In Defying the Odds, we discuss Trump's approach to governing. The 2019 update includes a chapter on the 2018 midterms.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) lists rules for public communication in its Crisis and Emergency Risk Communication (CERC) manual:
At WP, Carolyn Y. Johnson and William Wan write that Trump is breaking the rules.
- "Be First: Crises are time-sensitive. Communicating information quickly is crucial. For members of the public, the first source of information often becomes the preferred source." On January 22, after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the first case in the United States, he missed the chance to give early warning.“We have it totally under control,” Trump told “Squawk Box” co-host Joe Kernen in an interview from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. “It’s one person coming in from China. We have it under control. It’s going to be just fine.”
- "Be Right: Accuracy establishes credibility. Information can include what is known, what is not known, and what is being done to fill in the gaps." He has made so many false statements that the WP is keeping a running list. Perhaps the worst to date came at the CDC on March 6: "Anybody right now and yesterday — anybody that needs a test gets a test. We — they’re there. They have the tests. And the tests are beautiful. Anybody that needs a test gets a test."
- "Be Credible: Honesty and truthfulness should not be compromised during crises." His March 11 Oval Office address severely compromised whatever credibility he had. Philip Rucker, Ashley Parker and Josh Dawsey report at WP: "Trump’s speech contained at least two errors and a significant omission. He said the travel ban would apply to cargo; it did not. He said health insurance companies would waive patients’ co-payments for coronavirus testing and treatment; industry officials later clarified that they would waive payments for testing only. And he did not fully explain the details of his travel restrictions, leaving out the fact that U.S. citizens would be exempt." At his March 13 press conference, he said that Google was developing a website that would direct people to testing centers across the country. Actually, it is just a pilot program for the Bay Area.
- "Express Empathy: Crises create harm, and the suffering should be acknowledged in words. Addressing what people are feeling, and the challenges they face, builds trust and rapport." At the CDC, a reporter asked him if he was putting rally crowds at risk: " It doesn’t bother me at all and it doesn’t bother them at all."
- "Promote Action: Giving people meaningful things to do calms anxiety, helps restore order, and promotes some sense of control." He has talked and tweeted about "social distancing," but sent a contradictory message through his actions. At his Friday press conference, he shook hands and touched the microphone.
- Show Respect: Respectful communication is particularly important when people feel vulnerable. Respectful communication promotes cooperation and rapport. Right after his Wednesday speech called for an end to partisanship, he resumed attacks on Democratic leaders.
Spokespersons allow the public to put a face to the act of responding to, investigating, and resolving a crisis. How a spokesperson handles public and media inquiries, in addition to what he or she says, helps establish credibility for an organization. It also contributes to the public’s transition from the crisis stage to resolution and recovery stages. An organization should carefully choose the personnel who will represent it. The selection should be based on two factors:
- The individual’s familiarity with the subject matter
- His or her ability to talk about it clearly and with confidence
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has provided sound information. But he is just one of multiple voices in the executive branch. Trump is the loudest. Vice President Pence nominally heads the task force, he he has no expertise in the subject. Other administration voices have been just plain wrong. On March 6, Steve Benen reported:
At a surface level, there's nothing wrong with a prominent White House official discouraging panic and trying to reassure the public that an ongoing problem is being addressed. But just below the surface, [Lawrence] Kudlow -- who has a notorious track record for being wrong -- went a bit further this morning that he should have.
According to CNBC's report, for example, the National Economic Council director said the economy "looks sound," which was vaguely reminiscent of John McCain insisting in 2008 that the "fundamentals of the economy are strong," even as the system crashed around him.
But more importantly, Kudlow added this morning, "[R]egarding the containment issue, I will still argue to you that this is contained." CNBC's report went on to quote Kudlow saying, "We don't actually know what the magnitude of the virus is going to be. Although, frankly, so far it looks relatively contained."
As the virus spreads, and the death toll rises, there just isn't any reason to look at the public-health emergency and see a virus that's "relatively contained." And yet, Kudlow's odd comments come on the heels of his recent assertion, in reference to the coronavirus, "We have contained this. I won't say airtight, but it's pretty close to airtight."