How Great Presidents Handle Crises

Leaders are judged by how they handle crises, and in that context, 5 of the greatest leaders in US history including George Washington; Abraham Lincoln; Franklin Delano Roosevelt; Harry S. Truman and John Fitzgerald Kennedy galvanized the public during national crises to accomplish great things.

So, let’s take a look at those 5 great leaders.

Washington of course led a meager band of Patriot forces with valor and prevailed in the War for Independence, he established the Supreme Court, and ensured a democratic foundation for the US; Lincoln guided the US during the Civil War, enacted measures to abolish slavery, and reunited the Union after the Civil War; FDR essentially rebuilt the US after the Great Depression by way of implementing massive policy reform including massive public work projects such as the TVA and Social Security and then built a war machine to prevail in WWII; Truman essentially brought WWII to an end when he made a gut wrenching decision to deploy Nuclear weapons, he created the Berlin Airlift and reconstructed Western Europe via the Marshall Plan; he also intervened to save South Korea after it was invaded by North Korea, and Truman never shied from accountability and famously declared: “The Buck stops here”.

Meanwhile John Kennedy’s “steely will” diffused the Cuban Missile Crisis, guided the US out of a recession, created the Peace Corps…he also united the nation when he declared the US would beat the Russians to the moon…and yet Kennedy is probably best known for giving HOPE to all Americans, and that’s just the short list of 5 Presidential heroes and their accomplishments.

But fast forward to 2020 and take a look at President Trump.

Let us remember Trump is the President who promised to “Make America Great Again”, and boasted “I am the only one who can do it”, so, let’s take a look at how Trump is handing the crisis of his time:

Pandemic pandemonium:


It has become abundantly clear that Trump seems to delight at squabbling with anyone who has an opposing point of view (check the nightly news briefings) and he also seems to delight at dividing the US into tiny factions.

With the Pandemic gaining momentum and with guidance and clarity at a precious premium, Trump has jousted with the CEO of GM; launched tirades toward an alliance of bi-partisan Governors who banded together to solve public health issues in the absence of Presidential guidance; issued a unilateral decree to stop funding the World Health Organization in the midst of the world’s most insidious health emergency; fired the Director of Biomedical Advanced Research group who was leading a team to discover a Vaccine for COVID 19, and of course he famously fired the Captain of a nuclear Air Craft Carrier who was seeking safety for thousands of his crewmen confined to a ship at sea after discovering there were nearly 1000 contagious sailors on board, and that’s just in the last 30 days.

Yet, none of those Presidential actions had an impact as it relates to stopping the Virus, improving the economy or galvanizing the public. So, if Trump’s impulsive tirades didn’t stop the Virus or improve the economy or galvanize the public, then his tirades are nothing more than dark theatre or theatre of the bizarre.

Meanwhile the US is foundering and no fixes appear to be on the horizon and the President seemingly has no answers.


No one knew just when the Pandemic would arrive, but we knew it was coming and there was plenty of warning.

In a previous Blog, I wrote that Bill Gates has been “Beating the Pandemic Drum” for more than 5 years, and instead of heeding Gate’s warning, this President responded by decommissioning and dismantling the Pandemic warning center, and thereafter the US response to the Pandemic has been a muddled and murky mess.

Of course Trump famously boasted that the Pandemic was a Hoax.

Yet, since March 1 (just 56 days) the Virus has claimed more than 50,000 lives in the Unites States alone. From infants to centenarians. If it was war, the number of wounded (900,000 infected in the US) and those killed (more than 50,000 in the US) are bad numbers on any battlefield, anywhere, anytime. Keep in mind, the Vietnam war claimed the lives of 58,000 US personnel over 21 years from 1954 to 1975, yet meanwhile the COVID-19 Virus has claimed more than 50,000 lives in less than 60 days.

Calling the Coronavirus a “Hoax” is not the best place to start if a nation is seeking to solve a problem….and consequently there has been unmitigated Pandemonium ever since. Not the best start toward Preparedness.

Yet, in the face of unprecedented demands upon the nations medical system, this President told us that he calls the shots…but then he told the alliance of Governors to get their own supplies, and in that context Trump informed the alliance of Governors that he “isn’t a shipping clerk”. OK, fair enough, so if the President isn’t the “shipping clerk” then who is?

FDR could tell us something about the nobility of being a “shipping clerk”.

FDR arose to the challenge:


Trump’s “snarky” comment that he’s “not a shipping clerk” is in stark contrast to the actions of FDR.

In 1940, saddled with one of the smallest arsenals in the world leading into WWII including just 3,000 military aircraft, FDR asked William “Big Bill” Knudsen, President of GM, to come to Washington D.C. to assume the role of “Chairman, Office of Production Management” to oversee “War Production”.

Then in 1942 as the war was escalating, FDR commissioned Knudsen as “3 Star” Lieutenant General with “absolute authority” to convert US manufacturing might into Defense Production. Ultimately Knudsen answered the needs of the Army, Army Air Corps, Navy and Marines and built the mightiest arsenal in the world.


Knudsen built Cargo Ships, War Ships, Tanks, Trucks, Amphibious Landing Craft, and Artillery weapons of all sizes, but arguably his biggest achievement was building 300,000 Aircraft including the legendary B-29 Superfortress. Knudsen built the Military Machines and FDR took pride in commanding the title: “shipping clerk”.

FDR had a plan, and Knudsen answered the call.

Today, President Trump complains nightly that the “shelves were bare” when he took office…well, of course they were bare: they were bare prior to WWII as well…but the job of President is to find solutions when problems arise. So, what is Trump’s plan to stock the shelves? If FDR could build 300,000 aircraft to fight a global war and deploy those aircraft to US forces around the world, then assuredly Trump can ship 300,000 Ventilators to Governors who desperately need them, right? Or is that asking too much of Trump?

Let’s not forget, when Trump ran for Office, we got a heavy dose of “Make America Great Again”…which has now been shortened to “MAGA”, and Trump further boasted that he was “the only one” who could “Make America Great Again”. OK…but what is the plan?

Does the Buck stop with the President? Or is he content to pass the buck to the Governors? It is estimated he has “Tweeted” more than 40,000 times since becoming President, but where is the coherent messaging: what is the plan?

This President told the world in March that anyone who wanted to get “Tested” could get “tested at any time”. Yet one of the largest hospitals in southeast Michigan issued a statement last Monday they will only test “…patients who are high risk and present with a fever above 100 degrees and a cough (lasting less than six weeks) or shortness of breath”.

So, by definition, the Hospital’s protocol for testing, like medical facilities across the US doesn’t include “everyone who wants to be tested”. It also means those who are asymptomatic (contagious without symptoms) will not be tested, and yet asymptomatic subjects pose the greatest threat to the public at large.

Mixed messaging is a problem for all leaders and yet mixed messaging has become this President’s calling card.

At Thursday night’s briefing, the President proposed “Disinfectant Injections”. My God, what is he saying? Meanwhile, VP Pence sings nightly songs from the “Sunshine Song Book” and while people want “hope” and “optimism”, most importantly they want facts, and straight talk, and they want to know how the President plans to ”fix” the problem…the public doesn’t want crazy speak.

Disinfectant injections?

It took the White House press corps and a militia of Presidential spokespersons all day Friday to try and diffuse those comments…yet without success, because the Presidents words are recorded in perpetuity, meanwhile Lysol, a brand name of
Reckitt Benckiser
, had to issue a public statement “do not inject or ingest any disinfectant”.

FDR appointed experts and got out of the way:

Let’s remember, FDR had to solve multiple problems when the US entered WWII: he needed Military Machines; he needed munitions; and he needed mobilization and logistics.

FDR understood that the US was in a race with the Germans to build the first nuclear weapon, and second place wasn’t an option. As noted, FDR brought William Knudsen to Washington in 1940 and in 1942 commissioned Knudsen as an acting 3-Star General with a mission to build the world’s largest arsenal of conventional Military Machines. Yet, as a contingency, FDR needed more than conventional Military Machines, he needed to build the ultimate weapon.

And so FDR commissioned Leslie Groves as a 2-Star, Major General, to oversee the Manhattan Project and then appointed Dr. Robert Oppenheimer to become Director of Los Alamos Laboratory to build a nuclear bomb, and let’s remember, the Atomic Bomb only existed as a theoretical concept. Could it be built? No one knew, but the Manhattan Project commenced with the best theoretical physicists seeking to find an answer. In that regard, it was no different than finding a Vaccine.

Oppenheimer & Groves
Oppenheimer & Groves

The Manhattan Project started from humble beginnings, but then General Groves took command in 1942 and ultimately the Manhattan Project deployed more than 130,000 people at 30 sites across the US, UK and Canada including Oak Ridge, Los Alamos and Alamagordo.

The Manhattan Project was further complicated by the fact Groves needed to operate in secrecy to build roads, housing, stores and all the logistics needed to feed, clothe and house 130,000 people at 30 “mostly” secret sites. General Groves also needed to secretly procure materials to build and test the Bomb, and in that context he needed to build factories to manufacture the Bomb.

No one gave a manual or script to FDR, or to Knudsen, Groves or Oppenheimer, yet they  understood their mission, and so they staffed their respective support teams, developed operational plans and fulfilled their mission. If FDR, Knudsen, Groves and Oppenheimer could win a global war, then Trump needs to find a way to win the war against the global Pandemic.

In FDR’s case there was a plan…he appointed experts and got out of the way! Meanwhile the Trump plan is yet to be determined, and that’s a problem.

This isn’t a reality show; stop talking and start listening:

Trump has fired, dismissed or discharged 100% of his original Team in less than 4 years, and most are serial Turnovers.

For example, Trump has turned over 4 Chief of Staff, 4 National Security Advisers, 5 Communication Director(s), 4 Press Secretaries and 3 Director of Operations, all in less than 4 Years. And that’s the short list. The overall list is too long to itemize, but the total of the dismissals and forced resignations read like the passenger manifest of a 747. If you want an “eye opener” then go to your search engine and type in “Turnover in Trump Administration”. You’ll find a long list of research articles on the subject, including Brookings Institution and other notable public policy organizations. The Trump Administration is not a model of continuity and stability.

At the bottom line, turnover in Trump administration negates any possibility of consistent policy protocol and it relegates virtually all policy decisions into the orbit of Donald Trump, but that’s problematic isn’t it? After all, he is not the most skilled of business strategist inasmuch as he has presided over 7 Bankruptcies of Hotels and Casinos including the legendary Plaza Hotel, a landmark in New York City since 1907. Meanwhile, outside the Hospitality Industry, Trump has presided over bankruptcies of the New Jersey Generals football team as well as Trump University, so, Trump business failures have occurred all over the business map…and now he has the “keys” to the US economy!

Maybe Trump should listen more and stop talking! This isn’t a reality show, this is “real life”.

Trump may have thought he would sail “on smooth seas” throughout his Presidency just like a reality TV show, but life doesn’t work that way and now Trump has big “BIG” problems to solve, and for anyone familiar with crisis management, Trump appears to be ill equipped.

Yet, if Trump hopes to save the US and thereby save his Presidency, he needs  to follow the FDR model. That means appointing Czars (or Generals) to oversee at the minimum 4 critical areas…and then get out of the way:

  • A Czar or General to oversee Production of supplies (gowns, gloves, masks and the like) as well therapeutics (medications) to treat those already afflicted with the Virus.
  • A Czar or General to oversee the rapid development and deployment of “Testing” materials to ensure Tests are available to everyone in the US no later than July 1.
  • A Czar or General to expedite Vaccine development: keep in mind, Dr. Oppenheimer developed the Atomic Bomb which only existed as a theoretical concept before he commenced his project.
  • A Czar or General to reallocate food production: this issue has been totally overlooked.

It isn’t front and center on the nightly news, but hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of folks are sitting in food lines for hours across the country, seeking basic handouts of food…meanwhile, food that is normally designated for Institutions that have been closed such as restaurants, schools, government offices, cafeterias and the like is being destroyed because there is no system to “repackage” the food for retail or consumer consumption. This is a travesty beyond words.

Thousands of gallons of Milk and milk products including butter, sour cream, cream cheese and cream is being dumped, while hundreds of thousands of pounds of vegetables and produce is being plowed back into the soil. The midnight oil should be burning in the White House as it relates to creating a “Public Works” project to repackage and redistribute those food products as quickly as possible to ensure that parents and children aren’t starving.

VP Pence singing out of the “Sunshine Songbook” won’t solve any of the preceding problems.

Job #1…find a vaccine:

If Trump wants to save his presidency he needs to start by saving the US…and as I write this, he is way behind the curve.

Let’s make this clear, testing is important but finding a Vaccine is the solution, and in that context finding a Vaccine is Job #1.

If Trump wants to “reopen” the economy (and we all do) then the US needs a Vaccine, and fast. Without a Vaccine the world will not feel safe and if citizens don’t feel safe, the economy won’t function at capacity. No one is going back to work or return to restaurants and the like, until a Vaccine renders everyone safe.

In that context, Trump should incentivize every medical research school in the country to discover a Vaccine: a Billion Dollar reward seems reasonable. After all, we spent $2 Trillion to prop up the economy, and our debt is growing at about $1 Trillion per year under Trump, so a Billion dollars is a reasonable reward to solve the Vaccine problem.

The US can’t wait for the free enterprise system to discover a Vaccine.

If FDR awaited for the “free enterprise system” to solve the need for Military Machines, or awaited for “market based” economy to create a nuclear weapon, it is highly likely we would have gotten neither, and therefore it is highly unlikely we would have prevailed in WWII. Industries must be incentivized and given “Marching Orders” if we want to find a Vaccine.

At the bottom line:

In less than 60 days more than 50,000 US citizens have lost their lives to a Coronavirus…and it’s an equal distribution killer, it has taken the lives of infants to centenarians.

Moreover the economic devastation is just getting started, so unless a Vaccine is discovered and fast, COVID 19 will ultimately make the “Great Depression” look like an afternoon at the beach.

People are theorizing the situation will improve in warm weather, but not so fast: what if COVID 19 acts more like Polio Virus than the Flu Virus? (and no one knows for certain). If so, COVID 19 will be more virulent in the summer than winter. And then what?

Trump raised his hand, he wanted the job: he said “I can fix the problems”…and “I am the only one who can Make America Great Again” so all the Press Conference squabbles and insults, and all the conversation about “the shelves are bare” is tantamount to a coach complaining “I don’t have my players”, or a Field General explaining we lost a battle because “we got surprised on the flank”. No one cares. Americans want “answers”.

Presidents are judged by how they handle crises, and in that regard Washington, Lincoln, FDR, Truman, Kennedy all answered the call, but less than 60 days into the fight, the Virus is soundly beating Trump and his team, and that means the public at large and Americans across the country are paying a heavy price for a dysfunctional plan.

This isn’t a reality show…this is real life.

If Trump wants to save the US and thereby save his Presidency, he better get busy, appoint a team of experts and Czars, let them build a plan…and then get the heck out of the way.

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