News Garry Linnell: It took a pandemic to show just how impotent President Trump is

Garry Linnell: It took a pandemic to show just how impotent President Trump is

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His hands were so pale and unblemished they could have belonged to a wax dummy in Madame Tussauds.

His lips were thin and when they broke into a rare smile – usually on hearing about someone else’s misfortune – there was no warmth; just cruelty and callousness.

He was my new boss and he was a bastard.

He was famous for playing head games with his staff. He sneered at underlings and delighted in humiliating them in front of others.

When one of his senior managers arrived red-faced five minutes late for a meeting, apologising profusely because his bus had failed to arrive, he shook his head disdainfully.

“Public transport is for losers,” he sniffed.

One morning he ushered me into his office and placed one of those perfect hands on the blinds, prising them open to reveal the splendid view outside his office window.

“You know, it’s true,” he said.

The shafts of light leant an extra gleam to his eyes. A knowing, self-satisfied smirk edged its way across those thin lips before one of the oldest clichés in the world spilled from them.

“Power – it’s the ultimate aphrodisiac.”

I thought of that old boss of mine last week as Donald Trump stumbled and flailed his way through yet another bizarre White House briefing.

When you have worked for a narcissistic megalomaniac and suffered through their preening and lack of self-awareness you recognise the signs.

When things are going well for men like them they strut and swagger in front of their captive audiences, almost drunk on triumphalism, convinced it is their genius that has delivered the good times.

But when the going gets tough, they panic.

Their bullying of others becomes more intense as they desperately search for solutions they can pass off as their own.

They will seize upon any new idea – no matter how ridiculous or far fetched – and obsess over it.

The pressure strips them of their hubris and they are left naked for all to see – frightened men with empty souls suffering the worst fate they can imagine.

Public humiliation.

Last Thursday’s briefing at the White House – when Mr Trump began prattling on about the potential power of household disinfectants and ultraviolet light in combatting COVID-19 – was extraordinary even by his bizarre standards.

He strode to the lectern having listened to William Bryan, the top scientist in the Homeland Security department, explain how tests had been conducted showing bleach and alcohol could kill coronavirus on hard surfaces in under a minute.

The American president suddenly resembled a shipwrecked sailor who had been treading water for hours and had now managed to cling to a single piece of driftwood.

Mr Trump resembled a shipwrecked sailor, writes Garry Linnell.

“Supposing we hit the body with a tremendous – whether it’s ultraviolet or just very powerful light,” Mr Trump said.

He looked across at Mr Bryan. “And you said that hasn’t been checked, but we’re going to test it? And then I said, supposing you brought the light inside the body, either through the skin or some other way.

“And then I see the disinfectant where it knocks it out in a minute – one minute – and is there a way we can do something like that by injections inside, or almost a cleaning? Because you see it gets in the lungs and it does a tremendous number on the lungs, so it would be interesting to check that.”

It was as if Forrest Gump had stumbled into a room full of astronomers and suggested they search for evidence showing how elastic bands and tiny threads of white cotton are holding the universe together.

Trump’s absurd and almost surreal performance was greeted by the sort of profound and embarrassed silence that accompanies a grandmother’s fart at the Christmas dinner table.

Even his most rabid supporters in the right-wing media – loyal defenders of many of his madcap brain explosions – coughed politely before moving on to other topics.

We all know the man is a liar, a braggart, a bully and a con man.

But these are traits which hardly make him stand apart from many politicians and business leaders.

No, what distinguishes Mr Trump from most public figures – and what separated my old boss from many others I had over the years – is an extraordinary level of self-conceit and inability to recognise and empathise with the pain suffered by others.

Not even his greatest admirers can argue with cold statistics.

On the weekend The Washington Post published a detailed analysis of his daily coronavirus briefings.

Its findings showed that in the 13 hours Mr Trump spent at the microphone over the past three weeks, two hours of his time was devoted to attacking his critics.

Another 45 minutes was spent praising himself and the efforts of his administration.

And of the more than 54,000 Americans who have died from COVID-19?

Donald Trump reserved a total of four-and-a-half minutes for expressing his condolences.

His petty insults, his wacky belief in conspiracy theories and his insistence on trying to gain political advantage during a global health and economic crisis only serve to highlight another deep flaw.

The man is just not that smart.

Like my former boss, he revels in dancing on the graves of the fallen.

He rewrites history to serve his own sense of self-worth.

He loves to bully and dismiss underlings as losers.

And oh, how he loves a cliché.

Power might well be Donald Trump’s ultimate aphrodisiac.

But as this pandemic has proven, no amount of power can disguise the true impotence of the President of the United States.

Garry Linnell was director of News and Current Affairs for the Nine network in the mid-2000s. He has also been editorial director for Fairfax and is a former editor of The Daily Telegraph and The Bulletin magazine