The White House communications office once was respected worldwide for its precision with words and constant attention to presidential clarity. Officials knew that a misspoken word by the president could send stock markets plummeting, disrupt diplomatic relations or even start a war. In President Donald Trump's White House, it's a daily demolition derby.
Trump on Wednesday night shattered all public notions that the world's most powerful leader was conferring with advisers, phoning other heads of state and devoting all his energy to the coronavirus fight. Though he was reading from a presumably fact-checked and thoroughly edited text, Trump misspoke repeatedly. The result is global confusion, a growing sense of panic, and worse stock market turmoil. For the sake of national and global stability, it's time for a Cabinet-level intervention to halt this catastrophic leadership meltdown.
Trump stated that "all travel from Europe to the United States" would be suspended for the next 30 days, starting Friday. "These prohibitions will not only apply to the tremendous amount of trade and cargo but various other things as we get approval."
A flurry of corrections quickly followed. The Department of Homeland Security said the Europe travel restrictions don't apply to "all travel." Americans, legal permanent residents and immediate family members of U.S. citizens are exempt. Only foreigners who have been in Europe within 14 days of their scheduled travel to the United States are affected.
Having jolted European exporters to the extreme — because there's no evidence whatsoever that cargo transmits the virus — Trump tweeted out his own correction that the new restrictions do not apply to trade and cargo. "The restriction stops people, not goods."
How could the president so badly botch such fundamentals in a nationally televised address? Trump also failed to explain in any understandable way exactly why Europe is being singled out, even though China remains the coronavirus epicenter. Besides, banning travel from Europe does nothing to address the virus's rapid spread here. The main problem is the absence of virus testing. Dr. Anthony Fauci, of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on Thursday described the testing system as "failing."
European leaders complained that they were completely blindsided by Trump's speech. If the goal is to encourage global collaboration to fight this pandemic, Trump just needlessly alienated an entire subcontinent. If the goal was to stabilize the stock market, the speech achieved the opposite and prompted a plunge so steep it triggered a trading circuit breaker on Thursday morning.
Vice President Mike Pence, Trump's point person for the coronavirus response, speaks publicly in ways that calm nervous investors and instill public confidence. He exhibits a command of the facts, in contrast to Trump's incoherent improvisation. Trump is an abysmal communicator. Can no one stop him from talking and tweeting? Let Pence and true professionals seize the microphone before Trump's damage becomes irreparable.
REPRINTED FROM THE ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Photo credit: Pexels at Pixabay