, 04.02.2020 04:13 PM

My latest: leadership in tough times

Leadership in good times means little.

Leadership in bad times means everything.

And these times, they are indisputably bad. Grim, grinding, grotesque.  For the rest of our lives, we will all remember the dark days of 2020, when nothing was again the same. Everyone, everything, everywhere: it’s all different, now.

“All changed, changed utterly,” Yeats wrote in Easter 1916, and which he could write again in Easter 2020, if he was still here.  (No “terrible beauty,” though.)

When times are this bad, we learn things about ourselves. We learn things about our leaders, too.

For this writer, few leaders are as inspiring as New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. No adjectives, no spin, no homilies: in that New Yorker’s brusque dialect, Cuomo sits there every day, no notes, and simply offers up the truth.

He emotes honesty. He tells it as is; he does not give false hope.  And he seemingly knows everything.

More than once, I’ve been driving my Jeep – to locate toilet paper, to pick up some canned food my little band of survivors – and I’ve pulled over to the side of the road to listen to Cuomo. In the way that my grandmother told me that she and her seven children would stop everything, and gather around the radio to listen to Winston Churchill during World War Two. Giving hope, giving faith, giving a path forward.

Doug Ford, too. He’s given hope, and he’s shown no small amount of strength and decency. Even his detractors now admit that Ontario’s Premier has revealed himself to be an inspirational voice.  One they did not expect.

On the subject of Ford,  I’m biased. (He has been a friend, and I’ve done a couple writing assignments for his government.) So don’t take my word for it. Former NDP Premier Bob Rae: “With the Premier on this.” Current Ontario Liberal leader Stephen Del Duca: “Ontario Liberals support the government’s decision to shut down non-essential business.”

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, on the so-called Right, BC Premier John Horgan on the Left: they, too, have stepped up in a way that their political adversaries did not expect.

Our federal leaders, not as much. Liberal leader Justin Trudeau and Conservative leadership frontrunner Peter MacKay have disappointed, lately.

Trudeau did so well at the outset of the pandemic, and then – when he perhaps thought no one would be looking – he tried to seize unprecedented, and unnecessary, spending and taxation powers.  The outcry was immediate and came from across the political and media spectrum.

The Prime Minister lost in ten minutes what had taken ten weeks to build up. His partisan adversaries are unlikely to fully trust him anytime soon.

Peter MacKay, too, seemed more preoccupied with power than the general good. With the pandemic raging – rendering hundreds of Canadians sick, killing dozens – MacKay stubbornly refused calls for his party’s leadership race to be paused.

No one was paying attention to the Tory leadership race. No one cared about it. But MacKay insisted that it continue, because no less than “democracy” was at stake.

He looked like a fool. Last week, his party completely rejected his demands, and thereby did the right thing.

The missteps of Justin Trudeau and Peter MacKay are nothing, however, when compared to Donald Trump’s tyrannical reign of error. Trudeau and MacKay were merely self-serving. Trump is far, far worse.

In a devastating ad, leading Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden documented Trump’s serial lies about the growing coronavirus threat – how Trump said “we have it totally under control.” How he said “it will disappear like a miracle.” How the virus was “a hoax.”

Trump’s fans will say that he is popular, now. And it is true: polls show Americans are currently prepared to give their “president” the benefit of the doubt.

But Jimmy Carter’s popularity soared, too, after the hostages were seized in Iran four decades ago. 

From the New York Times on December 10, 1979: “Public approval of President Carter’s performance in office has increased dramatically in the month since the United States Embassy in Teheran was seized and hostages held by militant students, according to a poll by the Gallup Organization. The percentage of people who approved of Mr. Carter’s handling of the Presidency jumped from 32, in a Gallup survey, to 61 in the latest poll.”

Jimmy Carter’s presidency would ultimately be destroyed by the Iranian hostage crisis. So will Donald Trump’s, by this new crisis, and for how he has mismanaged it. 

It is always this way: political careers are made in times of crisis. 

But they can be ended by crises, too.  

25 Comments

  1. oh boy, Twilight Zone isn’t going to like this. Great read and bang on.

  2. Miles Lunn says:

    Very true and no doubt for most of our premiers I believe this crisis helps, but my thoughts on big four are as follows:

    Horgan: He had decent approval ratings and thus even before this favoured to win, but blockades as well as weakening economic front meant some of his spending promises would have to be postponed which would alienate some of his base. This should help party rebound. To be fair BC Liberals are being fully cooperative and not taking pot shots so they are doing the best they can in this situation.

    Kenney: I think this might work against him as Alberta will be hit harder than ever before and this will put him in a tough bind. Does he keep his promise to balance the budget which means steep cuts or break this. Either one has pitfalls albeit with different people. That being said Notley being partisan during this unlike Wilkinson and Del Duca won’t help her.

    Ford: His handling may just be what gets him a second term.

    Legault: He already had a big lead in the polls, now he basically has to have a monumental screw up to lose in 2022. Still he should remember George HW Bush in early 1991 had similar approval ratings and lost in 1992 so it can happen.

    Looking abroad:

    Trump: His horrible handling should bite him hard, but with people frightened and Trump good at pushing people’s buttons, I wouldn’t count him out yet. If COVID-19 still hasn’t disappeared by election day, I actually think he has advantage as his supporters are so devoted they will show up even if risky while Democrats who follow scientific advice unlike his base might stay home. But if ended by then, this won’t likely be case.

    Merkel: If she only had decided to stay on, she would be assured re-election in what looked like people fatiguing of her party, but since she is not, bounce will be less, but still should help her party.

    Macron: Still negative approval ratings but not as negative and his real advantage is his opponents are hated more. If Les Republicains weren’t reduced to be the gray haired party and Socialist party still viable he might face more competition but with Le Pen on far right and Melenchon on far left to lesser extent being main opponents he should probably win.

    Conte: He lead past two coalitions so unless one party gets an outright majority, good chance he remains PM even if parties in government change.

    Johnson: Has sky high approval ratings now, but no election until 2024 so plenty of time for public to turn against him and with Brexit also being a case, he could face real problems there. Only thing that might help him is COVID-19 will likely increase dysfunction and mistrust of EU so he maybe able to say see I told you, but if EU members put whole continent ahead of narrow national interest won’t work.

    • The Doctor says:

      RE Trump, I don’t know about that. His opponents hate him every bit as much as his supporters love him. I think most hard-core Democrats would willingly risk getting the virus in order to march to a polling station to vote against him.

      To me, the most interesting thing about the recent polling on Trump is that, yes, he’s had a rally-round-the-flag bump. But that bump is extraordinarily small by historical and comparative standards. Once again, his approval ratings are extremely sticky by any historical measure.

      RE Trudeau, I gotta say the Groundhog Day aspect of this existence is exacerbated by the fact that every morning I turn on the tube and there is Selfie Boy, earnestly urging me to stay home. I’d rather wake up every day to Sonny and Cher singing I Got You Babe.

      • Chris Sigvaldason says:

        The daily Trudeau briefings were good at first but have now deteriorated into “infomercial” territory. His non-answers have moved from sublime to ridiculous as media has become overly deferential and under-critical. Maybe the PMO should start watching the surprisingly effective Ford briefings.

        • The Doctor says:

          I agree. One thing that really irritates me is how the Trudeau government is very deliberately dribbling out these daily announcements of “new initiatives”, one each day or whatever. It’s exactly what you do during an election campaign — a “goodies” announcement every day. This has Gerald Butt’s greasy partisan fingerprints all over it.

  3. joe long says:

    In both Canada and the US, I’m hearing lots of stories of equipment being ordered, but very little on what has been delivered.

    For example: 500 ventilators ordered, delivery (of a few) could start next week.

    Another: We’ve signed letters of intent for xyz.

    My point is not to get into a flaming war with political partisans, but a request for media and politicians of all stripes to be more forthcoming with what we need, how much we have, and how much is actually being delivered.

    If as Justin Trudeau says, we are in this together, then let’s have more info from Justin.

  4. lungta says:

    Seems the only thing it takes to impress some people
    is their candidate quits drooling.
    Full disclosure and competent leadership is still a long way from any of them.

  5. Peter says:

    Good piece. I would also give shout outs to Quebec’s Legault and California’s Newcom, who doesn’t seem to agree with you about Trump. Has anybody heard a word from Jagmeet Singh since the election? And how about our illustrious GG? She sure seems to have landed a sweet gig.

    Concerning Trudeau’s attempted power grab, it was incredibly clumsy, sneaky, time-excessive and too early. You don’t slip something like that in when nobody’s looking, you make the case for it loud and proud. As to whether it is necessary or not, I’m not sure we can decide yet. If things keep going downhill and the shutdown persists, we’re going to have to start worrying about severe mass financial distress and consequent challenges to the civil order. They aren’t singing on balconies in Italy these days, they are starting to loot shops and the atmosphere is getting bitter. There may be a need for massive support for the lower half of the economic ladder ( the half keeping things going) and the upper level will need to pay for it somehow. This could mean challenging banks and other creditors on credit, loans, interest, etc. and some healthy surcharges on personal and corporate income. Other stuff too, like wage and price controls, de facto rationing and adjustments to employment law, all on short notice. You can’t liken this to wartime for rhetorical purposes and then pooh-pooh wartime governance. But I must admit, it’s not easy to see this Parliament mustering the brains, resolve and unity to pull it off. They’ve just granted themselves a raise. Shameful.

    One thing I haven’t seen yet is private wealth stepping up to the plate (with some admirable corporate exceptions). Time to give up those personal workouts and start raising lots of money. If I see one more cutsy video from rich Hollywood stars telling the little people how to self-isolate, I’m going to scream. Maybe they assume they can always eat cake.

    • A. Voter says:

      “You can’t liken this to wartime for rhetorical purposes and then pooh-pooh wartime governance.”

      One columnist pointed out that not even Churchill during WW2 was given or asked for the power to over-ride parliament to impose taxes.

  6. Douglas W says:

    Nobody cares about abuse of power?
    And everybody trusts Justin because he’s a good guy?
    Really?

  7. Fred Pertanson says:

    I don’t think Trudeau did so well at the outset, nor is he doing well now.
    Look at his actions – all reactions, no leadership.
    Told us people were being assessed at airports when they weren’t.
    Told us closing borders were knee jerk, then closed our borders.
    Told us that it is racist to stop flights from China – it worked for Taiwan, though.
    Daily word salads, light on facts.
    Sent Sophie to Harrington Lake – even though Legault told people to stay away from their cottages.
    I also note that Merkel is back to work after a 14 day isolation, what about our guy? Isn’t leadership an essential service?
    etc.

  8. Roger Clarke says:

    As partisan adversary of out illustrious PM I have never trusted, nor held in anything but contempt this incompetent bungler.

  9. Carter had stagflation and seriously rising unemployment. Thanks to The Fed, Trump has ten million (so far) newly unemployed and inflation accelerating. We won’t and can’t print our way out of this one. Trump is doomed.

  10. The Doctor says:

    Yeah, since when did anyone care about taxes?

  11. Phil in London says:

    Warren great job, I’ve been absent from comment but I’ve been reading lots.

    There’s a number of less bad politicians these days but leadership is rare indeed.

    US election – is that even happening in 2020? How the hell would you reset? Trump will one day mercifully be replaced but with what? Should Biden just be given the Democratic nomination? Should Sanders be given a chance to reorganize as a third party? Can the Republicans come up with a better candidate or should whoever shoots Donald be awarded the nomination? A lot of absolute NO 6 weeks ago but now I’m not sure.

    Canada is there anyone to lead federally? Trudeau is trying to say things right but he is not leading just reading his damned teleprompter. Anyone notice his answer to reporters about not hearing any talk in parliament about clawing back the raises? Like he actually listened to MPs in the past? I hope our next view of Peter McKay has him knee deep in mud on his farm like when he was bemoaning the loss of Belinda. Was it mud or bullshit? He should stay on his precious farm till the 2042 federal election at earliest. Where the hell is Singh? There is not a damn one in the lot capable of setting aside partisanship and helping Canadians because they cared about them and not their votes. Choices like these are how idiots like Trump and bastards like Hitler took power.

    Premiers in the whole are faring much better Ford, Legault and Moe especially, maybe the premiers should send orders to Ottawa instead of waiting for them to find the polling results that can trigger spending.

    We’ll get through this. The failures will get the scrutiny necessary at the time. Let’s all do what we can to get society to the Covid19 human rights trials.

  12. Fred from BC says:

    “In a devastating ad, leading Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden documented Trump’s serial lies about the growing coronavirus threat – how Trump said “we have it totally under control.” How he said “it will disappear like a miracle.” How the virus was “a hoax.””

    Sadly, the only thing “devasting” about that ad was the fact that it blew up right in the face of the people who posted it. Had they left out the last bit about the “hoax”, they probably would have been fine…but when every fact-checking organization from Snopes to the Washington Post has checked out that particular allegation *and found it false*, you have a problem.

    Trump’s people responded with a stroke of genius: instead of demanded that Twitter remove the post (they knew that wouldn’t happen, given the inherent anti-Trump bias there), they simply posted a selectively-edited version of their own, with Joe Biden himself declaring the coronavirus to be “a hoax”. Well, the Biden campaign WENT BALLISTIC…threatening retaliation and demanding that Twitter remove the offending post immediately. The Trump people’s response? “Why don’t you remove *yours* first?”

    Brilliant move, that: it not only called attention to a pattern of (ongoing) deliberate misrepresentations but also forced Twitter to either leave both posts alone or remove both and admit that the Biden campaign had posted a manipulated Trump quote.

    The lesson here, I suppose, is that it pays to employ smart people…

    (or perhaps it’s this: if you’re going to post lies, choose ones that haven’t already been *proven* to be lies…)

    • Warren says:

      You okay with Trump telling 3M not to let Canadians have masks, Fred? That okay, too?

      • Fred from BC says:

        “You okay with Trump telling 3M not to let Canadians have masks, Fred? That okay, too?”

        Of course not…but that’s a completely, totally unrelated issue, though ( why would you even ask me that? )

        Telling lies does NOT become okay because ‘Trump’…it just doesn’t. There’s a reason why trust in the news media is lower than trust in Donald Trump.

        (and speaking of Canadians, a Canadian medical wholesaler is/was attempting to charge 7 dollars each for a mask that normally goes for 1 dollar? Wow…)

      • Pedant says:

        Warren, he has to put his own people first. Wish Trudeau had done that rather than given away our supplies toan enemy state.

        • Ronald O'Dowd says:

          Pedant,

          To be fair, China has sent some back to us.

          • Fred from BC says:

            “To be fair, China has sent some back to us.”

            Yes, ‘some’…

            (maybe the 600,000 rejected by the Dutch because they were faulty?)

            Doesn’t matter. The masks never should have been sent to China in the first place; a cynical man might even think he did it just to curry favor with the Chinese in his inexplicable quest for that symbolic UN Security Council seat. Justin Trudeau is supposed to put *Canadians* first, just as Donald Trump prioritizes American interests

            (…you know that countries don’t actually have ‘friends’, right? They have interests. Sometimes they coincide, sometimes not)

            As a Canadian, I’m unhappy that Donald Trump has disallowed the export of face masks to Canada. If I were American, though, I’d be proud of him for doing so *whether I liked him or not*.

      • Tony Sherren says:

        Warren, with all due respect, most Canadians, including you, hate President Trump with the white hot heat of a thousand suns.
        Why would any Canadian expect Mr. Trump to help people who hate him.
        Trudeau bad mouthed him on the hot mike at the G20. Do you think Trump forgets this kind of slight?

  13. Ronald O'Dowd says:

    Invoking the DPA is a double-edged sword. Inevitably, it cuts both ways with the US paying a price while at the same time benefitting in other sectors.

    In my book, rapid escalation and death rates matter. That’s where critical resources should go first.

  14. Fordlover says:

    Doug Ford told Ontarians to go on their spring break.

    People who took Ford’s advice brought the disease back that killed other Ontarians.

    I hope he is held accountable. By voters.

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