The Importance of Crisis Management from a United States President

When we go to vote in November, many of us will vote based on how much we agree with the principles of a particular candidate. Some of us may even decide to vote for a candidate because of a single issue a candidate has a particular stance on (something I strongly advise against because a president will have to deal with not one issue, but many issues). But my guess is that not as many of us will vote for a president based on how well or poorly someone has managed, or would manage, crises. And that should change.

One of the certainties of a sitting president is that the president will need to confront crises. If you’re not convinced of that, look at this list of recent presidents and the incomplete group of crises they each had to confront:

  • Donald Trump: COVID-19 pandemic, economic downturn as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Hurricane Maria in 2017, and Hurricane Harvey in 2017
  • Barack Obama: Superstorm Sandy in 2012, numerous mass shootings (Pulse, Aurora, and Charleston, to name three), and the Great Recession
  • George W. Bush: The Great Recession, Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and 9/11
  • Bill Clinton: Columbine shooting in 1999, Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, and Northridge, California earthquake in 1994
  • George H.W. Bush: Hurricane Andrew in 1992, Savings and Loan crisis, and Bay Area Earthquake in 1989
  • Ronald Reagan: Challenger rocket disaster in 1986 and Hurricane Alicia in 1983

And these are only the recent presidents. Going further back in history, presidencies were viewed as among the greatest or among the worst, in large part because of how those presidents handled crises. For example, Abraham Lincoln is considered among the all-time great presidents in large part due to his successful handling of the Civil War, while his predecessor, James Buchannan, is widely regarded as the worst because of his inaction as states seceded from the Union. Herbert Hoover is consistently ranked among the worst presidents due to his relative inaction when the Great Depression started, while his successor Franklin D. Roosevelt is widely regarded as among the greatest because so many thought that he responded to the Depression and World War II in a way that America became arguably the world’s strongest economic power for decades to come. A president’s response to a crisis can define a presidency, and sometimes even the course of the country for decades.

I’m not saying that one has to completely ignore the principles and positions taken up by the candidates. To the contrary, looking at principles and positions is an important part of figuring out who you want in the White House. However, figuring out how well a candidate would handle a crisis if elected is vastly underrated.

13 Replies to “The Importance of Crisis Management from a United States President”

  1. I agree with you … we give too little consideration to the temperament of a president and how well he would handle a crisis. Mostly, I think, this is because crises aren’t anticipated, are rare, and we put more emphasis on the day-to-day decisions that will affect each of us every day. GW Bush, for all his faults, stepped up to the plate on 9/11 and led … actually led the nation. Trump, in the face of the pandemic, has failed this nation in spades. But, another thing to consider is that we can never know, until there IS a crisis, how a president … how any of us … would respond. In some cases, it is obvious from the outset … we could have all predicted that Trump would not be able to put aside his own ego in order to act on behalf of the nation. But, in other cases, the man (or woman someday) may seem the personification of calm, rational response, but if taken out of that comfort zone, could panic and fail us all. Still, give me an Obama or Bush or Biden over a Trump any day!

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Bush also botched Hurricane Katrina (“Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job!”), so I’m not sure I’d completely take Bush, either. I personally think Obama was a calm and decisive figure during crises, even though I have mixed feelings about him overall as a president.

      Be that as it may, you’re correct that we can’t anticipate crises and that they are rare; for that reason, we don’t give thought to it. But maybe that should change…

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Oh, I agree … in the past two decades, I think Obama is definitely the most caring, decent, honourable president we’ve had. I wish he were at the helm today … I might actually sleep at nights!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. You’re absolutely right Brendan. I think one of the most important things the last 3+ years have shown us is exactly how necessary it is to have a president who can lead us out of the darkness as it were. Indeed, as Jill says, you can never know how any one person will react in the face of a catastrophic crisis, but I can’t help but keep wondering how many lives would have been saved during this pandemic if anyone else were president besides Trump. I’m thinking the numbers would be in the thousands.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I don’t think the numbers would be in the thousands, because tens of thousands died in the northeast all by itself before we got things under control and learned the science that would help us control this. That being said, I do think the death toll would be lower if Trump went with the science. And I think that having someone who just generally knows how to manage crises is an important quality in a president.

      Liked by 3 people

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