Thursday, September 10, 2020

Literary Corner: Crisis of Con- Con- Confidence


Dorothea Tanning, Eine Kleine Nachtmusik (1943), via Artsy.

Leadership Is All About Confidence

by Donald J. Trump

Well, I mean, you didn’t — you didn’t really
think it was going to be to the point where
it was. All of a sudden, the world was infected.

The entire world was infected. Everyone was
scrambling around, looking where to buy facemasks
and all of the other things. We’ve opened up factories.
We’ve had tremendous success with facemasks
and with shields and with the ventilators.

We’re now supplying the rest of the world.
We have all the ventilators we can use.
And remember this: The ventilators were
very important. Not one person that needed
a ventilator didn’t get it. And these are
very complex, expensive machines to make.

We opened up something like hadn’t been
done since the Second World War. We —
honestly, we’ve done a — an incredible job.
But we don’t want to run around, screaming, shouting,
“Oh, look at this. Look at this.” We have to show
leadership. And leadership is all about confidence.
And confidence is confidence in our country.

The $3-billion project to ramp up the production of ventilators, the breathing machines that keep intubated patients alive, is actually one of the most farcical episodes in the whole history of the Trump response to Covid-19, because it took too long to get going, while the favored treatments for the disease evolved and changed, and doctors stopped doing so many intubations, and by the time General Motors and Ford, General Electric and Philips had finished establishing supply chains, engineering models, and training workers, and were making all the ventilators needed, they weren't in fact needed any more:

Now, unexpectedly, the vast majority of ventilators are going unused. The Department of Health and Human Services said it had handed out 15,057 ventilators by Friday [14 August], and there were 95,713 ventilators in the federal stockpile. Of those, 94,352 came from contracts signed since the beginning of the pandemic.

Since at the time the pandemic began there were 16,660 ventilators available in the Strategic National Stockpile—virtually all of them left over from the Obama administration's response to the H1N1 pandemic—it turned out that no ventilators were needed at all.

For which I don't think you necessarily want to blame Trump, or Pence, or Kushner, or whoever was really in charge, too severely; it's clear that a less panic-driven approach, less resistance at the outset to calling on the Defense Production Act and less initial delay, and more flexibility afterwards, could have ended up flushing a lot less money down the toilet, but shit happens, as they say. 

But for Trump to keep on boasting about it as some kind of miracle achievement that makes up for however many hundreds of thousands of lives end up being lost over the administration's failures to set up an adequate testing regime or any coordinated national response, especially Trump's own continual sabotage of such guidance as the CDC was able to provide, teasing Republican state governments and the population at large to ignore it, that's a bit rich.

And that, after all, the months of Covid happy talk in defiance of reality, was what he was talking about at yesterday's press availability, though not what he'd wanted to be talking about—he was announcing, for what seemed to be purely campaign purposes, an unneeded list of 20 new possible Supreme Court nominees, noteworthy for including three of the most obnoxious Republican senators, Cotton, Cruz, and Hawley, and not including Neomi Rao (under suspicion of being a feminist, and possibly even pro-choice), and kept asking the reporters to talk about that instead—

Anybody?  On the judges?  Excuse me.  Any questions?  They’re outstanding people.  Very important decision.

The reporters were intent on getting him to comment on Bob Woodward's tapes demonstrating that he'd been lying to the public on the coronavirus from the outset, though, and wouldn't let go:

Q    Mr. President, can you address the concerns from the Woodward book in regards to whether — did you mislead the public by saying that you downplayed the coronavirus and that you repeatedly did that in order to reduce panic?  Did you mislead the public?
THE PRESIDENT:  Well, I think if you said “in order to reduce panic,” perhaps that’s so.  The fact is, I’m a cheerleader for this country, I love our country, and I don’t want people to be frightened.  I don’t want to create panic, as you say.  And certainly, I’m not going to drive this country or the world into a frenzy.
We want to show confidence.  We want to show strength.  We want to show strength as a nation.  And that’s what I’ve done.  And we’ve done very well.  We’ve done well from any standard.  You look at our numbers, compared to other countries, other parts of the world.  It’s been an amazing job that we’ve done.

Sure he was misleading the public, but it was in a good cause. To reduce panic. Because he's a cheerleader. And because he "shows confidence".

There's actually an awful lot of honesty in there, and in the poem above (with which the question session ended, as not one question about the Supreme Court list did offer itself), about his basic understanding, and political technique, which declares itself: he's a confidence man, in the strictest sense of the term.

That is, he's a believer in the magical power, not merely forcefulness, of positive thinking, which can turn reality around, snake oil that cures cancer because you believe, real estate boosting that makes your apartment more valuable, faith in the North Korean dictator that makes the nuclear weapons skulk away into the shadows and makes the world a safer place. Or at least people will be confident that it's happening, because of your fast talk and easy charm, and how is that not good enough? "Leadership is all about confidence."

He knew how bad the pandemic was going to be, as he told Woodward, but he "didn't really think" it would be that bad. He didn't think the "entire world" would be infected. He expected his happy talk would change the odds, and if they didn't he'd keep saying they did anyway, because that's what cheerleaders do. He doesn't think there's anything wrong with that, and he never will. 


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