There’s a strong parallel between how community institutions are treating coronavirus and how they treated Trump’s ascendancy to the presidency. They haven’t learned anything, and as a result the rest of us are, once again, going to suffer.
When Trump began his presidential campaign, many of us sounded the alarm early and continued to do so throughout his campaign and into his presidency. It was obvious to us that he was more of a threat than most people — and most institutions — were acknowledging, and that the only chance we had to avoid disaster was for our institutions to directly oppose him. We begged, pleaded, and cajoled institutional leaders to take a stand, and they consistently failed to do so. Even now, after more than three years of Trump and the GOP actively dismantling our democracy, our institutions fail to stand up to them.
Unfortunately, bravery and courage are not qualities that are selected for in the processes that elevate people to leadership positions in our communities. Instead, we get leaders who are careful, cautious, deliberative, and reluctant to alienate or offend any actual or potential constituents, Or, perhaps more accurately, any actual or potential donors, since let’s face it, it’s all about the cheddar. The same dynamic is playing out all over again with the coronavirus pandemic.
Despite the failure of the Trump administration to respond competently to the pandemic, it was indisputably clear by the end of February that we should all be sheltering in place, and that the earlier we did so, the fewer people would be harmed by the pandemic. Nevertheless, many leaders in the private and public sector either refused to believe it, or worse, believed but failed to act on it.
Unfortunately, the cowardice and refusal to take a stand continue even now. Every mayor and governor should have already announced that we would be sheltering in place at least through the end of the summer. Every school and college should have already announced that it is closed until then. Every annual convention or meeting scheduled for before then should have already been canceled or converted into a virtual gathering. Every summer camp should have already canceled.
It’s too soon to know what’s going to happen in September, but it’s 100% clear that if we start loosening restrictions before then, there will be a surge in the virus and more people will die.
And yet, what we get instead is vague announcements refusing to acknowledge reality. We’ve all received emails from our towns, cities, and schools like this: “No one knows what the future will bring, but we’ll be closed for at least the next few weeks. We’ll let you know in a couple of weeks whether that will be extended.” It would be laughable if it weren’t so fatally tragic.
By refusing to fully acknowledge the severity of the situation, our leaders fail to communicate the full importance of everyone doing their part to help prevent the spread of the virus. As a result, people do not take all the necessary precautions, more people get the virus, more people die, and it will be even longer before we can stop sheltering in place and return to (somewhat) normal life.
By refusing to fully acknowledge the severity of the situation, our leaders leave an opening for doubters and naysayers to spread misinformation and propaganda and sow confusion and doubt about what we need to do as a society to minimize the toll of the pandemic.
By repeatedly saying, “We’ll let you know in a couple of weeks,” and then repeatedly extending the shutdowns, our leaders repeatedly allow people to get their hopes up and then dash them. This is much worse for people’s mental health and anxiety than it would be to be honest with people up-front about what to expect.
By refusing to speak the truth, the leaders of our community institutions fail to pressure our elected representatives to enact the laws and policies needed to support individuals and institutions during the pandemic.
History will not look kindly upon the fecklessness of our leaders. There is more blood on their hands every day they continue to fail us.