Sunday, March 22, 2020


By Dominique Paul Noth

Just as America seemed to be turning to Joe Biden,
Trump tries to sound like COVID-19 expert.
Up until Trump, it had never been thought a weakness of our US Constitution that we can only have one president at a time.

The wish that this were not so crept into America’s majority thinking March 12 when the Democratic presidential race clarified and the final two contenders in separate events,  Joe Biden in prepared remarks on the coronavirus crisis and Bernie Sanders in typical off the cuff elbow-waving punctuation, delivered more presidential clarity than Trump had ever managed.

Up to then he had pretty much lied saying he had kept COVID-19 away by blocking travelers from China in February and assured everyone to just let the virus run its course and we would be back to good times in a matter of weeks.

That was followed on Sunday March 15 in a formal debate between the last two contenders where the winning choice for voters unveiled more of his softer, reasonable elder tone and Sanders provided a louder “me too” echo.  Since Bernie was still trying to knock Joe off, his hand gestures were in full force (delightfully illustrated in a newspaper story) and the debate verged into boring references to who had done what to whom 20 years ago.  Yet both still sounded more presidential as the virus clouds gathered -- and certainly clearer on the government’s relationship to its people in times of crisis. 

You could almost feel the mood of the watching public changing.

There was a pronounced desire to STOP LISTENING to that overweight comb-over on the corner TV endlessly pontificating on how great he is and assembling dutiful minions to echo his self-praise -- and turn instead to hear more ideas from the person likely to replace him and see how his lower-key approach and empathy about problem-solving rather than self-aggrandizement would work. Maybe he’s older than many would like, maybe a younger generation should be prepared to take over, but Biden is so obviously better and crisper that the nation was clearly moving to see him as the replacement.

Indeed the Biden camp itself is right now debating how to provide its own truth squad to combat Trump’s tendency to exaggerate what he has done and muddy where the US actually is. But be careful. Just as America in my estimation was prepared to make that mental shift to the president in waiting rather than the president in freefall, we were painfully reminded of the constitutional mandate. Our forced time with Trump is far from over and the real power of the president exists in the controls he still commands and the obedience that is his for the asking, right or wrong.

The social isolation demands of the coronavirus situation led Trump to abandon the frequent rallies that gave outlet for outrageous statements the media felt compelled to report. Gone as well are the impromptu diatribes against his enemies while boarding helicopters (where is he going to go now anyway?).

Yet just as the public was longing to see Trump get the comeuppance denied by the GOP in the impeachment trial – Bam! came down the invisible virus enemy and a crisis that demanded standing by the federal government and the only president we are allowed to have.

The crisis is so extreme that it pushed politics to the backburner.  Trump’s own wishy-washiness on COVID-19 helped him by extending our confusion. Now we need him to unleash the real power of the presidency – not to make  false claims of hoax, not the presidential declarations that had the weight of thimbles, not  the slow steady erosion of presidential planning and authority he had been demonstrating for three painful years and that Biden was primed to take on.  

Now we need the money his signature can help provide. Now we need a real president and have to settle for what is there in a genuine crisis.  And he was determined to keep himself in our minds over his rivals, assembling the real health scientists and his own obeisant cabinet to dominate the news cycle nightly, with press conferences where they crowded around him like nobles to the master – violating every edict of social distancing they talked of --  with actual edicts that had to be reported and the press again clamoring to hear him ramble.  

He  loomed  like a giant Pillsbury doughboy over even the intelligent warnings from health experts, hoping the public would transfer his bovine presence to a semblance of a steady hand --   and then imposing his own two-bit advice on the best drugs, shutting down any media who questioned Dr. Trump by immediately branding them as nasty and unfeeling for the American public.

Dr. Fauci trying to maintain decorum as Trump rambles
He is also forcing his minions to introduce every piece of news with “our beloved and great leader” intros.  To this point the scientists have tried to resist, dropping some gems of disagreement (Drs. Anthony Fauci and Deborah Brix in particular) which tell the listening public more about what to do and what to fear.

It’s  become a  laughable exercise as VP Pence praises him and dispenses infomercial pitchman advice, as speaker after speaker crowd forward to clarify what the confusing policies meant, as Trump takes his bows and leaves the stage … and the TV cameras typically also depart until the next cycle. It has all led frankly to calls by multiple media reporters for the press to abandon covering these daily White House briefings because they are falsely elevating Trump.

Yet according to polls it was a clever intrusion, since the public has not yet separated how much Trump actually helps and how much he hinders.  It is  transparent to any student of history that his initial worry was his own re-election not the danger to the world and he thought he had an  ace up his sleeve to protect first – the economy.  It is now suffering a COVID-19 swoon into Great Depression territory.

All we’re going through cannot be blamed solely on Trump. His actual slowness to organize and act  may be only 25%  of our troubles --  but he  had disbanded many of the planning protections and field exercises Obama had put in pace and he’s played fast and loose with the truth since.  His behavior is far different than his proclamations yet  there is no one else given TV space to fabricate as he does.

I understand the wish to move to a new president well before a November election – I suspect most of the country feels the same but knows it is stuck with the jackass.  His self-description as a “wartime president” is another ploy to prevent  the US from swapping war horses in midstream.  But it does seem the voters have too quickly forgotten  we  had a chance in the impeachment trial to be rid of this president.  We and the Senate GOP didn’t and we are paying for that now, left with only the hope that he is not so far gone to prevent us from pulling  through.

I sympathize with those who want it to be different – who long for a nightly truth squad to follow the president around and provide common sense.  A good friend in California, a retired artist, is one of many on social media who bluntly and eloquently suggest that Biden should form a shadow government, one that daily contradicts and clarifies Trump’s ramblings  and supports the grains of sensibility in other orders.  “Please, don’t tell me it doesn’t have the force of law,” wrote the friend. “Of course it doesn’t. It has the force of morality and exigency.”

This friend and others have given the “shadow government” idea a lot of thought, working down to a vice presidential choice I agree with, a cabinet of proven public servants and many other truth tellers and experienced hands to restore the US to some sort of sanity in  internal politics and global repute. Meanwhile, the real Joe Biden is itching to speak out but is being advised by his insiders to temper his past blasts at Trump.  Like him or hate him, the nation needs Trump  to succeed for the sake of millions of US lives – plus he is all too eager to paint any opposition as “un-American.”

How do you attack a bad president in such circumstances?  You have to pick your shots and hope the voters understand, particularly with a president who will take constant bows dispensing nearly a trillion dollars in rescue money.

We are stuck with him for 10 more months  that are looking uglier and more dangerous every day.   But  the Constitution allows no shadow government to correct our course – any such effort could be disruptive.  So we have to watch and abide, hoping the current crop of voters are sensible enough to look past the mountebank, realize how we can’t much longer endure his deficits and remain eager to  look for some sanity in our future.

About the author: Noth has been  a professional journalist since the 1960s, first as national, international and local news copy editor at The Milwaukee Journal, then as an editor for its original Green Sheet, also  for almost two decades the paper’s film and drama critic. He became the newspaper’s senior feature editor. He was tapped by the publishers of the combining Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for special projects and as first online news producer before voluntarily departing in the mid-1990s to run online news seminars and write on public affairs. From 2002 to 2013 he ran the Milwaukee Labor Press as editor. It served as the Midwest’s largest home-delivered labor newspaper, with archives at  In that role he won top awards yearly until the paper stopped publishing in 2013. His investigative pieces and extensive commentaries are now published by several news outlets as well as his DomsDomain dual culture and politics outlets.  A member of the American Theatre Critics Association at its inception, he also reviews theater for Urban Milwaukee. 

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