Updated: Mar 25
When it comes to confronting the Coronavirus pandemic, there are two diametrically opposite approaches -- Donald Trump's and New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo's (D-NY).
Each holds daily press briefings to update the public on the current state of affairs regarding the spread of the illness and what they are doing about it. But, no two people could be so different in their approach.
Donald Trump uses these daily briefings to tout his accomplishments, spew false information, attack the media, contradict experts and get the daily ego-stroking he needs now that his staff can no longe hastily arrange a rally of his base due to restrictions of assembly that the White House itself reluctantly imposed.
Not surprisingly, Trump has suggested he will ease social distancing restrictions once the arbitrary 15 day quarantine limit has been reached.
For New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, his briefings are informative, solution-based and totally without the vitriol and bragging that typify Trump’s briefings. While he is not above injecting some humor, Cuomo also demonstrates his leadership ability by having a concrete plan to prevent the spread of this illness.
Cuomo has had a rocky reception from conservatives over the years, as you would expect when dealing with a Democratic governor. (I should note that I grew up in New York, and have witnessed the objections first-hand in my role as election observer; a role I’ve continued since our move to the deeply-red state of South Carolina).
Since his election in 2010, he has been roundly criticized by conservatives, particularly those outside of New York City, of being a “downstate governor”, favoring the heavily populated city over the rest of New York to ensure his re-election.
Cuomo also offended conservatives when he responded to the numerous school shootings by enacting tougher gun control legislation. Known as the SAFE Act, it requires universal background checks, keeping guns out of the hands of the mentally ill and criminals, and increased penalties for those using illegal guns. This enraged the gun-loving right, but did not prevent his re-election in 2018.
Other than sports figures, the only other native New Yorker with a higher public profile than Cuomo's is Donald Trump. First coming into the public eye as a real estate magnate, then as a reality television star, Trump rode his braggadocios style all the way to the White House.
While this style has earned him the adoration of a fervent base of supporters, it has earned him the lowest approval ratings of any president since Nixon. Surprisingly, despite his epic bungling of a response to the Coronavirus, he has seen his approval numbers rise as many Americans struggle to adjust to “the new normal” of social distancing. Apparently many are believing his press briefing boasts.
While Cuomo’s briefings are measured and factual, providing a fact-based update and a coordinated plan of action, Trump’s can be viewed as a meandering split-screen, blending fact with fiction.
His briefings start off simply enough, with teleprompter Trump reading from a carefully prepared text, touting the daily achievements of the administration. Despite being called the Coronavirus update, many of these issues have absolutely nothing to do with the Coronavirus. Despite the careful planning, Trump can’t resist going off topic, peppering his comments with insults, innuendo and misinformation.
The second phase of the briefing is from the non-social distancing assemblage of the Coronavirus Task Force. Led by Vice-President Mike Pence, these members preface their comments with a predictable message of adoration to their “fearless leader”. This group is comprised of a rotating cast of characters, but always including the Trump-adoring vice-president.
One of the most constant speakers is Dr. Deborah Bix, the White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator, who delivers her comments with the warmth of someone under heavy sedation.
Once a mainstay of these briefings, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at NIH, has been noticeable absent from recent briefings after his infamous facepalm in response to yet another of Trump’s misstatements, this time about an alleged cure to the Coronavirus being tested.
The third phase is the actual Q & A session during which Trump touts his “tremendous” achievements, exaggerates his actions, takes credit for the slightest bit of good news, while excoriating the media for failing to acknowledge these deeds, or for asking a question he doesn’t like.
Both Trump and Cuomo have an important role in delivering relevant information to the country related to the Coronavirus. While Cuomo demonstrates the calm, composed demeanor we expect and deserve, Trump’s meandering, unpredictable style, while typical of him, does little to calm the nerves of an already nervous nation.
This is a time for calm, steady leadership. Between the two, only Cuomo seems able to deliver.