Trump’s Titanic Failure to Meet the Moment

Narcissism, denial, and human error; it could’ve been different.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

On the night of April 14th, 1912, the RMS Titanic was on a collision course with an iceberg. Stop me if you’ve heard this one. Major catastrophic events like this live on some one hundred years after their occurrence. Housing a new steering system, and an unfamiliar steersman, the ship zigged when it should have zagged, slamming straight into an iceberg.

I don’t want to ruin the ending. Before we arrive at the thrilling denouement, and I attempt to sully the arctic waters of our current political climate with a Titanic analogy, let me proceed with some context. After striking the iceberg, instead of laying idle, and potentially taking hours to sink, and saving the lives of the 1,496 people, the chairman of the White Star Line demanded the ship keep sailing. Full steam ahead. He missed the moment.

This detail would be revealed decades later as the secret was kept out of an allegiance to the company. A loyalty that kept the truth at the bottom of the ocean. Sometimes, loose lips lift ships. And yet, those who kept the secret pushed ahead with business as usual and failed to meet the moment. Time and again.

A failure to meet the moment. Plug that into your Google machine and watch the myriad articles and quotes arise from the last four years. I’m intent on looking at one moment in particular. A moment that, with the elasticity of it, is stretching from last week to tomorrow, and beyond.

Donald Trump has contracted the Coronavirus. The rest is history.

One of the more prescient moments of the last 72 hours could be Trump’s joyride to wave to his supporters. Could there be a greater summation of this presidency? The maiden voyage of a man fallen ill. A man of Titanic status sailed belligerently into an iceberg. And instead of slowing down, and allowing those in his stead to be rescued. He ordered full steam ahead.

Is it irony? Verisimilitude? Perhaps the allegory of the image of a masked Trump in a hermetically sealed SUV, breaking all quarantine protocol, endangering the lives of two secret service agents to feast on a snack of latent narcissistic bliss can only be superseded by the details surrounding his superspreader event in the Rose Garden and a blurry timeline around his diagnosis, and subsequent travel schedule after said diagnosis.

He chose this moment. In a presidency full of missed moments, if he nailed this one, he might have saved his presidency. A moment seven months in the making. If he had zagged instead of zigged.

Trump could have chosen a different narrative for himself, his staff, and the way this administration chooses to respond to this pandemic. The moment Trump contracted the virus he was destined to contract based on his baseless claims, flouting of CDC, WHO, and LMNOP guidelines, and gross negligence. He had a chance.

In a world of second chances, and comeback stories, he could’ve stared this thing down, and said, “I was wrong.”

Or wait, this one is a great starting point, “I’m sorry.”

This is a big ask. But, every president has their moment. George W. Bush met his moment. September 11th will forever shape the narrative of his presidency and disguise the unsightly blemishes of his administration; Hurrican Katrina. His approval ratings went from 60% to upwards of 90%.

It’s too late. The joyride was the curtain call on his opportunity to salvage himself and his people from this pandemic. The weekend of misinformation from his medical staff is a microcosm of how this White House functions in a post-truth era pock-marked with misogyny and malnourished morals. Mark Meadows grabbing the press to speak off the record, with a camera rolling. Trump’s indignation at the truth of his condition being conveyed to the American people. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

Vulnerability is not his strong suit. Or his blue suit. Vulnerability is the gateway to empathy. Too late.

What if Trump admitted his diagnosis right away? What if he hadn’t hidden the result of his rapid test? What if he held an honest press conference? What if the White House had contacted everyone who had been in contact with the President? At the Rose Garden? Contact traced? What if Conley had spoken frankly on his first trip to the microphone? Or his last? What if Pence quarantined? So many missed moments.

Presidents at one time or another have historically shelved their personal politics and agendas for the greater good of the American people. Lincoln, who was not on board with freeing the slaves, over time recognized the moral, human, and American imperative to do so, and understood the risk and damage to his image and reputation. He met the moment.

Leadership requires action in spite of one’s self. The oxygen mask aphorism does not apply here.

The moment has repeatedly consumed the White House. They have shirked the truth and slunk away with celebratory unsanitized high-fives and bro hugs. I wanted this President to meet the moment. You could hear the buzz around it. Everyone knew this was an opportunity to change the national narrative on masks, transmissions, and the severity of this virus. Instead, we get this.

The lack of awareness and empathy at a time when the nation is reeling from the most difficult year of our respective lifetimes. Again, an opportunity to extend the olive branch. A man who receives the best medical attention, equipment, and service because he is the president doesn’t recognize his privilege, rather assumes this is how the other ninety-nine percent lives. Still infected. Back in the White House. Mask off. The moment not met.

More than thirty people have been infected as a result of the Amy Coney Barrett announcement and reception. Full steam ahead with her too. Staffers are on their own. The West Wing, a scene from the Walking Dead. A mask tumbles end over end through a corridor blown by something, rhetoric perhaps?

This moment could have reshaped and potentially saved his presidency. Had he been told choosing the moment for America would potentially make him great again, he may have acted differently. At my core, I’m hopeful, romantic, and optimistic.

The RMS Trump struck an iceberg sometime between Wednesday and Thursday, but who knows as with the Titanic, the radio went silent. The country was sent full speed ahead into the icy waters of the unknown. Passengers in the dark.

A design choice not to crowd the deck kept the requisite number of life rafts ashore as the Titanic set sail. We all know this. Human error is implicit in our humanity. Fallibility is what precipitates learning. Hamartia, the tragic flaw leading to the downfall of our hero or heroine. In the Shakespearean revival of Trump IV, the gross arrogance of our hero, our command-in-chief, has kept us on a course to somewhere. Nowhere. Please tell us. Like most Shakespearean works or the sinking of the Titanic, the body count is incomprehensible.

There was a moment here. A sensitive one. When he could have brought us all back into the room. Politics aside, there was a chance to align the nation on this one most pressing issue. We were so close. The flaw. Trump chose himself. His career. His health. Over the lives of everyone else. I hope you can swim.

Writing to quiet the voices. Organizational Culture/Development Consultant. Leadership and Purpose Coach. Erudite Enthusiast. Writer. Husband. Father.

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