At the start of the Great Depression, President Herbert Hoover explained his optimistic proclamations by saying that “A doctor does not tell his patient how sick he is.” It is an interesting view of leadership that did not serve him well. Nor did it serve President Donald Trump these past few months. A desire to keep up confidence should not undermine transparency. Such a stance underestimates the citizenry and undermines the leader.
Fortunately, our Founding Fathers implemented the then novel idea of federalism into our Constitution. As a result, we have 50 governors who can take the initiative in dealing with this pandemic. Several in New England have already teamed up to advance a regional approach, but we are still a long way in getting a coordinated plan for 50 states to act upon. The Constitution gives the president responsibility for putting policies in effect. The definition of executive is, in fact, having the power to put plans into effect.
Fortunately, the president has become more realistic, but will he follow the Winston Churchill model and be aggressive, or will he be incremental? We can predict that more drastic measures will be taken to combat the virus. The band aid is going to come off. The question is how soon and what cost will waiting take? Churchill noted that “There is no worse mistake in public leadership than to hold out false hope soon to be swept away.”
A month ago, we were to be reassured that there were only 15 cases in the United States and they might go away. As of Friday morning, there were more than 10,000 — and that number comes without extensive testing.
We need to be ahead in our planning and in our action. As hockey great Wayne Gretzky said: “Skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been ... set yourself up to be ahead of the curve.” Be it ventilators, hospital beds or social distancing, inaction or slow action is an ally of the coronavirus.