Commentary: Trump comes up small when compared to other wartime presidents

By Jack Hoban

Donald Trump is right when he claims to be a wartime president. He still has a massive challenge ahead of him and Americans are praying he has the skills, temperament and intelligence to get us through this without too much more loss of life.

But a look at other wartime presidents clearly shows that President Trump is not up to the challenge.

They say the times make the man not the other way around, and I agree. This pandemic was not Donald Trump’s fault. But his response to it will define his presidency. He could learn a lot by reading about his fellow wartime presidents. But sadly, Donald Trump doesn’t read. If he did, he would learn a lot.

Long before Rocky Balboa, George Washington was the original American underdog. He took a ragtag group of citizen soldiers and defeated the greatest military in the world. He proved you could lose nearly every battle and still win a war.

He was a warrior-statesman who saved our country in its infancy, then became our first president. George Washington was so popular that many founding fathers wanted to make him king. But he said he had spent seven years fighting to overthrow a king and instead, was resigning to return to his home in Virginia. When England’s King George heard of Washington’s plans to walk away from power he said: “If that’s true, he’s the greatest man in the world.”

Donald Trump said he would have been a great general and that he knows more about war than his generals do. It’s too bad he didn’t take the chance to join the Army.

Soon after Abraham Lincoln’s election in 1860, the south seceded from the union over slavery and the bloody Civil War began. In the mist of the war, Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing over 6 million souls from bondage. Lincoln hated slavery and the abject cruelty of it: family separation, systematic rape, people in chains and babies being ripped from the arms of their mothers for sale. Lincoln hoped that cruelty would never be seen again.

Harry Truman described Lincoln this way. “He had a good head, and a great brain, and a kind heart. He was the best kind of ordinary man and when I say that he was an ordinary man, I mean that as high praise and not deprecation. “
A kind heart versus a cruel heart? Which one will you vote for?

Franklin Delano Roosevelt led the nation through the Depresson and the Second World War. There’s a great book titled: “Why the Allies Won” that tells how FDR put the country on war footing a year before Pearl Harbor. He claimed he was building tanks, ships, guns and planes for England and the Soviet Union, but in essence, he was getting America ready for the war he knew was coming.

The biggest criticism of President Trump these days is his slow recognition of the pandemic. One theory is that his focus was his re-election and not the health and safety of us. He knew a vibrant stock market was his best chance to win a second term and a pandemic could crash the market. He dragged his feet hoping the pandemic would “magically go away” and he could protect the stock market. It failed miserably, and here we are. That’s akin to FDR declaring war on Japan six weeks after Pearl Harbor.

I also wonder what cruel nickname President Trump would have given FDR if he was his political rival? President Roosevelt contracted polio as a young man and spent most of his time as president in a wheelchair. FDR may have been physically disabled, but he moved at record speed to protect Americans. If only he had moved half as fast as FDR; they wouldn’t be projecting a death toll of 100,000 from this pandemic.

Harry Truman had a plaque on his desk that read: “The buck stops here.” He wanted Americans to know that any mistakes committed by his administration were his responsibility, and his alone. This differs from President Trump who has never taken responsibility for any of his failures. He has blamed governors for not being able to secure much-needed health supplies on the open market. Securing supplies and getting them to the states is the responsibility of the federal government. Everyone knows that.

Along the same lines, Dwight Eisenhower, another warrior-president, defined leadership this way: “A leader takes responsibility for all mistakes and gives others credit for all successes.” President Trump does the opposite. He hogs all credit and blames others for his mistakes. President Trump’s braggadocio would have bothered President Truman and President Eisenhower, who knew braggarts always have severe self-esteem issues.

John F. Kennedy’s response to the Cuban missile crisis was a case study in critical thinking, psychology and knowledge of history. A war hero whose strength was not to fight, JFK did not like the options he was getting from his political and military advisors: Bomb the Soviet missile sites or invade Cuba. Both would result in tens of thousands of American deaths.

He believed that the Soviets wanted to step back from the brink of a full nuclear exchange. Why? Because the Soviets loved life and their children as much as we did. Over 13 days of back-channel negotiations, the crisis was settled with no loss of life. A smart, steady head had averted an apocalypse.

And now another apocalypse looms, and our president has been a dollar short and a day late. Rather two months or more late. He is clearly out of his league.

After watching President Trump’s performance at his daily COVID-19 press conference, it’s been said a 5th grader observed: “He’s like a kid giving an oral book report to the class who didn’t read the book.”

America has always been fortunate to have the right leader at the right time. But I’m afraid our luck has run out. We’re being led by an ignorant, petty, vindictive man who cares only for himself and because of that, many Americans are going to die needlessly.

It’s been said that an army of sheep led by a lion can defeat an army of lions led by a sheep. I fear we’re being led by a sheep. And even with the immense power of the federal government, our military, and our heroic front-line healthcare workers, we are heading for an unnecessary catastrophe.

But there is light at the end of the tunnel. Every day, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, in a Churchillian way, explains the crisis to a national audience. He is unlike President Trump in every way: He’s smart, steady, and has the right combination of competence, credibility and caring to communicate the facts – good and bad – and put them into a context his audience can understand. He should be our next president.

He’s already dealing with the issues that will consume the next president. Gov. Cuomo is showing the leadership and resolve to defeat this virus in real time. Put this lion in front of our army of lions and America will truly become great again.

When everything is on the line, we need Churchill – not Benny Hill.

Jack Hoban lives in Lewes.