Line of the Week

Trump's leadership style encapsulated.

“Final Presidential Debate” by Adam Schultz / Biden for President is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

I take full responsibility. It’s not my fault that it came here. It’s China’s fault. You know what, it’s not Joe’s fault that it came here either. It’s China’s fault. They kept it from going into the rest of China, for the most part, but they didn’t keep it from coming out to the world including Europe and ourselves”–President Donald J. Trump

It is rhetorically striking for the sentence “I take full responsibility” to be followed by the phrase “It’s not my fault.” It creates some linguistic whiplash. And, of course, no one is saying it is Trump’s fault the virus came to the United States. But it is most assuredly his fault that the country’s national response has been so poor. And it is absolutely his fault that he himself has repeatedly, and incorrectly, downplayed the situation.

To even begin to take responsibility one has to acknowledge what one is taking responsibility for, not immediately shifting to what one blames others for doing.

The above was his response after Vice President Biden said the following:

Biden: Number one. He says that we’re, you know, we’re learning to live with it. People are learning to die with it. You folks home will have an empty chair at the kitchen table this morning. That man or wife going to bed tonight and reaching over to try to touch their, out of habit, where their wife or husband was, is gone. Learning to live with it? Come on. We’re dying with it, because he’s never said — he said it’s dangerous. When’s the last time? Is it really dangerous, still? Are we dangerous? Tell the people, is it dangerous now? What should they do about the danger? And you say, I take no responsibility.

Trump did say “I don’t take responsibility at all” back in March in the face of failures in getting testing up and running by the CDC.

It also reminds me of his interview with Chris Wallace, wherein Wallace noted “But I can tell you, the death chart is a thousand cases a day” and Trump’s response was:

TRUMP:  Excuse me, it’s all too much, it shouldn’t be one case. It came from China. They should’ve never let it escape. They should’ve never let it out. But it is what it is. Take a look at Europe, take a look at the numbers in Europe. And by the way, they’re having cases.

Let’s be clear: I am not saying that SARS-CoV-2 is Donald Trump’s fault. As far as I know, it is no one’s fault (because unless we can prove that a human being purposefully engineering transmission from an animal to a human, I don’t see how we can say it is anyone’s “fault”). All we can do is assign responsibility for how it is handled (that would include the Chinese government, but that is a different conversation).

And we know that Trump has not handled it well. The only way to assert that he has handled it well is if one thinks that the virus is basically like the seasonal flu. And where could people have gotten that idea?

Consider the following. If I was the president of a university I would be responsible for the policy choices and rhetoric I used. If I said, “it’s just the flu, it’s just sniffles” that would affect student and staff behavior. If I signed off on policies to let students come back for face-to-face classes without any significant precautions in place, the consequences of that would be on me. And when there was an outbreak on my campus I would be rightly fired for saying “I take full responsibility. It’s not my fault it came here” after having said “we’re learning to live with it. We have no choice.”

That the president of the United States is held to a lower standard by so many millions of voters is astounding.

Would you hire Donald Trump to make safety health policy decisions at your child’s university? At your grandparent’s assisted living facility?

FILED UNDER: 2020 Election, US Politics, , , , , ,
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. gVOR08 says:

    Might revisit the first to sentences of the second graph. Feel free to delete this comment.

  2. OzarkHillbilly says:

    I am not saying that SARS-CoV-2 is Donald Trump’s fault.

    Speak for yourself Steven. Me? I’m not so sure. In fact, I think he may well be responsible for original sin.

  3. gVOR08 says:

    I try to understand conservative psychology and I fail. How does this WATB appear macho to anyone?

  4. @gVOR08: I always appreciate the kind notification of editing needs!

  5. mattbernius says:

    Contrast that with the fact that twice during the debate, Joe Biden literally said that retrospectively he had made mistakes: once around immigration and once around the crime bill. And he talked about how reflection had led him to change his position.

    Can anyone seriously imagine Trump going anywhere near to saying the same things?

  6. Michael Reynolds says:

    “I take responsibility,” is manly man stuff, Trump trying to project strength.

    “It’s not my fault,” is Trump being the weak twat he really is.

    I don’t know why he bothers. Cult45 doesn’t need proof, they need a cruel, abusive Father* and they’ve cast Trump in that role and nothing he or anyone can do will shake that belief. This is classic personality cult behavior: der fürher is never at fault, he never fails, he can only be failed. By Jews and people are not white, naturally.

    *I doubt we’ll ever get the research on this but I guarantee you MAGAts have far higher than average numbers for domestic abuse and paternal abandonment in their childhoods.

  7. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    I wouldn’t hire Donald Trump to mow my lawn, so I may not be the person to ask your end question to.

  8. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    Have to note, though, that if a student had written those two sentences one right after the other in an essay, I’d have marked it and written “pick one” in the margin. In a conference, I might have noted that the second can be brought in at some other point if it propels the discussion. (But if Trump knew about Covid-19 as early as December or January, it would appear that China may have done all that was possible to stop the spread/give warning–noting that I am fine with being wrong about this point in that I haven’t followed the time line at all.)

  9. CSK says:

    @Michael Reynolds:
    Does Cult45 really see Trump as a cruel, abusive father? What I gather from the Trumpies over at is that they see him as the savior who righteously smites their foes: liberals. Sure, he’s cruel–but not to them; only to those who deserve it. To them he’s loving father, a faithful husband, an exemplary Christian, and The Greatest President We’ve Ever Had.

  10. @CSK:

    who righteously smites their foes: liberals. Sure, he’s cruel–but not to them; only to those who deserve it.

    There is clearly a segment of right-wing politics at the moment driven in large measure by mockery. It has been Limbaugh’s mainstay for decades and it has permeated so much of how the bulk of commentators and politicians behave these days.

    I hear acquaintances, colleagues, and family members do it all the time, perhaps unconsciously–making pokes and jibes and jokes like they are arguments of some kind.

  11. Scott F. says:

    That the president of the United States is held to a lower standard by so many millions of voters is astounding.

    One reason is that victimhood has taken hold as a powerful political stance for these millions and Trump is the Michelangelo of Victimhood.

    My taxes look bad because the IRS is so unfair to me, my corruption is exposed everywhere because the press is nasty to me, I advanced no meaningful policies because the Democrats are out to ruin me, I could have kept to golf and tweets while coasting to reelection on Obama’s economy if it weren’t for China sending their virus to thwart me… It’s gold standard whining to inspire those who blame there economic troubles on affirmative action and immigration, their declining church attendance on religious oppression, and their involuntary celibacy on malicious feminism.

    They allow him this low standard because it’s the standard they want for themselves. This is where the Party of Personal Responsibility is now.

  12. CSK says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:
    Perhaps this is why Trump’s puerile attempts at mockery–Sleepy Joe, Crooked Hillary, Lyin’ Ted, Liddle Marco, Low-Energy Jeb–resonate with his followers.

    Anyone who finds this amusing or clever needs help desperately.

  13. grumpy realist says:

    @Scott F.: That’s what’s happened to an ex-friend of mine. Ever since his wife kicked him out almost every single discussion with him has been one long whine-fest about how MEEEAN the world is to him. I tried helping him out financially several times but nothing has managed to work out. At some point one just has to shrug one’s shoulders and state: “If you have nothing but continuous failures, maybe the problem is in you, not anyone else.” And stop helping.

    So now I have a very strong knee-jerk reaction against whining and people not taking responsibility for the situation they find themselves in.

  14. Michael Reynolds says:

    Abused children still crave their father’s love, so they often redefine abuse as a type of love. “He was tough on me, I got my ass whupped, but it made me the man I am today.” And as always, there’s the religious sub-flooring, the belief in a loving God the Father who loves us so much he’s constantly threatening eternal torment.

    Father/God/Trump, it’s all one to Cult45.

  15. Gustopher says:

    And, of course, no one is saying it is Trump’s fault the virus came to the United States.

    His much touted travel restrictions with China had a lot of holes, and we had no effective tests or case tracking. He didn’t apply the same strategy with Europe because they were white and this was the China virus.

    So, I’ll say it — he fucked up containment.

    Granted, it’s a worldwide pandemic, so everyone fucked up containment, but had he applied the same travel policies towards all countries with outbreaks that he did with China, it would have delayed the spread. And if we had useful case tracking, we would have slowed the spread.

    So, I’m willing to blame Trump.

    And if he wants to say that Joe Biden opposed the travel restrictions with China, then he has to take full blame for fucking up travel restrictions elsewhere.

    (I recall Biden being more nuanced than just opposing the travel restrictions…)

  16. @Gustopher: To be clear: I blame him very much for how he handled that issue.

    I am just saying that I do not blame him that the problem itself exists.

  17. Teve says:

    We could always hold them to their standard.

    “We will not see diseases like the coronavirus come here, we will not see terrorism, and isn’t that refreshing when contrasting it with the awful presidency of Barack Obama?”

    Kayleigh McEnany


  18. de stijl says:

    It’s projection.

    They cannot grok another take.