“Great works are performed not by strength but by perseverance” – Samuel Johnson, British writer/thinker
Great minds think alike and poor ones think barely at all. Among the former are wartime American presidents George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. FDR was president when pre-World War Two totalitarian warmongers threatened all of the world’s democracies.
Among the worst thinkers to ever lead America is Donald J. Trump, who Wednesday speciously joined the ranks of brilliant wartime presidents by equating his lackluster leadership since the novel coronavirus emerged with the wartime trials of our most revered Americans.
Claiming himself a wartime president fighting an invisible enemy, Trump used a televised dog and pony show to announce he was invoking wartime emergency powers to fight the coronavirus pandemic.
“I view it — in a sense as a wartime president,” Trump said before announcing he was invoking a 20th Century solution to a forgotten war. His authority is the 70-year-old Defense Production Act (DPA) that gives the federal government authority to steer production in the private sector to address shortages in face masks, ventilators, and other medical supplies.
President Harry S. Truman first invoked the tailor-made new law on September 8, 1950, to kickstart industrial production of war materials at the beginning of the Korean War. It was either create a law or be driven from the rimlands of Asia by Communist forces.
At the end of World War II, during September 1945, American production of arms literally ceased. When the proxy war in Korea erupted on June 25, 1950, between Soviet Union-supported North Korea and American-sponsored South Korea, the U.S. was woefully unprepared to fight
The DPA was tailor-made for the situation by authorizing Truman to use loans, direct purchases and other incentives to boost the production of critical goods and essential war materials. It includes specific provisions allowing the federal government to enter agreements with private industry and block foreign mergers and acquisitions harmful to national security.
“We had the best economy we ever had, and one day you have to close it down to defeat this enemy,” Trump declared.
Since 1950, the just-in-case DPA has been reauthorized over 50 times and used several times before Trump came along. Ironically, the last president to invoke the act was President Barack Obama in 2011 to force telecommunication companies including AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc. to divulge confidential information during the government’s hunt for Chinese cyber-spies.
No sooner than Trump invoked the DPA than he said wasn’t prepared to actually do anything with that powerful tool.
“I only signed the Defense Production Act to combat the Chinese Virus should we need to invoke it in a worst case scenario in the future. Hopefully there will be no need, but we are all in this TOGETHER!,” Trump said yesterday in a racially charged tweet.
Trump’s legions of critics are skeptical, not because the DPA couldn’t help, but because it will upset his powerful industrial supporters who yearn to maintain their privileged status quo. Cynics argue his reluctance is likely to change when his minions realize the potential for abuse that exists in an environment where winking at federal law is considered good policy.
A very early observer of the American political scene was British Prime Minister William Pitt. He was British Secretary of State when the French-Indian War was fought from 1754 to 1763 over northern border disputes by British and allied colonial troops against France and its Native American proxies. Although Pitt never supported American independence, he is recognized as a brilliant wartime British leader who understood the difference between an inspired leader and a blithering idiot.
“An eagerness and zeal for dispute on every subject, and with every one, shows great self-sufficiency, that never-failing sign of great self-ignorance,” Pitt once opined.
Pitt’s prescient observation is still valid, perhaps never more so since Trump assumed the mantle of a wartime president when his proven ability to make war is on par with his ability to inspire the nation with insipid drivel.
Trump’s sudden remake as a wartime leader is not new. The tradition of claiming wartime leadership – particularly during election time — is embroidered everywhere in American history. The U.S. has only enjoyed 16 years of peace in its 243-year history.
Last April, former President Jimmy Carter revealed that Trump asked him for advice on what to do about China’s rapidly growing economy while Carter was teaching Sunday school in Plains, Georgia. Trump was worried that Beijing could overtake the U.S. as the world’s richest country.
The 94-year-old former president told him China was getting ahead of the U.S. because Washington has been at war with other countries for most of its history. He explained to Trump that China’s rapid economic expansion was facilitated by government investment and peaceful relations with the rest of the world. He told Trump he could learn what to do from that lesson in history. Considering that the U.S. spends more on military hardware than most of the world combined, it was easy for pacifist Carter to illustrate the problem.
The president who studiously avoided the Vietnam draft multiple times now says the country needs to prepare to fight a war against the “China virus,” a provocative term in this dangerous time. His pronouncement was a startling reversal of tactics and strategy to combat the looming pandemic.
Since yesterday, Trump has “always” believed the coronavirus outbreak was “a pandemic, long before it was called a pandemic.” Forget that last January when the coronavirus pandemic was still just a dire warning.
“We have it totally under control,” happy talking Trump declared.
Now that his economic engine has expired in the face of the growing pandemic and its horrific impact on travel, schools, restaurants, and retailers, he is suddenly singing another tune. Whether or not it has anything to do with getting re-elected after dropping the ball so many times, the fact that Trump looks like he is dribbling is apparently of no consequence.
“Every generation of Americans has been called to make shared sacrifices for the good of the nation,” Trump now says.
“Unlimited power is apt to corrupt the minds of those who possess it; and this I know, my lords, that where laws end, tyranny begins,” Pitt once observed.
The brilliant Britisher’s sage advice has never been more relevant to Americans than it is now that Trump has laid claim to great responsibilities he has so far failed to even comprehend, much less come to grips with.