In an op-ed published by The Washington Post on Saturday, Comey criticized Trump’s leadership amid a global pandemic. While he never mentions Trump by name, he refers to several controversial comments the president has made since the virus began spreading in the country.
By contrast, he praised the Queen of England’s recent address to her people as a “master class in leadership.”
Leadership, Comey wrote, requires “authenticity, honesty and relentless, reasoned optimism,” and “doing more of what you should already be doing.”
“Like this horrible virus, fear and anxiety are contagious. People in crisis watch closely and over-interpret a leader’s every word, gesture, and tone. They spot exaggeration or a lack of authenticity. Good leaders try to tell their people the truth always, but especially in crisis. … They are honest about the current crisis but clear-eyed about the path out of it.”
He added, “People crave leadership when they are afraid. But leading well during a crisis does not mean ‘faking it so people don’t freak out.’ It doesn’t mean promising people all will be fine or lecturing them for being frightened.”
Comey also cited former President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s address after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 as an example of how past presidents addressed the public in times of crisis.
“That kind of honesty about the present is what makes possible reassurance about the future. Because the indispensable part of crisis leadership is this: No matter how pessimistic the leader is feeling about the present, the leader relentlessly communicates that we will be okay in the long run,” he said.
Finally, he said, “Even without effective national leadership, we will get through this pandemic crisis. We will meet again, and, when we do, the United States will be a better country, with a much deeper appreciation for what leadership requires.”
Trump has been previously criticized for his rhetoric regarding the outbreak. He has called himself a “cheerleader” for the country and said he wants to give Americans hope as they face a global pandemic.
“I don’t want to create havoc and shock. I’m not going to go out and start screaming, ‘This could happen, this could happen,’” Trump said about his efforts to paint a rosier picture of the situation.
““That’s exactly what leadership is,” he said, adding, “Anybody can tell people what they want to hear and make it easier. And then you know what you get? Exactly where we are, right now. That was the most asinine statement of leadership I have ever heard.”