Invisible may seem an odd word when describing a man with his face on television, actions in headlines, and name on the tip of every tongue every day of every week. Sure, he is present at well attended rallies frequented by those who approve of this presidency. However, holding rallies is the job of candidates, not the elected President/Commander-in-Chief. Once elected, duties change.
We in the U.S. don’t have royalty to cover the ceremonial duties of running the country. The president is the top official, so pageantry falls on those shoulders. Some are traditional like the Thanksgiving Turkey Pardon and the Easter Egg Roll. Mr. Trump has managed to officiate over those home-based duties even if he looked like he was going to push First Lady Malania off the balcony trying to distance himself from the costumed rabbit with whom he shared the stage. There has been widespread lack of interest and cancellations of traditional White House champion sports team celebrations. Mr. Trump cannot even muster the courage to face a good-natured roasting, then returning the fun at the annual White House Correspondents’ Dinner. He just isn’t being seen in public.
More compelling duties are to spread comfort or joy around the country when occasions arise. It is in this stage of the job that Mr. Trump has been especially AWOL. He was invited to neither the funeral of former First Lady Barbara Bush (one of the most stalwart Republican families) nor the funeral of Sen. John McCain, our recently deceased war veteran, hero, and six-term Arizona Senator. Neither did the president get an invite to the Royal Wedding in England. His detractors claim that this is a stain on traditional and historic activity where presidents are charged with showing leadership and grace. His supporters say, “Great! He was elected to shake-up the status quo and what better way to do so than to break with old, shallow traditions.”
Beyond those examples of invisibility, the Commander-in-Chief has not visited one active duty soldier in any deployment zone. He gives a lot of lip service to service members, but will not show his face to them in any effort to rally support and boost morale. Most common citizens, soldiers included, long remember any encounter with a sitting president, retelling their stories with pride. This president is not offering many of those opportunities beyond the campaigning events he continues to hold for a select few.
Mr. Trump did manage to travel to Puerto Rico to witness, first-hand, the devastation of Hurricane Maria in the fall of 2017. His discomfort was apparent and the lasting visual is one of a president throwing paper towels into a crowd of victims while nearly 3,000 had been killed or were in the throes of dying within miles of where he stood. Let’s say he’s not in his element when trying to show empathy.
While other presidents have faced these tasks head-on, Trump has not. Other presidents have traveled to churches and communities where the all-too-often tragedy of gun violence has erupted and lives were lost. There have been numerous opportunities to show up but, instead
of walking the streets dispensing hope and hugs, Mr. Trump chooses to remain invisible. To his credit he did visit Parkland, Florida mass shooting victims in the hospital and invited several to Washington for a roundtable, but he never set foot on the campus of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Again, his supporters think this break from norms is exactly what Mr. Trump was elected to do.
However–we can all recall, as kids in school, having to practice fire drills and lockdowns just in case. Some of us of more advanced age recall getting under our desks to be ready for the day a nuclear bomb went off in our neighborhood. The wisdom of doing that escaped me at the time and continues to this day, but the point is, we were practicing. If the need should arise and an actual disaster came to be in our schools, we would know what to do to improve our situation.
These seemingly cosmetic exercises of hosting an Easter Egg Roll, taking time away from governing to honor the heroes and national figures who have either passed on or are in celebration of a family event, visiting war zones, and meting out comfort to stricken families and communities are all practice. The presidential offerings must be sincere, and boosting the morale of soldiers and victims should be long remembered and cherished by the recipients, but the president is also practicing–getting better as a leader of the country, gaining the necessary respect of the people by being among them. Why? There will be a time when that president will need to gather all 230 million of us under his wing, and steer us out of a national situation demanding pure leadership from a person who commands respect and knows how to salvage, perhaps, an entire country as was the case with Washington, Lincoln, and FDR, or comfort a nation in great loss like Reagan with the Challenger explosion and Bush after the 9-11 terrorism. It happens to every president, some greater, some more poignant, but presidents must be ready–armed with skills and personal respect to keep the country going forward when many want to give-up.
With his invisibility, I’m not confident that, two years into his presidency, Donald Trump has either skills or respect needed when the bell of national challenge tolls for him.
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