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President Trump’s handling or mishandling of the Covid-19 crisis calls into question the ability of the United States to take a much-needed leadership stance to address the threat that the Covid-19 virus poses to the health and well-being of our citizens. Instead of bringing everyone together Trump refuses to put forward a national strategy and continues to sow confusion and discord among states and other stakeholder organizations that should be part of the same team. There are numerous examples of this behavior including:

-Encouraging states to do their own thing in re-opening the economy; some states are re-opening; some states are not. When this happens it puts those states who think it is wise to stay locked down for a period in danger of having their citizens at-risk of infection from people  traveling to their  states from  states that have opened up  (to say nothing about the risks to citizens living in  opened-up states ).

-Allowing states to compete with one another for personal protective equipment (PPE), and in some cases inserting the federal government as a PPE buying competitor to the states; instead of having the federal government coordinate the purchase and fair distribution of PPE according to the needs of different states

-The unwillingness of the federal government to use the Defense Production Act to answer requests from the states to procure needed PPE, ventilators, and other needed medical equipment.

So at a time when a unified approach involving cities, states, the private sector and others is called for the Trump administration has not provided the leadership needed to make this happen. And he has replicated this absentee-landlord position internationally where collaboration also is greatly needed to defeat the virus. Blaming China for the pandemic and withdrawing funds to the World Health Organization are examples of the isolationist approach that Trump is taking.

President Trump’s unwillingness to assume responsibility for addressing the Covid 19 crisis raises historical arguments relating to America’s federal system of government.  These arguments revolve around the roles of the federal government and that of the states. State rights advocates support an important and well-reasoned point of view that the decentralization of authority is the best way to respond to the diversity of local needs in our country. However, in times when we face a national emergency (e.g. World War 2, the great depression, 9/11) our nation has relied on the federal government to unite us, support us lead us out of crisis

Great leaders of the past have presented a fact-based and consistent leadership message. It’s time to stop tweeting, blaming and placing the Trump ego ahead of a global policy approach to countering the pandemic and preparing for the next global shock.All in this together is the rallying cry from citizens around the world faced with fighting the coronavirus. But not by those in the White House.

Photo by Bruce Hong

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