The first big national crisis that I can remember was the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion. I was 12 at the time, in grade seven. I remember that night seeing Ronald Reagan's speech from the Oval Office, and there would be clips of it on the nightly news and special reports for days afterward. (There was no cable news or Internet, just the big three TV broadcast networks.) As sad as that day was, there was comfort in Reagan's words, that we shared this experience to "mourn seven heroes."
When Operation Desert Storm began, George H. W. Bush got on TV and explained the action. Regardless of the controversy over our involvement in Kuwait, the president clearly understood the gravity of the situation and did his best to reassure the nation that it was the right thing to do.
Bill Clinton saw the Oklahoma City bombing on his watch, and while the initial reporting speculated a wide range of intent, the president cautioned against speculation and committed law enforcement to finding who did this. He called attention to the humanity of the people lost, their families and the deep need to heal after the tragedy.
George W. Bush, prior to this year, had the single most difficult job of any president in my lifetime, leading us through 9/11. The psychological sting to the nation was brutal, but he was steadfast in his message of resilience and cooperation among Americans, always careful to deescalate suspicion of Muslims and foreign nationals. He knew that division was the last thing the country needed.
During the Barack Obama administration, a gradual recovery from a recession was one of many challenges, but his empathetic and genuine response to tragedies like those at Sandy Hook and Charleston were the responses the nation needed. It takes a man of conviction and humility to sing "Amazing Grace" in front of the world.
American presidents are, among other things, consolers-in-chief. They have impossibly difficult jobs where at least half of the nation probably won't agree with them, and on top of it all, we look to them to assure us that everything is going to be OK, and it will get better when things are off the rails.
You know where I'm going with this as it relates to Donald J. Trump. Now we have a president incapable of exercising any kind of empathy. He's an autocrat who selfishly only thinks of himself. In just a few months, 100,000 Americans have died from a disease that has been dealt with absent of any real strategy, and nearly a third of the people who have died are Americans despite having only 4.5% of the world population. There is no reassurance for the families who have lost people. Racial injustice has spiraled out of control while he stokes the flames, threatening violence against protesters. There are no calls for unity and meaningful reform stop the cycle. One in four people are now out of work, but there is no leadership or way forward, or even a hollow politician promise to make it better.
No, in this time of crisis, we have a president who is completely focused on a ridiculous conspiracy theory that a TV show host committed murder decades ago, and a war against private companies who are now unwilling to publish his lies and calls for violence unchecked. It's the same man who downplayed the disease that has killed 100,000 people and since deflected that failure to others.
We should expect better of our presidents. This behavior is not defensible.