The 75th anniversary of the Allied victory over Nazi Germany got me thinking about how World War II might have turned out if President Franklin D. Roosevelt had acted like President Donald J. Trump.
Picture the scene a few months after Pearl Harbor. The first U.S. troops have arrived in England, and the Doolittle raiders have bombed Tokyo. But even though the war has just begun, the Trumpified FDR is already losing interest. One day he says the war is already won; the next day that we will just have to accept the occupation of France because that’s the way life is. He speculates that mobilization might be unnecessary if we can develop a “death ray” straight out of a Buck Rogers comic strip. He complains that rationing and curfews are very unpopular and will have to end soon. He tells the governors that if they want to keep on fighting, they will have to take charge of manufacturing ships, tanks and aircraft. Trumpy FDR prefers to hold mass rallies to berate his predecessor, Herbert Hoover. He even suggests that Hoover belongs in jail along with the leading Republican congressmen — “Martin, Barton and Fish.”
In reality, of course, Roosevelt focused with single-minded devotion on defeating the United States’ enemies until the day of his death. Old political battles and agendas fell by the wayside. “Dr. New Deal” had been transformed, he explained, into “Dr. Win-the-War.”
Trump, by contrast, cannot focus on a single subject for the length of a paragraph. So it is no surprise that he has already gotten bored with a war against the coronavirus that isn’t going his way. He is taking his cues not from FDR but from Sen. George Aiken, the Vermont Republican whose plan for the Vietnam War was summed up as “declare victory and get out.” In Trump’s case, that means getting Americans out of the home whether it’s safe to do so or not.
Coronavirus deaths are surging past 86,000 and unemployment claims past 36 million, but Trump sounded on Monday as if the pandemic is already over. “We have met the moment and we have prevailed,” he declared. It’s as if Roosevelt had declared Victory in Europe before D-Day.
Medical experts argue that it’s necessary to dramatically ramp up testing, but Trump has no national plan to do so, and said on Thursday that testing might be “frankly overrated.” “When you test you find something is wrong with people,” he declared. “If we didn’t do any testing, we would have very few cases.” The mind reels. This is akin to FDR saying that if no one reported the attack on Pearl Harbor, it wouldn’t have happened.
Rather than turn into “Dr. Defeat the Virus,” Trump has become Dr. Demento trying to distract the public by replaying golden oldies. Have you heard the one about Joe Scarborough killing an aide (who actually collapsed because of a heart problem)? Play it again, Sam.
And rewind “Obamagate” while we’re at it. “This is the greatest political scam, hoax in the history of our country. ... People should be going to jail for this stuff,” Trump thundered on Thursday, even though a few days earlier he was unable to explain what law President Barack Obama supposedly violated. “You know what the crime is,” he told a Post reporter. “The crime is very obvious to everybody. All you have to do is read the newspapers, except yours.”
Actually no one knows what the crime is, because there isn’t one. As the Bulwark’s Tim Miller explains, Trump’s theory seems to be that a high-level cabal framed him for colluding with Russia but neglected to make the information public before the election when it could have helped Hillary Clinton. When stated so concisely it sounds preposterous — so Trump prefers not to spell it out. Instead he darkly suggests that routine occurrences — such as Obama officials “unmasking” surveillance transcripts that revealed future national security adviser Michael Flynn speaking with the Russian ambassador — are worse than Watergate.
The scandal is not that Flynn was unmasked or prosecuted. It is that Attorney General William P. Barr is now trying to drop charges to which Flynn already pleaded guilty and acting director of national intelligence Richard Grenell is releasing information about the unmasking requests. They are politicizing the Justice Department and the intelligence community to save Trump from his own misconduct — which included (lest we forget) welcoming Russian interference in the U.S. election.
It remains to be seen whether the “very stable genius” will succeed in distracting the public. He has definitely distracted himself. The Post reports: “Trump has been distracted recently from managing the pandemic by fixating on Flynn and related matters, ranting in private about the Russia investigation, complaining about Comey and others in the FBI and making clear he wanted to talk in the run-up to the election about law enforcement targeting him, according to one adviser who spoke with the president last week.”
If FDR had taken Trump’s approach, this column would be in German.
Watch the latest Opinions video: