Presidential historian: Trump’s handling of pandemic ‘doesn’t make sense to me’

Boston's Doris Kearns Goodwin also questioned the president's decision to hold an event at Mount Rushmore, a monument scorned by Native American groups.

President Donald Trump smiles at Mount Rushmore National Memorial, Friday, July 3, 2020, near Keystone, S.D.

Doris Kearns Goodwin, the Boston-based presidential historian, is questioning President Trump’s leadership during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Pulitzer-winning author talked with Jake Tapper on CNN last Friday ahead of President Trump’s Independence Day event at Mount Rushmore. During the segment, Goodwin compared President Trump’s actions to the legacies of the leaders that loomed over him — figuratively and literally.

“Since we’re in the presence of a huge Teddy Roosevelt, he argued that the leader’s most important responsibility is to set an example in their actions and behavior and words,” Goodwin said.

The president ignited backlash for ignoring public health guidelines and for hosting the event on land seen as sacred by the Lakota people, especially amid widespread unrest over racial inequality. Trump chose the site to rail against what he called “a merciless campaign to wipe out our history” in the wake of extensive removal and destruction of statues honoring Confederate generals and other figures with connections to slavery and racism.


“At a time when we are reckoning with our own history, [Mount Rushmore] seems to be an odd place to come at this moment,” Goodwin said. “You’ve got physical, mental, moral issues at hand, and that’s the example that’s being set by choosing this site.”

Goodwin also said she thinks President Trump’s leadership during the pandemic will be the central issue in defining his legacy.

“The most important that a president does in a crisis … is to focus energies entirely on the crisis; to bring the country together as best as you can, not to divide the country; to mobilize the national resources; and to set an example,” Goodwin said.

“I think [Trump] will be judged on [the coronavirus pandemic] as Lincoln was judged on the Civil War in 1864, as FDR was in World War II, as Hoover was during the Great Depression,” the historian said. “It doesn’t make sense to me. If he’d only been able to get this thing under control by doing what his CDC wanted and cutting down the economy at the beginning, he’d be in a better position.”

“Does he have humility, does he have empathy, does he have resilience, has he been able to bring the country together, has he communicated clearly?” Goodwin asked. “All of those things we have asked of those other leaders, and now we need to ask of him as well.”


Goodwin also compared and contrasted the legacy of Mount Rushmore to Confederate symbols and statues during the CNN segment. Watch the whole clip below:

ICYMI: Doris joined The Lead with Jake Tapper to talk about July 4th amid the triple crises of the pandemic, the economic fallout and the fight for racial justice facing our country today.

Posted by Doris Kearns Goodwin on Sunday, July 5, 2020

Get's e-mail alerts:

Sign up and receive coronavirus news and breaking updates, from our newsroom to your inbox.

Jump To Comments

Get the latest breaking news sent directly to your phone. Download our free app.