The giants who strode the planet back then and literally saved civilization are nowhere to be found today. Rather, we are saddled with minnows and plankton, calling into question whether we can emerge from this pandemic without enormous lasting damage to our health and economic welfare. At the moment, the jury is out. Thank God that, at least at the state level, there are some responsible governors (e.g., Inslee, Cuomo, DeWine, Hogan, Beshear) whose limited powers are being wisely exercised in the absence of federal competence. Regrettably, that is not the case with all states. Florida’s Ron DeSantis, who proudly labels himself a “mini-Trump,” is doing more to spread COVID-19 infections than anyone other than Trump and his bumbling crew by permitting thousands of spring breakers to congregate on the beaches. Kevin Stitt, Oklahoma’s sorry excuse for a governor and the Devin Nunes of the gubernatorial set, texts images of himself and his family going out to eat.
This is not exclusively an American problem. While Donald Trump frittered away two full months before taking the Coronavirus threat seriously, he is hardly the only national leader to fall down on the job of leading and managing. China’s Xi Jinping did something similar when the first cases of COVID-19 popped up, suppressing information and denying any trouble for several months while locking up healthcare professionals who tried to warn the public. The UK’s Boris Johnson has put his country in deep trouble by not even going as far as his trans-Atlantic counterpart, advocating “herd immunity,” the opposite of social distancing. Germany’s Angela Merkel disappeared from public view for weeks at the very time her country needed to hear from her daily about how to proceed and survive this plague. And then there’s Italy, with a history of dysfunctional government going back at least 75 years, and now suffering the consequences of its inability to get its governing act together.
What all of these so-called leaders have accomplished by their inattention to the crisis or disdain for facts is recklessly upping both the infection and death rates while putting millions of their countrymen at needless risk, tragic outcomes that could and should have been avoided had even a modicum of competency been present.
Meanwhile, in stark contrast to the U.S., UK and Germany, nations like Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan knew immediately what had to be done and did it. Strikingly, both the United States and South Korea recognized their first COVID-19 infections on the same day. Since then, South Korea has tested hundreds of thousands of its citizens and, based on the results, was able to identify victims and hot spots and institute treatment and quarantining in order to successfully protect the rest of the population. Lives were saved. The United States took a different approach led by a President who downplayed the danger, denied that there was a looming crisis, spouted foolish bromides, resorted to his customary lies and hyperbole, and failed completely to step up to the plate and tackle the problem before it escalated out of control. When it comes time to tote up accountability, we should remember that people died because of this criminal negligence. People like Trump, Johnson and sadly, the heretofore highly capable Merkel, must never be allowed to assume positions of power again.
Even if we can no longer expect giants to rise to the occasion when their nations call, we have a right to expect minimal capability from those who aspire to lead us. We are not getting that. The bar is low and getting lower and it is now unclear if we will be able to crawl out from the morass in which these minnows have buried us.
March 20, 2020