In 2016, the libertarian magazine Reason polled a few dozen staff, contributors and allies on who would get their votes for president. Almost all planned to cast a ballot for Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson. I was alone in stating a firm intention to vote for Hillary Clinton, for three simple reasons: "She's sane, informed and competent."
There is nothing like a deadly pandemic to remind us that these qualities are not dispensable in a president. They are literally a matter of life and death.
In a normal presidential election, uttering such faint praise as I offered Clinton would be the equivalent of calling, "Nice swing!" to a Little Leaguer who has just struck out. But in 2016, the Democratic nominee had a monopoly on the critical virtues, and the Republican had none of them.
Sane? Clinical psychologist George Simon said then that Donald Trump was such a textbook case of narcissism "that I'm archiving video clips of him to use in workshops." Without Trump, he said: "I would have had to hire actors and write vignettes. He's like a dream come true."
Informed? Trump imagined he could make Mexico pay for a border wall. Every time he addressed an issue, he made his ignorance obvious.
Competent? He had gone through multiple bankruptcies, while engineering such fiascoes as Trump Shuttle, Trump Vodka and Trump Steaks.
His televised interview this week with Axios reporter Jonathan Swan was an epic debacle, revealing Trump as an ignorant bumbler who has learned absolutely nothing about doing the job he was elected to do — and still may not realize that he has anything to learn.
He bragged about how he well his administration has handled the pandemic, oblivious to the human and economic devastation it has caused. He shuffled papers and cited numbers that failed to prove what he insisted — and may actually believe — they prove.
Most appalling was Trump's insistence that the pandemic is "under control." Reminded that a thousand Americans have been dying every day, the president had a blithe answer: "They are dying. That's true. It is what it is. But that doesn't mean we aren't doing everything we can. It's under control as much as you can control it."
"It is what it is"? Imagine George W. Bush saying that about 9/11, or Franklin Roosevelt about Pearl Harbor. Nearly 5 million Americans have contracted COVID-19, and almost 160,000 Americans have died. Trump's own former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, Scott Gottlieb, says the dead could total 300,000 by the end of the year. It's a national catastrophe, and the worst may be yet to come.
Remember that in February, Trump asserted that the virus was "very much under control." By April, he was predicting that the number of deaths would be no more than 60,000. That was a gross underestimate, but he still insists he has controlled the pandemic as well as possible.
But he hasn't. We know that because other countries have done a far better job of preventing transmission and saving lives. South Korea, with 51 million people, has had fewer than 15,000 cases and 301 fatalities. The U.S. has twice as many people as Japan - but 150 times more deaths.
At the outset, Trump proclaimed himself a "wartime president." He said, "We must sacrifice together, because we are all in this together." But he had no appetite for requesting sacrifice or making it. He sided with protesters who rejected the minimal inconvenience of wearing masks in public and, until July, refused to be seen wearing one himself.
His baseless optimism, disdain for scientists' advice and unwillingness to take responsibility have had devastating consequences. If the coronavirus were a military enemy, it would be occupying the capital, torching the White House and dictating the terms of our surrender.
Things would have gone much better had Trump just done a few simple things: listen to the early warnings from his advisers, focus on defeating the virus rather than supporting the stock market, mobilize every available asset, refuse to declare victory prematurely and urge his followers to don masks as a patriotic duty.
Instead, he remains a clueless captive of his own wishful thinking. "This thing's going away," he said Wednesday, on the basis of nothing. "It will go away like things go away."
This election already stands out for the bumper sticker it has generated: "Any functioning adult 2020." What a change that would be.
Steve Chapman blogs at http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/chapman. Follow him on Twitter @SteveChapman13 or at https://www.facebook.com/stevechapman13. To find out more about Steve Chapman and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.