But we have to get our country open and we have to get it open soon.” He was okay with Americans dying, saying, “There’ll be more death . . . the virus will pass, with or without a vaccine. And I think we’re doing well on the vaccines, but with or without the vaccine, it’s going to pass, and we’re going to be back to normal.” (“Trump: Some will die for economy’s restart, but you’re ‘warriors,’” By William Goldschlag and Dan Janison, Newsday, May 6, 2020)

President Trump’s wishful narcissistic thinking is exposed by health advocate and South Carolina Democratic Congressional candidate Kim Nelson. She states that “Trump is characterizing people whose lives are at risk as warriors ‘so that you’ll view those who died as having sacrificed for the greater good.’” She continues: “He absolutely does not want you to view these deaths for what they are . . . a result of his abject failure to handle the pandemic in any logical way.” (“’There’ll Be More Death’: Trump Says He Is Willing to Sacrifice Lives to Reopen US Businesses,” By Jake Johnson, staff writer, Common Dreams, May 6, 2020)

Along with the lack of testing, President Trump was slow to enact social distancing measures. Allan Smith of NBC News reported that “President Donald Trump’s top public health officials concluded by the third week in February that they should recommend to the president a new approach to COVID-19 that included social distancing steps. But,” Smith continued, “according to The Times, the White House ‘focused on messaging and crucial additional weeks went by before their views were reluctantly accepted by the president – time when the virus spread largely unimpeded.’” (“Fauci: Earlier social distancing measures ‘obviously’ would have saved more lives,” April 12, 2020)

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the leading White House public health expert, said in an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union” program: “Obviously, you could logically say that if you had a process that was ongoing and you started mitigation earlier, you could have saved lives. Obviously no one is going o deny that. . . . There was a lot of pushback about shutting things down back then.” (Ibid)

Later the day of the interview, a warning shot was fired across Dr. Fauci’s bow. “Trump retweeted someone calling for Fauci to be removed.” (Ibid)

Along with his lack of testing and resistance to social distancing measures, President Trump’s refusal to wear a mask is telling. The aim of wearing a mask is to protect others as well as oneself. Trump says he doesn’t wear a mask because he is tested every day, which protects others. Yet as reported “A rapid coronavirus test used by the White House to screen its staff could miss infections up to 48 percent of the time, according to a study by researchers at N.Y.U. Langone Health.” But “Mr. Trump has said the tests are ‘highly accurate.’” (“Coronavirus Testing Used by the White House Could Miss Infections,” By Katie Thomas, The New York Times, May 14, 2020)

This finding suggests that other people around President Trump are protecting him by wearing masks, whereas he may not be fully protecting them by not wearing a mask. Here appears to be another example of his lack of caring for others, which is compounded by the poor example he is setting for Americans in not wearing a mask.

On a deeper level, wearing a mask would indicate President Trump’s admission that there is something he cannot control or bully or intimidate. Such an admission would be intolerable for this authoritarian president. He is above laws and regulations and the critical analysis of “fake news” – and even the coronavirus. Nothing is beyond his intelligence and control. Thus he told reporters while visiting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, “Doctors he’s come across as the administration tries to get a handle on the outbreak have been surprised about how much he knows about COVID-19. ‘Maybe I have a natural ability,’ he said. ‘Maybe I should have done this instead of running for president.’ ” (“Trump says doctors keep asking how he knows so much about coronavirus,” theweek.com, March 7, 2020)

The tragic result for Americans is that a self-deluded President Trump is driven to prematurely open the country. The result will not be saving the economy, but countless more deaths, which will worsen efforts to get the economy back to normal. Trump’s narcissism prevents him from seeing that the economy is made for people, not people for the economy. To him, the economy is to serve the wealthiest, not the economically weariest. Never mind the health of the people, a healthy economy is the springboard for his re-election.

Two White House public health officials were reported to “paint a grim picture of the months ahead on Tuesday, warning a Senate panel that the coronavirus pandemic was far from contained, just a day after President Trump declared that “we have met the moment and we have prevailed.” The two, “Dr. Anthony S. Fauci . . . and Dr. Robert J. Redfield . . . predicted dire consequences if the nation reopened its economy to soon, noting that the United States still lacked critical testing capacity and the ability to trace the contacts of those infected.” (“At Senate Hearing, Government Experts Paint Bleak Picture of the Pandemic,” By Sheryl Gay Stolberg, The New York Times, May 13, 2020)

With the “dire consequences” of President Trump’s failed leadership already infecting America, correspondent at The Nation, Jeet Heer has a final comment about the “wartime president” calling Americans to sacrifice as “warriors.” Heer concludes: “These endangered Americans are being sacrificed not for the sake of public health but for the goal of reopening the economy, with the hope of boosting Trump’s electability.” Heer continues: “If the current crisis is the moral equivalent of a war, then Trump is the moral equivalent of a war criminal.” He ends: Trump’s “political defeat in November is a consummation devoutly to be wished, but full justice will have to include corruption investigations – and prosecutions where warranted – after he leaves office.” (“If This Pandemic Is a War, Trump is a War Criminal,” May 6, 2020)

The challenge of people of faith should be clear. It is one thing to pray for the victims of the coronavirus and their families and for the virus to end. It is quite another – risky and necessary – undertaking to confront a president who is not only incapable of providing competent leadership in the fight against the coronavirus, but uses it to prey on Americans.



Rev. William E. Alberts, Ph.D., a former hospital chaplain at Boston Medical Center is both a Unitarian Universalist and United Methodist minister. His newly published book, The Minister who Could Not Be “preyed” Away is available Amazon.com. Alberts is also author of The Counterpunching Minister and of A Hospital Chaplain at the Crossroads of Humanity, which “demonstrates what top-notch pastoral care looks like, feels like, maybe even smells like,” states the review of the book in the Journal of Pastoral Care & Counseling. His e-mail address is wm.alberts@gmail.com.