I've Seen Wartime Leadership. President Trump's Fails Every Test

President Donald Trump speaks in the Oval Office
In this March 27, 2019, file photo, President Donald Trump speaks in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Johnnie Edward Wilson is a retired United States Army four-star general who served as commanding general, United States Army Materiel Command from 1996 to 1999. He also served as the 25th chief of ordnance for the U.S. Army Ordnance Corps.

As we limp into the ninth month of the novel coronavirus pandemic, the United States tragically leads the world in total number of cases and deaths -- more than 200,000 lives cut short by this disease that we could have confronted earlier and more aggressively.

I'm struck by how the president appears to have given up on winning this war and, in fact, has abandoned the battlefield. Despite the happy talk by administration officials, the White House can't elude one a nagging fact: Under Donald Trump's leadership, the United States has suffered one-quarter of the world's COVID-19 deaths, despite having only 4% of its population.

Most of the industrialized nations, through sound public policy and steadfast leadership, have done far better at protecting their citizens from this deadly virus. On days when 909 Americans die from COVID-19, Canada loses just six. So much winning ...

In March, Trump told reporters he likened himself to "a wartime president" in the fight to contain the coronavirus. In my 38 years of Army service, I've seen wartime leadership, and what this president is doing isn't it. Today, Trump is failing every leadership test.

In a crisis, we expect leaders to show us a vision of a better future and then chart a path to get us there. In Trump's America, astoundingly, there's no strategy to overcome this pandemic. Since any realistic plan would start with acknowledging our failures, the White House has instead pretended that the coronavirus is behind us, undermining any public health expert who dares tell the truth or suggests hardships ahead.

In past times of strife, presidents have inspired Americans to make great personal sacrifices in support of national causes. During World War II, 16 million served in uniform, and every citizen supported the war effort in some way. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt did not downplay the enormous challenges the country faced against two powerful enemies. He told the American people the truth, and they responded heroically. Past wartime presidents rolled up their sleeves and worked to the point of exhaustion to see us through crises. Trump plays golf while Americans suffer and die.

Despite our tradition of individualism, Americans have always worked together to overcome hardships. Instead of harnessing this community spirit to encourage mask wearing and social distancing, Trump did the opposite. Inexplicably, he seized upon these modest and necessary public health practices to further divide an already polarized America. Even today, despite overwhelming consensus that masks save lives, Trump mocks them at his rallies, putting his most loyal supporters and their families at risk.

The most profound irony of the Trump presidency is that the federal government had the expertise and resources to effectively deal with this pandemic. If the president had simply stood back and let government experts do their jobs, this crisis would likely be behind us. But Trump's need to surround himself with family members and sycophants destroyed any opportunity for apolitical government agencies to implement an effective national strategy.

What we got instead was the president doing the opposite of anything resembling sound policy: encouraging the reopening of businesses and schools long before the virus was contained; discouraging testing to "keep the numbers down;" and hawking miracle cures with no basis in medical science.

In times of loss and uncertainty, we look to the president for empathy -- to acknowledge our suffering, encourage resolve and reassure Americans of better days ahead. Genuine empathy for others requires a capacity for humility and selflessness. These virtues are not associated with the current White House occupant.

Recently, 489 national security officials endorsed Joe Biden for president of the United States. They understand that, on his first day in office, he will implement a sound national strategy to contain the coronavirus and reopen the economy in measured steps. Biden has led in times of crisis, and he will provide the disciplined and steady leadership to see us through to the better days.

On Nov. 3, we face the most important election of our lifetime. During these last four weeks of this presidential campaign, we should expect our president to use the full power of the United States government to assure the sanctity of our upcoming national election. Instead, Trump and his enablers are doing everything they can to delegitimize the free and fair election that he will surely lose if all votes are counted.

On this Election Day, remind him that the most powerful words in our Constitution are "we the people." Please vote.

-- The opinions expressed in this op-ed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Military.com. If you would like to submit your own commentary, please send your article to opinions@military.com for consideration.

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