I was bemused to hear President Trump compare himself to Winston Churchill last week.

I’d read Erik Larson’s book, “The Splendid and the Vile” this summer, and reflected on how I could relate to what the British endured in the Blitz, because of what we are going through with this pandemic.

Of course, I thought, they had an inspiring, compassionate and wise leader to see them through the Blitz and beyond, and we most assuredly do not.

Now here comes the president saying he rose to the level of Churchill and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, with his handling of the pandemic. He says he sought to play down the situation to avoid panic.

Yikes. My parents certainly knew there were hard times ahead when they heard FDR on the radio: “Yesterday, Dec. 7, 1941 — a date which will live in infamy — the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by the naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.”

Winston Churchill, speaking to the House of Commons in 1940, after the evacuation of British troops from Dunkirk, said, “we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender …”

Roosevelt and Churchill pulled no punches and inspired their people. Moreover, the vast majority of Americans and Britons had faith in their leaders then. How I yearn for that now.

Here in Maine, we are lucky to have sound leadership, and I do find solace in that. I faithfully watch Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah’s briefings. I want to know the facts. I want to understand the science. I wish the idiots who accost health care professionals and accuse them of perpetrating a hoax would listen to Dr. Shah’s explanation of how the Millinocket wedding spawned more than 170 cases of COVID-19.

Even I, with my dubious scientific and mathematical skills, could draw a chart of that tragic route of transmission. A guest passes the virus on to her mother, who then passes it on to another daughter, who works in a nursing home, and on and on.

Dr. Shah does not incite panic when he advises us to assume everyone we encounter is carrying the virus and to act accordingly. This is something one of my friends — who also never misses a briefing — regularly says to me, and I to her, whenever we talk — from a safe distance.

Information is power. It can help us avoid panic. Unfortunately (and that’s an understatement), we are awash in misinformation. Good leaders speak the truth and don’t flinch. They tell us what to expect. Am I happy that Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, recently said we are probably in this mess until the end of 2021? Absolutely not. But I appreciate his honesty. I’m an adult. I don’t need sugarcoating. If we’re in this for the long haul, I want to know it.

Despite my utter and complete disdain for President Trump, initially, I did not fully blame him for the severity of the pandemic. I simply thought he was downplaying the crisis and accelerating the spread, by mocking mask wearing and holding mass indoor gatherings.

Then I realized, as the pandemic dragged on and on, that if Trump had only acted earlier and more decisively — if he had acted like a true leader — we would be doing a lot better right now. The proof is here in Maine.

Now we have learned, through Bob Woodward’s new book, “Rage,” that the president knew the novel coronavirus was deadly serious in February. Now there is no doubt that he has irreparably and knowingly hurt this country.

Larson describes in his book how Churchill would visit bombed-out areas and sometimes weep. He seemed fearless: “Churchill himself loved the sound of the guns; instead of seeking shelter, he would race to the nearest gun emplacement and watch,” Larson writes.

Churchill was a flawed human being. But he rose to the occasion, which is really all we ask of our leaders in times of crisis.

Larson writes that Churchill understood that “confidence and fearlessness were attitudes” that could be learned. “Churchill issued a directive to all ministers to put on a strong, positive front.”

This was not to downplay the situation, the prime minister said,  but to demonstrate “confidence in our ability and inflexible resolve to continue the war till we have broken the will of the enemy to bring all Europe under his domination.”

What we here in America need, in 2020, to get through this pandemic is “inflexible resolve.” We need to wear our masks, wash our hands and keep our distance.

It’s not easy. Though I’ve been a  strong proponent of mask wearing from the beginning, I am back at work as a school librarian and can state categorically that I hate having to wear a mask all day.

But I wouldn’t have it any other way. I have wept for my country and those Americans who fail to see the truth. But there is hope on the horizon — that real leadership is on the way.

 

Liz Soares welcomes email at [email protected].


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