In a time of threat any organization—especially a country—- needs leaders whom the people trust, and today is such a time for the United States. America is battling a pandemic that has sickened more than one million Americans and killed tens of thousands. The Covid-19 disease has also created havoc in our economy, taken our children out of school, caused rampant unemployment and confined many of us to our homes. It has challenged almost every social norm. And, some people are getting angry and restless.
A leader in such a time must make dozens of hard decisions, sometimes quickly and with minimal information. Each decision potentially affects the life and death of people, the strength and weakness of the economy, and the leader’s political future. Weak, self-centered leaders have a survival instinct (or, perhaps a megalomaniacal sense of self) that dominates any sense of duty.
They tend to grab, embrace and promote any snake-oil cure that is suggested by conspiracy mongers, and they blame others when something doesn’t work. They often cast their lot with the loudest and most brash of the citizenry, who are primarily seeking to take advantage of fear and frustration among the populace to push their own power agenda. Sadly, the President of the United States (and his henchmen Mitch McConnell and Mike Pence) fall into this category.
True leaders see themselves as servants of the common good. They listen to the experts––in this case to scientists, physicians and other health care professionals. They take responsibility when something doesn’t work out and pass on credit to others when progress is made. These leaders also listen to push back from dissenters, but they do not fear making tough decisions that might not be immediately popular.
Judging by this standard, in a majority of cases today the best American leaders are found among the nation’s governors. At the top of my list are Gavin Newsom of California, Larry Hogan of Maryland, Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, Jay Inslee of Washington, Mike DeWine of Ohio, Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico, Phil Murphy of New Jersey, and Charlie Baker of Massachusetts.
Unfortunately, the political leaders in the federal executive branch have proven to be purveyors of disinformation and jingoistic solutions. The scientists and health care professionals from the federal and civilian agencies, however, are notable exceptions. But when the truth and facts run counter to campaign-oriented rants from the president they are silenced.
The president is either pushing magic pills—giving a sales pitch that infers, “Take this and it will cure you; I know because Rudy told me it would.” Or, he is demanding that the economy re-open despite advice from the medical professionals that opening too early could bring another surge of sickness. When the president was asked where he got the information that formed his medical/scientific opinions he pointed to his head and said it came from instinct. And that “instinct” is girded by his team of advisors: Rudy Giuliani, Sean Hannity, Jared Kushner, Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingram, and Rush Limbaugh.
For me, I’ll continue to pay attention to advice from the governors; I’ll listen to Dr. Anthony Fauci and other medical/scientific professionals; I’ll absorb information by reading a variety of publications; and, I’ll pay attention to what political pundits, economists and sociologists are saying and writing. Then, I’ll use my own brain to sort things out and determine when it is safe for me to begin relaxing social distancing. I agree with Governor Murphy, “You have to crack the back of the personal health piece before you can crack the back of the economic piece.”
Seventy-six percent of Americans agreed in a recent Morning Consult/Politico poll that social distancing policies should stay in effect until the virus was curbed, even if it meant further damage to the economy. Count me among the 76%.
Bill Jamieson’s career has included leadership positions in business, government, and education. He was also an ordained deacon in the Episcopal Church and his ministry centered around advocacy for low-income families and children.