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Coronavirus would be the perfect opportunity for an autocrat. Trump isn’t taking it.

Let’s take inventory of what new insights we have learned from the pandemic about President Donald Trump and his leadership character.

One could hardly miss how this crisis has fortified one of the two primary pillars of the anti-Trump argument, as advanced by his most ardent detractors. It has been insufficiently noted, however, the degree to which the coronavirus response has weakened the other pillar.

The first pillar is that Trump, in the near-unanimous view of the opposition, is a terrible person whose terribleness finds expression in terrible policies. He is narcissistic, dismissive of unwelcome facts, willing to traffic in falsehoods, lacking in empathy, erratic in personal manner, and, above all, impulsive in judgment. Are you following so far? Even a Trump defender could comprehend how Trump critics would seize on the performance of the past two months—“We have it totally under control,” he said on Jan. 22—to add damaging new counts to the indictment they began compiling four years ago.

It is the second pillar of the anti-Trump case that has wobbled curiously in recent weeks. This president allegedly is not just a near-term menace but a long-term one—a leader bent on amassing personal power and undermining constitutional democracy in ways that would last beyond his presidency (which, under the worst scenarios, he might even try, Vladimir Putin-style, to extend illegally if he loses in November.)

The notion of Trump as authoritarian strongman, however, has been cast in an odd light in this pandemic. Would-be tyrants use crisis to consolidate power. Trump, by contrast, has been pilloried from many quarters, including many liberals, for not asserting authority and responsibility more forcefully to combat Covid-19. Rather than seizing on a genuine emergency, Trump was slow to issue an emergency declaration, moved gingerly in employing the War Production Act to help overburdened local health systems, and even now seems eager to emphasize that many subjects—closure of schools and businesses, obtaining sufficient ventilators—are primarily problems for state governors to deal with. Read more