A month ago, my letter criticized President Trump for a weak response to the early coronavirus warnings and forecast that many Americans would get sick and die as a direct result. Sadly, that prediction has come true. More Americans died over the last two months than during 10 years of the Vietnam war.
More discouraging is the continued lack of leadership from the White House. Trump has yet to fully utilize the Defense Production Act to compel private enterprises to manufacture test kits and supplies which state governors need to contain the virus and to open the economy safely.
Now, more than four months after Trump was first warned of the approaching pandemic in the presidential daily brief, there is no excuse for inaction. The president told reporters that acquiring test kits and supplies is the job of the governors and that he is not a “shipping clerk.” Thus, state and local officials are left to compete not only with each other but also other countries and our own federal government. Where is the well-coordinated federal response? Instead we have a free-for-all competition with critical supplies going to the highest bidder and systemic shortages.
Worse, Trump spreads misinformation and promotes fake remedies at his daily briefings. Most bizarre was his recent suggestion of injecting disinfectants into humans, which was quickly rebuffed by the medical community. The manufacturer of Lysol also felt compelled to issue a public statement to prevent anyone in desperation for a cure from ingesting toxic solvents.
Meanwhile, Congress has been on a spending spree attempting to limit the economic pain. Their hastily organized relief programs will rocket the federal deficit to a record $4 trillion — money borrowed from future generations who are unable to vote and who are distance learning from home.
Even with all this rampant spending, Trump refused to support any modest relief for the U.S. Postal Service. Without interruption, over 600,000 dedicated postal workers have been delivering medications and packages needed to keep people alive and the economy running even at a minimum pace. Adding insult to injury, Republican Mitch McConnell suggests that no relief should be provided to state and local governments that have borne the bulk of the expense in combating the virus and are keeping vital emergency services running. Instead he recommends that they declare bankruptcy, a sad response from the Senate majority leader.
This is not leadership. At best it is leading from behind with reactionary tactics to combat the worst disaster facing this country since World War II. What we need is a leader who understands that the first task of leadership is to take responsibility and face reality. Someone who can accurately assess the facts, rely on subject matter experts to put together a plan and execute the plan efficiently while learning what works to make adjustments along the way.
These basic tasks of leadership are sorely missing at the White House. We can and must do better. Leadership still matters.