I Heard Two Presidential Speeches Today — Trump Gave Neither of Them
On March 11, Donald Trump ushered cameras into the Oval Office so he could address the public on the coronavirus pandemic.
It was one of the few times Trump has used the Oval Office for such an address. Rallies and driveway press gaggles are more his thing. But the pandemic called for something “presidential.”
The only things “presidential” in the speech, however, were the gold “Nixon-esque” drapes behind Trump.
Trump used a teleprompter, which he always has trouble reading. He mumbled through some portions of the speech, but worse, he flubbed essential bits of policy.
He said trade from Europe was going to stop. He seemed to say that Americans stranded in Europe could not come home. And, of course, he said that there are plenty of coronavirus testing kits and the federal government would pay for people to get them.
Trump and his people spent March 12 walking back those bungles — while the stock market tumbled again, tripping SEC circuit breakers for the second time in a week.
Meanwhile, Democratic presidential contender Joe Biden gave a coronavirus speech from Wilmington, Delaware.
He did everything he needed to do.
He was calm. He spoke clearly. He told listeners exactly what was at stake.
It will touch people in positions of power, as well as the most vulnerable in our society. — Joe Biden
Biden didn’t bash Trump. He didn’t need to. But he did say Trump’s anti-globalism has hurt the United States’ ability to lead in a crisis of any sort.
Our government’s ability to respond effectively has been undermined by hollowing out our agencies and disparagement of science and our ability to drive a global response is dramatically, dramatically undercut by the damage Trump has done to our credibility and our relationships around the world. We have to get to work immediately to dig ourselves out of this hole. And that’s why today we will combat and overcome the coronavirus. — Joe Biden.
Read the full text of Biden’s speech here.
A couple of hours later, Bernie Sanders gave his presidential coronavirus speech from Burlington, Vermont.
Bernie speaks differently than Biden. He gestures more; his voice is gravelly.
But he tells you exactly what he thinks. And he hit the same leadership notes that Biden hit. He told listeners what was at stake and we have to work together.
Therefore, it is an absolute moral imperative that our response as a government, as a society, as a business community, and as individual citizens meet the enormity of this crisis. As people stay or work from home and are directed to quarantine, it will be easy for us to feel like we are all alone. “I’m working at home. I’m not at my office.” Or that we must only worry about ourselves and think that everybody else should fend for themselves. But in my view, that would be a tragic and dangerous mistake. — Bernie Sanders
Sanders told everyone the obvious. We need new leadership.
Unfortunately, in this time of international crisis, it is clear to me, at least, that we have an administration that is largely incompetent, and whose incompetence and recklessness have threatened the lives of many, many people in our country. — Bernie Sanders
Read Bernie’s whole speech here.
Both men looked and sounded presidential. They were giving campaign speeches, to be sure, and their solutions to the coronavirus pandemic are part of those campaigns.
Both men hit the essential points that a leadership-in-time-of-crisis speech should hit.
- Tell the truth. Don’t be afraid of it. Don’t shade it to fit your agenda.
- Don’t garble your message.
- Explain your plans and how you are implementing them.
- Acknowledge that, “we’re all in this together.”
- Let the public have ownership of the solutions.
I’ve explained before that true leadership emerges during crises.
Poor leadership also shows up during crises.
In the last two days, we’ve seen examples of both.