I think the common thread of the past week in the Presidential race has been Trump's self-owns. As I've consistently said, Trump could have won re-election, but it seems as if he doesn't want to.
First, he lost the debate to Joe Biden. Biden did not win, given he lied several times and seemed confused. Trump spent $100 Million trying to paint him as old and dazed, and when it came time for that to pay off, the President just couldn't shut up. The softball of condemning white supremacy was a terrible blunder. At points, Trump had command of the facts and looked impressive. He now has two more opportunities for Biden to lose, and he's rejecting the debates because it isn't in person.
That led to his COVID-19 diagnosis. It was the moment Trump could have saved his campaign. Trump is one of the most unsympathetic characters in American history, and if handled correctly, people may have found a tiny soft spot for the least-liked President. America wanted a lesson learned for a person that appears to have no sympathy for 200,000 dead Americans, roughly a 9-11 every three days. Instead, we got an Übermensch lying about his condition while breathing heavily on a balcony as he salutes God knows who.
He violated the basic rules of storytelling. Joseph Campbell, a professor of mythology, defined the hero's journey. "In narratology and comparative mythology, the hero's journey, or the monomyth, is the common template of stories that involve a hero who goes on an adventure, is victorious in a decisive crisis, and comes home changed or transformed."
Trump learned nothing. He will never change. He spent the last few days aggrandizing himself and endangering the people that serve him. It was the moment that Trump Fatigue Syndrome became palpable.
As off-putting as his speech on the Truman balcony was, it was his attempt at empathy and optimism. No one recognized it because he so often emphasizes cruelty and fear in his messaging.
Trump is supposedly the most incredible communicator since Reagan. If that is true, why did he lose the debate? Why can't he seize the moment to reset? Why can't he articulate what he wants to say? Why would he take credit for scuttling the stimulus talks? I am wholly opposed to all forms of Federal bailouts, but the public loves free stuff. Why say to them, "I am not sending you $1200 and it is my fault"?
America has very low standards for Trump, and he can't meet them. It has essentially been saying since January, "If you show basic competency and act somewhat normal, we will re-elect you."
His response? "NO CAN DO, BUCKAROO"
It is one thing to read about Trump's erratic behavior in tell-all books. It is another to see it happening live on television.
Trump has become a modern-day Icarus. Icarus's father, Daedalus, was a talented inventor. Imprisoned by King Minos, father and son sought a way to escape. Daedalus made two sets of wings out of wax and feathers. Before they set off, Daedalus warned his son to follow him closely. Flying too close to the sea would weight the wings down with water. Flying too high to the sun would melt the wax. Once in the air, Icarus became intoxicated with the power of flight, something no one had experienced before. Overcome with giddiness; he flew higher and higher. This hubris led him to fall into the sea, meeting an unnecessary death. There are consequences for personal over-ambition.
Trump has some characteristics that could have made him a great President (in the conventional sense and not in the ideal libertarian sense). Trump has an unfathomable threshold for pain. No other politician has been the target of scorn like Trump (even if it's mostly self-inflicted.) He's been Teflon. He lacks any real ideology, and it makes him open and flexible. He flip flops on issues regularly, and it doesn't bother his base. He has no compunction when it comes to growing the size of government. Instead of pursuing bipartisan opportunities, he's spent four years fighting personal battles. It has become apparent in the last month that his interests begin and end with Donald Trump.
For those arguing that he is the most libertarian President ever, it's not true. His entire goal is to maintain power to use it against the people he considers enemies. He is a pure power politician like many Presidents, but he drops the pretense of shame. It's that clarity that strokes the populist strain that runs deep in libertarians. While watching the Vice Presidential debate, I found myself appreciating Trump's nakedness. Pence and Harris lied, obfuscated, and gaslit the entire time. Trump may be a bullshit artist, but he believes his bullshit (at least when it leaves his lips).
When the chips were down, Trump put out CDC guidelines that gave governors a license to shut down their states and then added Trillions to the debt. Over 20% of all U.S. Dollars in existence have been printed this year. He isn't different than Biden. His judgment was wrong, and his record is terrible. Any narrative that says otherwise is bullshit. If he doesn't believe that now, why did he get tricked by people like Fauci and Powell less than six months ago? I took a lot of heat yesterday for this entirely factual statement, but was vindicated when Pence said the following last night:
"But when you say it hasn't worked… When Dr. Fauci, and Dr. Birx, and our medical experts came to us in the second week of March, they said, if the President didn't take the unprecedented step of shutting down roughly half of the American economy, that we could lose 2.2 million Americans. That's the reality."
Not holding the President accountable for his failed policies is a pro-government argument. Governments at all levels knew they have never had the force of law to enforce lockdowns. They used what the military calls "command climate."
"Command climate is the culture of a unit. It is the way a unit "conducts business." The leader of the organization is solely responsible for the organization's command climate. Commanders at all levels establish this climate by what they say and what they do."
By coming out and saying shutdowns were necessary, Trump used the perceived authority that comes with his office. After we got these postcards, Republican governors shut down their states because they could blame the President.
Once Trump realized this was unpopular, he turned on his guidelines and agencies. The right-wing media propagandized this notion that he was never responsible. Unfortunately, there was a paper trail.
He should have used his position of authority to promote the best libertarian approach to the pandemic. Assess what is truly happening with the disease, articulate the risks to the American people clearly, let them make decisions based on their risk level, and use persuasion to encourage people to do the right thing.
In history's most predictable outcome, government force led to contempt, conspiracy theories, and resentment. Like prohibition, using coercion always produces the opposite effect of what the policy intended. He has stoked resentment, encouraged unhealthy choices, and deteriorated the national conversation on a deadly virus.
"We should do nothing and masks don't work" are terrible arguments, and codes to most of the population that the right is a group of uncaring jerks. It's a subtle "Somalia" argument. "If the government weren't making me do this, I would do the wrong thing." Why are we then surprised when people want a government to protect them?
The correct view is that COVID-19 is real and masks work (they do), BUT we should not use government force. (See my but since so many readers miss it.) When faced with a considerable challenge, human beings rise to the occasion and embrace empathy towards hurting people.
America saw the free market dealing with a pandemic when the NCAA and the NBA shut down. There would have been an economic downturn, but it would have been much shallower and less painful than the current situation. When someone asks, "Did the lockdowns work?," the answer is a clear no. They made the pandemic and the economy worse.
Unfortunately, the only message from our side that stuck was the selfishness and nuttiness. Most libertarians and conservatives chose to make the lazier argument. Libertarians had the opportunity to display the empathy of free markets versus the cruelty of government. Revolts against lockdowns are starting to build, but it's too late for many people losing their lives and jobs.
Instead of owning this messaging failure, the media gets blamed for propagandizing the population, and "sheeple" get blamed for not seeing the "secret knowledge" about medical issues dispensed by economists. Yes, the media tilts in one direction, but this isn't a magic wand used to excuse every bad behavior by Republicans. There are limits to this.
If I seem at odds with many on the right today, this is why. It's not an abandonment of principle. It's frustration with arguments that I think are counter to the spread of our ideology. Adopting the least popular President's cruel and failed messaging is a mistake. Not only is it harmful to the messenger's credibility, but it isn't good for the hearer either. It's been bad for society, and it has an expiration date. That day may be November 3, 2020.