Opinion: During COVID crisis, Newsom shines as a leader; Trump does not

People Post is a space for opinion pieces, letters to the editor and guest submissions from members of the Long Beach community. The following is an op-ed submitted by Bob Foster, who served two terms as mayor of Long Beach from 2006 to 2014and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Long Beach Post.

With most of us at home, sheltering in place, it is nearly impossible to miss the news and the associated press conferences of our national and state leaders. It is also difficult not to contrast the leadership of our president and that of state leaders.

I’ve been struck by the marked leadership contrast between President Donald Trump and Gov. Gavin Newsom and what that illustrates for us. Having been mayor of Long Beach during the Great Recession, I believe that I have some understanding of leadership during troubled times.

I’m a Democrat but I have never been a fanatic partisan and I did not support Newsom in the primary. I have now become a supporter after having witnessed strong, thoughtful, empathetic and energetic leadership from our governor. In troubled times the public needs direction, honesty, hard work, hope and caring from their leaders.

President Trump’s press conferences on COVID-19, while informative and presidential early on, have devolved into campaign events. Facts are things to overcome not embrace (COVID-19 is a hoax, will be over soon, will be nothing). Empathy is non-existent. Hope is often given in a false light, “we will be able to gather again soon, by the middle of the month;” or “I have a good feeling about this drug, it might work or not?”  Everything is shrouded in self-congratulatory rhetoric, “We are doing a great job; I’d give myself a 10.” His press conferences are combative, abusive, often confusing, self-aggrandizing affairs that leave you stunned that a president could conduct himself in that manner.

Contrast this with Gov. Newsom’s briefings. He is factual, often citing solid statistics that are informative and meaningful.  He exudes empathy. Empathy for the public, for the families of those who have lost loved ones, for the virus-infected, for the unemployed, for front-line health care professionals and for the frightened.

His briefings seek to inform, comfort, give direction and provide real hope through facts. The number of cases, the rate of new cases, the possible flattening of the curve, the number of hospital beds and ventilators and any deficit in our needs are listed not for self-enhancement but to urge us to continue our good efforts.

He has command of the facts. He expresses himself in human terms to which we can all relate. He speaks of his family and how he explains COVID-19 to his daughter. (When was the last time you heard the president speak of his family?)

Newsom is honest, forthright, allows experts to speak without interruption and is willing to be corrected if he misses something. His briefings are about us not him. He is also courageous, doing what he believes is right by sending ventilators to areas desperate for the equipment, knowing he would receive criticism for the move. In short, he is what you would wish in a leader during troubled times.  Whether he was ready for this job or not, he has stepped up to the challenge. He has provided true leadership and inspiration to all of us.

This is not a partisan view.  When Trump was elected president, I accepted his victory and gave him a chance to govern. He was now my president. I did not criticize or deride him. I wanted to give him a chance to lead. Time, however, proved him to be self-absorbed, thin skinned, lustful for praise, and abusive of others. Everything became personal. For him, COVID-19 is not about us, but about his image and ratings.

Ronald Reagan said, “there is no limit to the amount of good you can do if you don’t care who gets the praise.” President Trump should take those words to heart, it’s not about him. That’s something our governor seems to understand.

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