When in danger or in doubt,
Run in circles, scream and shout!
March 4, 1933, at the heart of the Great Depression President Franklin Delano Roosevelt delivered his first inaugural address. Almost nine decades down the road, the prescience of his admonitions is stunning,
“I am certain that my fellow Americans expect . . . I will address them with a candor and a decision which the present situation of our Nation impels. This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured will revive and will prosper. So, first of all let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning unjustified terror which paralyses needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days . . .
Our common difficulties . . . concern, thank God, only material things.
Only a foolish optimist can deny the dark realities of the moment.”
March 20, 2020, as America’s numbers of OCVID 19 infections and deaths ramped up, NBC’s Peter Alexander asked President Donald Trump, “What do you say to Americans right now who are scared?” Our leader responded,
“I say you are a terrible reporter. That‘s what I say, and I say that it’s a very bad signal you are putting out to the American people. The American people are looking for answers and they’re looking for hope.”
Right Mr. President, answers and hope, not insult and bluster! You were handed a gilt-framed opportunity and you blew it, Big-Time!
In 1933 Americans’ fear focused on loss of jobs and income, of sleeping on the sidewalk, of standing in soup and welfare lines. Today’s fear revolves around suffering and death from a physical disease. Whether from of loss of income or pain and death, President Roosevelt articulated a crucial fact: our emotional reaction to fear can paralyze our capacity for rational corrective action. Never surrender to “fear itself!” Amid England’s “darkest hour,” Roosevelt’s ally Winston Churchill admonished, “Never, never, never give up!”
Failing to act on COVID 19 warnings in January and ignoring the virus through February, in March President Trump predicted it would vanish by “magic,” attacked a “terrible reporter” for raising the specter of fear, anticipated packed April Easter services
and, the latest, hatched a moronic notion to assess the risk of contagion by county.
Thankfully, as diagnosed COVID 19 cases rocket past one hundred thousand, Americans may rely on state Governors to value their constituents’ health over economics. In March, to mitigate spread of disease Governors asked citizens to stay home and maintain public physical separation, businesses elected or were compelled to close their doors, sporting events large and small have been postponed or cancelled. Even birthday parties, memorial services and funerals are curtailed.
Rather than appreciate the wisdom in these actions, characteristically, President Trump predicted out-of-work, out-of-paycheck Americans would give up in mass suicide. This slap-on-the-face and “terrible” assessment of Americans’ mettle, reveals the values of a man conceived and raised amid the bare-knuckled, back-alley brawling over New York City Real Estate, of business, where return-on-investment, profit-and-loss and stock portfolios measure all things.
No doubt the Great Depression drove a few to the ultimate act of despair. From our President’s perspective, it may be instructive that suicides making 1929’s “News” were men in three-piece-suits leaping from Wall Street windows.
Fear seems to paralyze and incapacitate our President’s capacity for rational, constructive action. Rather than manage the crisis—the job we hired and pay him for—Donald Trump predicts miracles and hopes COVID 19 will go away by “magic.”
Captain Queeg comes to mind. Alone in his wheelhouse, a run amok skipper steers hard to port, then starboard. On and below deck his crew scrambles, shifts cargo and ballast to keep the vessel from turning keel-up.
“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” “A terrible reporter.” The difference in focus, personality, articulation, emotion and thinking is stunning! One based in ignorance and fear, the other in wisdom and courage.