There’s a moment near the end of most sports movies when the coach gives a heartfelt pep talk right before the crucial game. The coach will use words like “heart,” “honor,” and “teamwork”. Everything that happens on the court or field after that is a bit of a letdown because victory – whether on the scoreboard or of the spirit – seems inevitable after the speech. To movie audiences, these moments may seem corny, but in real life, when someone you admire and respect speaks, their words can have a great impact. I certainly listened when coaches I respected, such as John Wooden, spoke at crucial points during my career. Inspiring people to be their best is what great coaches – and great politicians – do. It’s one of the qualities that makes them great.
For the past few months, this country has faced a formidable opponent in Covid-19. It’s been kicking our butts across every state and the statistics are only getting worse. America has a deep bench of expertise and we know how to come together as a team when we need to. Yet, faced with uncomfortable truths and frightening inconsistencies in leadership, we’ve started to unravel here and there. Rather than pull together in a crisis, we’re fighting each other. And that’s leading to even more deaths.
One thing we could use right now is a passionate rallying speech from our president that inspires us all to do the right thing, not just for ourselves, but for our country. It is the speech Trump should deliver, not because he wants to be reelected, but because it would address the country’s major concerns, end the political squabbling, provide a reasonable plan going forward, and give Americans confidence that their government is working to protect their health and economic concerns. It needs to be the speech of a statesman not a, well, Trump. If I were Trump’s speechwriter, using the lessons I learned from great talks I heard in my basketball career, this is what I would give him to deliver:
“America has faced many enemies before, both foreign and domestic. The goal of those enemies has always been to destroy not just America itself, but the ideal America stands for, which is equal treatment and opportunity for all who live here, regardless of wealth, ethnic background, religion, sexual orientation, or gender. Covid-19 is an enemy that doesn’t care about politics or social justice – it’s an opportunistic organism that just wants to feed and spread. It doesn’t want to destroy America. But if we’re not careful, it might achieve that anyway.
“People are defined by how they act, not during the good times when kindness and compassion are easy, but during the tough times, when helping a neighbor could cost us. A crisis reveals whether we are heroes are villains. Ernest Hemingway said, ‘Courage is grace under pressure,’ and I believe that Americans are ready to demonstrate their courage through grace.
“That has to start with those of us in government who are entrusted with the task of fighting this enemy. The only way we can justify the people’s trust is by being completely transparent in our mistakes, successes, and plans for the future.
“We have made mistakes. My administration did not act quickly enough in recognizing the serious threat that Covid-19 posed. We should have, but we didn’t. No excuse is offered because no excuse is acceptable. That delay led to a domino effect of playing catch-up in developing enough testing and in getting necessary medical supplies to health care facilities. But we have learned from our mistakes and those of other countries as well.
“The virus has worsened already unacceptable racial and economic disparity in this country. The death rate among the black and Latinx communities is significantly higher than among white communities. I will do everything in my power to change that. The virus is also attacking our democratic process, threatening to keep people of color and those economically challenged from being able to cast their votes in November. I will do everything in my power to ensure every eligible voter’s voice will be counted.
“As for those out there who use our national crisis as an excuse to marginalize others or do harm to others because of their race, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity, not only do I not support you, I will do everything in my power to see you are prosecuted. Because the whole point of the president’s power is to use it to protect those who need it most. And if that offends you, then don’t vote for me.
“As of right now, my administration is fully committed to one mission: keeping our people physically healthy while also protecting the country’s economic health. Balancing those two crucial, yet sometimes competing goals is the greatest challenge this country has faced in decades. No one has definitive answers because this situation is unique. However, it is our pledge to never put lives at risk just for the sake of unnecessary economic policies. Any decision regarding opening businesses or reducing shelter-in-place will be data-driven, based only on the information gathered by the country’s leading scientific and medical experts, not partisan appointments.
“No one knows definitively how the virus originated. But investigating the source is crucial to further understanding how it works and spreads and may help us to battle other viruses in the future. Countries need to work together to gather this information, not to place blame or levy accusations or seek reparations, but rather to help humanity survive. Toward that end, I pledge no actions will be sought against any country involved.
“To ensure that my focus remains on this task, I will not participate in any campaigning for the 2020 presidency. I will continue to run for the office, but I will let my actions alone be my campaign. How I conduct myself as your leader over these next few months is my campaign.
“I will make no campaign speeches, I will not talk disparagingly of my opponent or his surrogates. There will be no activity regarding the border wall or other divisive issues. We all need to work together to overcome this threat in the here and now, without one eye perpetually on November. President Lincoln said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” That is even more appropriate now, 162 years later, as we face an increasing death toll and a declining economy. America is fighting for its survival – not just as a country, but as an ideal. And nothing is more important than proving to ourselves and the rest of the world that our shared ideals are powerful enough to overcome any enemy, seen or unseen.”
That is the speech of a president determined to lead us during our darkest days and uncertain future. It requires abandoning all notions of ratings and personal aggrandizement to just focus on the welfare of the people in their moment of deepest need. It requires someone who loves the country more than their career. It requires greatness.