HUFFPOST PERSONAL

I'm A Combat Veteran. Trump's Inability To Tell The Truth Is Costing American Lives.

"I believe it’s every citizen’s responsibility to demand that our president be tactically proficient and set an example of courage, frankness and honesty."
Scott W. Patton (right) with fellow soldier, Todd Renville, in the Euphrates River Valley, Iraq in 1991.
Scott W. Patton (right) with fellow soldier, Todd Renville, in the Euphrates River Valley, Iraq in 1991.

I am a veteran war fighter and part of a Gold Star family who has served honorably in some of our country’s finest military units. I have watched how President Donald Trump has handled the COVID-19 pandemic so far and I believe if he is to successfully lead this country to victory over it, he must heed hard-earned lessons from the military on being a leader as we continue to battle the virus.

War fighting is serious business. Military leaders deploy daily risk assessments on real-world scenarios that impact lives. Furthermore, attention to detail and trust in process is necessary if the mission is to succeed. Our current global health crisis is showing that our commander-in-chief is not making decisions based on facts or paying attention to the important details, and this could prove deadly for countless Americans.

To be frank, I believe Trump’s inability to tell the truth is already costing American lives. I know from personal experience that military leaders are trained ― from their first to their last day of service ― to understand that without proper planning based on facts and trust in experts, mission execution will end in failure. For America, at this moment, mission failure is not an option because mission failure will cost lives. 

We know that the mission at hand is not about the individual, but the greater good of our country. Our self-proclaimed “wartime” president displays a daily misunderstanding of the mission, facts and the way in which his administration should execute this mission to save as many American lives as possible during this unprecedented war on the pandemic.  

Principles of military leadership that I followed every day while in the military demanded that I:

BE: Technically and tactically proficient. Possess character traits: courage, commitment, candor, competence and integrity.

KNOW: yourself and seek self-improvement. Continually develop.

DO: Seek responsibility and take responsibility. Set the example. Ensure the task is understood, supervised, and accomplished.

The presidency is the most solemn office that can be held in our nation and we must be able to trust the president’s word, policies and process. When President Trump goes on television in front of every American citizen and contradicts his own team of scientists and doctors, he is neither following the principles I laid out above, nor is he displaying “courage, candor, integrity or competence” during this battle to save lives.

It’s imperative that we know how the policies being implemented will be good for our country and her citizens during this war. Yet I was completely dismayed when the president announced that Americans should return to normal life and that the country should be “opened up” by Easter Sunday, which, according to medical and pandemic experts, does not match the facts on the ground.  

What we need now is to continue following the significant health measures that have been implemented in many locations across the country, as well as a leader who will champion these measures ― not false rhetoric or ridiculous plans for normalcy to be resurrected on Easter Sunday.

According to most public health officials, our war against the coronavirus is only beginning. A recent Kaiser Health News article warned that “public health experts caution that lifting social distancing recommendations would overwhelm the country’s health system and have fatal consequences.” This is but one of hundreds of similar reports ringing the same alarm.

It is my strong belief that without data and policy that people can trust, American lives will be lost, and the war will be elongated. What we need now is to continue following the significant health measures that have been implemented in many locations across the country, as well as a leader who will champion these measures ― not false rhetoric or ridiculous plans for normalcy to be resurrected on Easter Sunday.

Trump believes that the economic impacts of the war on the pandemic could be worse than health effects on our population ― that the “cure” could be worse than “the problem.” But I know that he is constrained by our Constitution. The United States is a federalist system, meaning power is shared between national and state governments. Under the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, state governments have power to police citizens and regulate public welfare. Therefore, even if the president wanted the country to return to “normal life,” there may be little he can do about it. And that’s a relief ― but his words can still cause millions of people to believe that the threat we are facing is less severe than it really is, and the consequences of that belief could prove fatal.

If citizens refuse to shelter in place or to socially distance because they’ve been led to believe there is little to no threat to their safety or health ― despite everything we’ve seen in other countries and what we’ve heard from experts ― we may not be able to “flatten the curve” and the casualties could be in the millions.

As a “wartime president,” Trump could gain my respect and ― most importantly ― save American lives by following the example of our military leadership. I believe it’s every citizen’s responsibility during this dangerous health crisis to demand that our president be tactically proficient and set an example of courage and frankness and honesty as Americans fight for their families’ health and safety. 

It is my hope that, moving forward, our commander-in-chief will clearly communicate the tasks required to accomplish the mission to win our battle against the coronavirus while at the same time limiting loss of American lives as much as humanly possible. The battlegrounds of this war have reached us all. More than ever, we need the unvarnished truth from our president based on facts, figures and expert knowledge of the reality of our situation, and nothing less. Our very lives depend on it.

Scott W. Patton is a member of a Gold Star family and combat veteran that served in the 101st Airborne Division, 82nd Airborne Division, 5th Special Forces Group and 19th Special Forces Group. He has been published in HuffPost, USA Today, Cleveland Plain Dealer and Military Times. Scott is a real estate developer who lives with his wife and son in Columbus, Ohio.

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