“Innocent People Are Going to Die”: The Price of Presidential Narcissism and the Path of Peaceful Resistance

Just two and a half years ago, the night of the 2016 Presidential election, I stood under the largest glass ceiling in the world in New York’s Jacob Javits Center, anxiously awaiting the arrival of our country’s first female president.

Standing no more than fifty feet from the podium, I watched the big screen hovering above as Donald Trump was instead named the next president of the United States in what was a surprise to most of the nation.

Instantaneously, I whispered these six words to myself: “Innocent people are going to die.”

At the time, I was expressing concern for marginalized communities: women, people of color, the LGBTQ community, people with disabilities—any group to whom Donald Trump had shown contempt or complete disregard during his campaign.

Just then, an elderly woman standing immediately to my right said just loud enough for me to hear, “I’m Jewish, I’ll guess I’ll now have to get a gun.”

How ironic, then, that under that very same roof, innocent people are going to die within the next weeks and months.

The Army Corps of Engineers will construct temporary hospitals at four sites in New York: the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in Manhattan (pictured); the campuses of SUNY Stony Brook and SUNY Old Westbury on Long Island; and the Westchester Convention Center, north of New York City. (Ajay Suresh / Flickr)

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Sunday that the Javits Center will become one of four temporary field hospitals constructed to treat New Yorkers experiencing extreme symptoms traced to the coronavirus.

(As of Thursday, there are over 37,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in New York state, and the number of deaths is almost at 1200—per Johns Hopkins’s Coronavirus Resource Center.)

Gov. Cuomo hopes that 250 hospital beds can be accommodated in that sprawling glass building to assist those requiring critical care.

Surely, Donald Trump is not responsible for the start of the coronavirus, itself, nor that it spread to the U.S. from its original source in China.

But he is responsible for originally claiming that it was a “hoax,” that it is “something that we have tremendous control of,” and, most recently, “Anybody that wants a test can get a test.”

These are all lies. In fact, Trump told a total of thirty-three lies about the coronavirus crisis in the first two weeks of March.

But what is even more disconcerting, and worrisome, is that the Trump administration was warned about potential threats posed by a novel coronavirus since the early part of January—but those warnings were largely disregarded. 

This reminds me of another massive tragedy that hit New York City, almost two decades ago when another president chose to ignore viable warnings of the large potential loss of lives in the U.S.. 

Bin Laden Determined to Strike the U.S.” is now infamously known as the ominous headline in the CIA’s Presidential Daily Brief which was given to then President George W. Bush on August 6, 2001. Yet, Bush chose to ignore it.

A redacted copy of the Bin Laden memo.

Just over one month later, on September 11, close to 3,000 innocent people lost their lives during a series of terrorist attacks in the US, and mostly in New York City. 

I compare these two tragedies, and these two presidents, because there are a number of similarities between the two: Both men won the presidency but lost the popular vote; neither was thought by many to possess the intelligence, experience or heart to lead the country; and both exude many of the traits attributed to narcissists, a diagnosis that boils down to extreme selfishness at the expense of others, exacerbated by the inability to consider others’ feelings at all.

So, as one would expect of a narcissist, George W. Bush stood on the smoking pile of ash at Ground Zero claiming that “If you’re not with us, you’re with the terrorists,” and used this tragedy to target an innocent country, Iraq, in an attempt to bring the country together by claiming they had “weapons of mass destruction”—which were never found.

He did this, many surmise, to avenge his father. Geroge W. Bush, himself, even alluded to the fact that Saddam “had tried to kill his father” in the aftermath of the Gulf War.  For him, this war—started based upon a lie—was very personal, and didn’t take into account how many innocent lives would be lost in the process.

Bush used used the tragedy of 9/11 to target an innocent country, Iraq, in an attempt to bring the country together by claiming they had “weapons of mass destruction”—which were never found. (History.com)

A fellow narcissist, Donald Trump will also seek to use the coronavirus to sew up his own re-election later this year, regardless of the number of innocent lives lost.

In fact, his tweet earlier this week has already set it in motion: “WE CANNOT LET THE CURE BE WORSE THAN THE PROBLEM ITSELF, AT THE END OF THE 15 DAY PERIOD”—which began a week ago, March 16—”WE WILL MAKE A DECISION AS TO WHICH WAY WE WANT TO GO!”

Donald Trump already knows which way he wants the country to go. He is losing patience with the virus, which is severely impacting the economy and threatening his chances of reelection.

He wants to get workers back into the workforce, to help bring back the economy, and doesn’t care if this only succeeds in spreading the virus and increasing the loss of innocent lives.

As Vice President Pence signaled yesterday, even those who have been exposed can feel safe and secure by wearing a mask for a minimal length of time.

We must not let this happen.

The only thing we are sure of is that there is a direct correlation between complete isolation and the reduction of the virus’ transmission—as leaders of other nations have publicly asserted based upon the rise and fall of the number of deaths in their own countries over the past weeks and months.

So what are Americans to do?

We only need to have a crash course in history to recall that many of the most iconic acts to alter dangerous governmental actions were accomplished through peaceful resistance.

Who can forget how a 62-year-old Mohandas Gandhi led a band of 78 volunteers on a 241-mile walk over 24 days to the south of India in 1930, where he picked up a handful of salt—a mineral that was controlled by the British government at the time, in a gesture that started India’s movement toward independence?

Or who can forget Rosa Parks’s decision to refuse to give up her seat to a white man on December 1, 1955, in Montgomery, Alabama? Her arrest led to the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which resulted in the U.S. Supreme Court making segregated seating unconstitutional just one year later.


Or who can forget when 200,000 people gathered at the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963 demanding equal rights for African Americans, and where Dr. Martin Luther King delivered his unforgettable “I Have a Dream’ speech advancing equal rights?

While it’s true that the Lincoln Memorial, and all memorials, are now closed in Washington, DC; that busses are continuing to run but with very few, if any, passengers; and that all of the beaches in the U.S. are now closed to pedestrians—there are other ways that the public can resist, and it can be done by remaining behind closed doors.

Just remember another iconic peaceful protest, where one of the most revered messengers of peace, John Lennon, along with his wife Yoko Ono, held a ‘bed-in’ to display their strict opposition to the Vietnam War in 1969. It was then that Lennon recorded the historic song, “Give Peace A Chance,’ which became the unofficial anthem to ending that war.

In 1969, John Lennon and Yoko Ono held two week-long “Bed-Ins for Peace,” one at the Hilton Hotel in Amsterdam and one at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal—intended to be nonviolent protests against wars, and experimental tests of new ways to promote peace. (Wikipedia)

With our government threatening to phase out the current 15-day self-isolating guidelines by  opening up businesses again in just two weeks, immediately after Easter Sunday—April 12—let’s be like John and Yoko, and Martin, and Rosa, and Mohandas.

For peaceful resistance is the only defiant act that has ever worked, without losing any innocent lives in the process.

The coronavirus pandemic and the response by federal, state and local authorities is fast-moving.

During this time, Ms. is keeping a focus on aspects of the crisis—especially as it impacts women and their families—often not reported by mainstream media.

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Lori Sokol, PhD, is the executive director and editor-in-chief of Women’s eNews and an award-winning journalist and author who is currently writing her memoir.