Opinion: Trump v Ardern: How our Prime Minister trumped the most powerful man in the world

Jacinda Ardern has managed the coronavirus pandemic a lot better than Donald Trump
Jacinda Ardern has managed the coronavirus pandemic a lot better than Donald Trump Photo credit: Getty Images

OPINION: One of them is the so-called leader of the free world, President of the most powerful country on the planet.

The other is in charge of a little country at the bottom of the globe with an economy and population that would only rival a small state in the USA. 

One of them has shown decisive leadership in guiding their country through the worst crisis since the Second World War. The other has floundered around like a fish dumped on the deck of a boat after being caught. 

The US President Donald Trump and New Zealand's Jacinda Ardern have dealt with the coronavirus pandemic very differently. 

You would expect the President of the United States, the person in charge of the country with the largest global economy, to have slipped effortlessly into the role of being a world leader in this crisis. 

America, as we are so often told, is the moral compass of the world, the country who rights the wrongs others do. 

Its President, Donald Trump, should be leading us through this troubled time. 

It shouldn't be little old New Zealand, a country that is often left off maps, that is leading the way. 

Jacinda Ardern, in comparison to Trump, has been decisive and in control throughout this country's response to the coronavirus pandemic and has made her American counterpart look seriously out of his depth.  

No world leader excelled in the early days of coronavirus. 

Putting your country into lockdown and shutting down your economy is a tough call. 

Talk radio in this country back in February was all about how the media was overreacting and there was no need to panic. 

One radio host, who regularly read out stories he considered to be hysteria, even congratulated guests who were still flying. 

Seems a bit short-sighted now, but the point is if governments acted too early they were accused of overreacting, and too late they would be accused of not doing enough. 

The leaders who have excelled have been the ones who made a plan and stuck to it.

Anyone who has been in a managerial or leadership role knows there is a need to be decisive. Evaluate the situation, make a call, stick with it, reevaluate it and if you have made a decision that needs changing adapt. 

Those decisions might not be popular but they need making and that is a key function of a leader. Throw in a crisis and that leader must also at all times seem like they are in control of a situation - even if they aren't. 

So let's look at Donald Trump first. Back in January he was telling us the US had pretty much shut COVID-19 down from coming from China. 

Then in February, as the COVID-19 cases in the US moved from hundreds to thousands, Trump insisted they would soon be going down. 

He Tweeted China, a country he has since accused of hiding coronavirus cases, thanking them for their efforts. 

"China has been working very hard to contain the Coronavirus. The United States greatly appreciates their efforts and transparency. It will all work out well. In particular, on behalf of the American People, I want to thank President Xi!" Trump Tweeted. 

By the end of February Trump was echoing calls that coronavirus was a hoax, that it would soon all go away. 

"It will go away, stay calm, it will go away," he said. 

It wasn't until mid-March the President of the United States of America admitted there was a global pandemic. 

In that time, unless he was working behind close doors and trying to fool us, the US did nothing to prepare for the oncoming pandemic that has swamped their country. 

Trump, who was clearly wrong in his early statements, then reverted to blaming everyone else - the media, the World Health Organization and China. 

On March 13 he declared a National Emergency in the US, and on March 17 he asked Americans to work from home, saying he knew there was always a risk of a pandemic. 

Since then he has claimed hydroxychloroquine is an effective drug in fighting COVID-19, he has asked people to wear cloth masks - both with no medical evidence to back them up.

He said he wants the economy back open by April 12. He blamed a lack of testing on the previous administration and has gone to war with the World Health Organization and the media, holding a recent press conference that descended into a shambles. 

He has undermined Governors of the various states and was rumoured to have fallen out with Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases  and the one man who can help him deal with this crisis. 

This is not a man in control of the biggest public health crisis his country has ever suffered. 

Jacinda Ardern too seemed to hedge her bets in the early days, there was a lack of decisive action as the world began to wake up to the threat of coronavirus back in January. 

On the 24th of that month the Ministry of Health said the risk to New Zealand was low. At this stage, there were just below 3000 cases worldwide. It wasn't until March that the response to COVID-19, at least openly, seemed to kick in here. 

On March 4 we registered our first case, an Auckland woman who had recently returned from overseas. 

The Pasifika Festival was cancelled, large gatherings were banned, as were the memorial services for the Christchurch Terror attack. But still life was fairly normal in New Zealand.  

New Zealand in lockdown
New Zealand in lockdown Photo credit: Newshub

It wasn't until March 19, when New Zealand's borders were closed the response got real. Throughout the subsequent announcement of the four levels of lockdown, putting New Zealand into level 3 then level 4 and fronting up almost daily, Ardern has given a masterclass in how to handle a crisis. 

She has been calm, collected, in control and has made the big calls. She has, like every good leader should do, grown into this crisis. You cannot prepare for it but you can deal with it, and unlike Trump she has owned every aspect of it. 

The way the two have reacted has directly impacted how much the virus has hit their countries. New Zealand, even after taking into account its isolation, has had a very low infection rate and even lower fatality rate. They are not yet bagging bodies up in the streets of Auckland as they are in New York. 

Importantly though with 1401 cases in New Zealand and nine deaths, the health service has stayed in control of the pandemic. Hospitals have not been overrun and the curve was very quickly flattened. 

Ardern's war cry of "We must go hard and we must go early," although tough for many, was a bold call and saved lives. 

We are not good at praising fellow New Zealanders, unless they kick a weird shaped ball around a field, but Ardern has shown she can manage a crisis better than the most powerful man in the world. We should be thanking her for that. 

Mark Longley is the managing editor of Newshub Digital.