Sometimes you just have to wonder, what could he possibly have been thinking?
On the Saturday morning of Memorial Day weekend, President Trump took the short trip from the White House to a secure location in northern Virginia. It wasn’t the Pentagon nor was it Arlington Cemetery. It was Trump National Golf Club in Sterling, Virginia, making it Trump’s 265th visit to one of his golf properties since he was elected President in 2016.
President Trump’s round of golf, which he played without wearing a face mask, came at a time when the country is facing the devastating impact of the coronavirus. On Saturday the number of Americans who have died from the virus outbreak neared 100,000. But it’s not just the deaths that are mind-numbing, it is the economic impact of the pandemic as well. This past week the number of Americans filing for unemployment rose another 4 million, bringing the pandemic total to over 40 million unemployed. Other numbers also tell the tale of a country in crisis, with over $1.3 trillion of U.S. earnings being wiped away because of the pandemic, and the number of businesses going bankrupt continuing to rise.
Yet even as this week the President ordered the nations flags to be flown at half-mast to honor those who have died from the pandemic, he was swinging towards another set of flags at his golf course on Saturday morning. It was the Trump’s first visit to one of his golf properties since the pandemic began, but for a President who claimed when he was running for office that he would be too busy to play golf, Saturday’s outing was simultaneously both stunning and unsurprising.
Which begs the question, what kind of leadership does it show the country for the President to go golfing while much of the nation tries to navigate unclear public health directives and an uncertain economy?
In fairness, the President has been unambiguous about his desire to see America get back to business, and for him that no doubt includes golfing as well. Just last week, the President called-in to a NBC golf telecast to share his hopes that golf, and other sports, could return swiftly. “We really want to see it get back to normal,” President Trump said. “So when you have all those thousands, tens of thousands of people going to your majors and going to golf tournaments, we want them to have that same experience.”
In fact, even his coronavirus task force coordinator, Dr. Debora Birx, seemed to foreshadow the President’s golf outing when she said at a briefing on Friday: “as you go out this weekend, understand you can go out, you can be outside. You can play golf, you can play tennis with marked balls.”
Clearly President Trump was in no mood to stay inside, hence his hitting the links on Saturday morning.
But from a leadership perspective, the President’s decision to golf will no doubt be scored poorly, especially by his detractors. The country has over 1,621,650 confirmed coronavirus cases, putting it far atop the world’s leaderboard for number of infections. And as the country is still struggling to develop an effective testing regime and another round of financial stimulus to help the nation’s wilting economy, it would seem that the President would have much more to do on a Saturday morning than putt around the greens.
The President’s decision to play also shows a lack of one of the most essential leadership skills needed in a time of crisis — empathy. As the nation not only mourns almost 100,000 dead from the virus (a number that many believe is undercounted) it is also Memorial Day weekend, a time when we remember the millions who died in service to our country. President Trump could have spent Saturday morning anywhere in the DC metro region or the country honoring those who have been sick during this pandemic, or those who have fallen defending our nation through our history.
Yet he went golfing.
Perhaps President Trump felt he needed a bit of rest and relaxation on Saturday morning. But for an exhausted nation looking for leadership, the President’s golf outing showed a remarkably subpar understanding of what the country expects him to deliver as its commander – not golfer – in chief.
And in on that scorecard, the President didn’t get a hole in one; he got hole in none.