A version of this previously appeared in The Baltimore Sun and is printed here with permission.

Two days after Pearl Harbor, Eleanor Roosevelt, a dynamic First Lady, flew from Washington to the west coast as co-leader of the Office of Civilian Defense to assure Americans of steadfast help in the coming crisis.

In Los Angeles, the president’s wife told state leaders: “I came here to find out from you what are the most helpful things we in Washington can do to help you. Tell me what you found lacking and what you want.”

Many weeks after his own intelligence agencies warned of a deadly threat from the coronavirus outbreak in China, President Trump called the virus the Democrat’s “hoax.” Several days after the first Americans died in California and Washington state, Trump called Washington’s governor “a snake” and continued to downplay the gravity of the virus.

One day after the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt went before Congress and delivered a brief, inspiring speech to rally the country and to declare that December 7, 1941 would “live in infamy.”

For days and weeks as more Americans began to contract Covid-19 and die, Donald Trump continued to downplay the threat of contagion. He said it was “only 15 people,” it “is going to go away” – like “a miracle.”

One month after Pearl Harbor, in his State of the Union address, FDR outlined a staggering set of production goals for industry for 1942: 60,000 planes, 45,000 tanks, six million tons of merchant ships – in a year.

When warned before that speech that American industry – long held back by isolationist-minded, “America Firsters”– could not meet such goals, FDR doubled the initial figures.

Donald Trump has failed to even use the full powers of the federal government – available in the Defense Production Act and other laws – to combat the virus.

While countries such as South Korea and Germany promptly ordered widespread testing and other critical equipment that dramatically limited the spread of the virus, Trump has claimed the federal government is not a “shipping clerk” and vowed to block supplies to states whose governors criticized him. He said he takes “no responsibility” for the overall response to the worst attack on the security and health of the United States since World War II.

The contrast between Donald Trump and FDR is stark – and all glaringly evident from “No Ordinary Time,” by Doris Kearns Goodwin, a remarkable history of the Roosevelts and the home front in World War II.

FDR’s leadership, so effective in dealing with the Depression in his first two terms, stands out as that of a smart, self-confident – even if crippled – leader with no fear for his political future. In contrast, Donald Trump has proved to be exactly what many observers – including Republicans – feared he would be: a lying, unstable narcissist whose overriding concern is his own political fate.

And it is not just in the United States, where 125,000 people have now died, nearly one-third of the world total when we have 4.25% of its population, that Trump’s lack of leadership has proved devastating. His administration has sought to blame anyone but itself for the haphazard U.S. response – starting with China, whose leaders do bear responsibility for an initial cover-up. Trump has withdrawn from the World Health Organization; he has blocked international aid to Iran. His administration refused to join an international search for effective vaccines.

Trump’s complete lack of leadership has been vividly evident in his response to the murder of George Floyd by a white policeman in Minneapolis. Rather than seek to calm racial tensions and unify the country, Trump exploited the understandable protests for his own political benefit – not only by divisive rhetoric but by misusing military forces against American citizens.

Condemnation of his actions have been most severe from the most respected leaders in the land – both military and religious leaders. Gen. James Mattis, Trump’s first Secretary of Defense, blasted the president.

Breaking a long silence since he resigned due to Trump’s impulsive and senseless decisions on military exercises with South Korea and on Syria, Mattis wrote in the Atlantic: “Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people – does not even pretend to try. Instead he tries to divide us. We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership.” Colin Powell, another general and Secretary of State for George W. Bush, two former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and even the current one, assailed Trump – underlining a grave strain in the traditional civilian-military relationship.

During the 2016 campaign, 50 leading Republican experts on national security warned that Trump, if elected, would prove to be “the most dangerous” and “most reckless” president in American history.

Trump’s diehard base may not like it, but the evidence is overwhelming that those leaders, including directors of the CIA and Homeland Security under George W. Bush, knew what they were talking about.

Frederic B. Hill, a foreign correspondent for The Baltimore Sun and senior adviser to a Republican senator, Charles McC. Mathias, Jr. later conducted wargaming exercises on national security issues for the Department of State. He is author of the forthcoming book, Dereliction of Duty; The Failed Presidency of Donald John Trump (Available from Amazon after mid-July). He lives in Arrowsic.

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