One knows, of course, that Donald Trump behaves differently from the leaders of other countries, especially the leaders of other Western democracies. One knows that he disdains facts; that he does not read briefing papers; that he has no organizational talents; that he does not know how to make use of militaries, bureaucracies, or diplomatic services; that he has no basic knowledge of history or science, let alone government.
But seeing him in this video, produced by my colleagues in Atlantic Studios, juxtaposed with other world leaders during this coronavirus pandemic comes, nevertheless, as a shock. Chancellor Angela Merkel, President Emmanuel Macron, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and President Moon Jae-in all speak of evidence-based policy, of the need to take the disease seriously, of empathy and solidarity. Trump speaks of hoaxes, of a disease no different from the flu, of a “germ that has gotten so brilliant that we can’t keep up with it,” of disinfectant as a miracle cure. Even now, even in the worst public-health crisis in a century, he divides people instead of unifying them, creating precisely the kind of distrust that makes the disease harder to defeat. He cannot demonstrate empathy, because he is incapable of feeling any. He cannot demonstrate solidarity, because he has only disdain for his fellow citizens.
Americans, as a rule, rarely compare themselves with other countries, so convinced are we that our system is superior, that our politicians are better, that our democracy is the fairest and most robust in the world. But watch this video and ask yourself: Is this the kind of leadership you expect from a superpower? Does this make you feel confident in our future? Or is this man a warning signal, a blinking red light, a screaming siren telling all of us, and all of the world, that something about our political system has gone profoundly awry?
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