Photo by Luis Melendez on Unsplash

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To see the word “foment” twice on the same day in headlines says something about the times in which we live.

“Foment” means to instigate or stir up. It generally is used in negative political contexts related to social unrest. The word comes from old French (“fomenter”) and late Latin (“fomentare”), both of which are related to putting warm or hot compresses on a wound. It’s easy to see how the word morphed into an English meaning that’s the political equivalent of throwing gas on the fire.

The Washington Post reported on April 17, “Trump foments resistance to Democratic-imposed shutdowns, but some Republican governors are also wary of moving too fast.” On the same day, The New York Times reported, “Trump Foments Protests Against Governors; Experts Warn of Testing Shortages.”

All of this fomenting stemmed from how President Trump, who earlier in the week asserted he had ultimate authority on when the nation should reopen for business in light of coronavirus, backed down from the authoritarian position Thursday. He said, instead, that the nation’s governors were responsible for when and how individual states get back to business.

But by Friday after reading reports on his capitulation, Trump lashed out, encouraging right-wing protesters to “liberate” Michigan, Minnesota, and Virginia, three states with Democratic governors, from coronavirus regimens put in place to protect people.

Hence the “fomenting,” which got a push into the current lexicon when Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, reacted to Trump’s flip-flop. “The president is fomenting domestic rebellion and spreading lies even while his own administration says the virus is real and is deadly, and that we have a long way to go before restrictions can be lifted,” he said.

Anyone familiar with the president’s ongoing lies and pandering should have seen his turnabout coming from 10 miles away. Repeatedly during this crisis of monstrous proportions, he’s done only one real thing consistently: Display a lack of leadership never before seen from an American president. Rather than set reasonable courses of action, he wings it in daily briefings better left to scientists. Rather than soothe the nation, he incites red against blue when the disease doesn’t care which political party the next victim belongs to.

Unfortunately, Trump isn’t alone in lackluster leadership. Winners of that award also go to lackeys in the Congress, particularly the Republican majority in the United States Senate who obfuscate and bend rules to their own desires. Some in the news media are no less culpable. At a national level, Fox News is little more than a network of propaganda that disseminates unrest over stories about how people are coping. In the Lowcountry, television stations need to stop interrupting local news broadcasts to showcase the president’s press conferences that are unpaid campaign commercials.

Thank goodness for leadership by the nation’s scientists and doctors. They’re proving to be the real heroes of the coronavirus crisis. In the days ahead, do what you can to thank health care professionals, first responders, and frontline public servants working to keep our communities safe.