By Perry Gershon
As President Trump flails in his attempts to lead our country through one of the most severe challenges in our nearly 250-year history, and our local congressman, Lee Zeldin does little more than cheerlead, Governor Andrew Cuomo and County Executive Steve Bellone have displayed the leadership we crave. Good leadership requires empathy, honesty, transparency and the ability to admit your mistakes so that you can fix them. One must tell the truth and be willing to display self-sacrifice when demanding sacrifice from others. To date, President Trump has completely failed – he bears responsibility for how we got to our current place and must own it if we are to believe his solutions going forward. And we must get there.
Trump’s initial failures in taking the coronavirus crisis seriously continue to impede his ability to effectively gain our confidence or to guide us as a country. At his recent Friday afternoon press conference, the President still refused to admit responsibility for our testing failures. On Sunday he insisted that the crisis is “under control.” Trump’s words fall flat while states and cities are closing public schools, bars and restaurants, and the number of Americans testing positive for the coronavirus is increasing exponentially.
The coronavirus responsible for our current worldwide pandemic, was first reported to the World Health Organization (WHO) in December, 2019. By January 30, 2020 WHO declared the virus to be a global emergency and by February it was distributing tests to over 60 countries. For inexplicable reasons, Trump’s administration rejected the WHO test and instead decided to make its own – a disastrous process to date and is likely the cause of a dangerous shortage of tests available in the U.S. The Trump administration’s decision in 2018 to fire our entire pandemic response team from the National Security Council without replacing them further limited our ability to respond to this pandemic.
Epidemiologists and other scientists tell us that the key to containing a pandemic is rapid identification. Failure to test people for the coronavirus has created an environment that is ripe for the virus to spread through our community rapidly and undetected. In fact, we remain unsure just how many of us may be carrying the virus and spreading it to others. Large scale testing is the only way we will contain this health crisis. South Korea, which appears to have its epidemic under control, is testing 20,000 people daily. As of this writing, the high side estimate for total tests administered in the US is a similar number. We will never be in front of the problem until we are testing thousands of individuals a day.
Which brings me back to leadership. Trump’s failures so far are obvious and undeniable – we are missing the boat with testing, and we squandered 45-60 days of advance notice instead of preparing for this pandemic. Rather than warn us of the impending danger, Trump defended his own response and repeated false claims that the viral outbreak is winding down, that he had the situation was under control. As Congress moved to pass safety measures to take care of those most affected, Trump’s mind focused unilaterally on our financial and corporate markets. Harry Truman’s motto, “The Buck Stops Here,” is totally foreign to this president.
But all of that is past history and we must move forward. It is not too late for Trump to rise to the challenge of one of the most basic tenets of his office. To lead us through this time of uncertainty. Be straight with the American public about what he got wrong and how he is fixing it. Take responsibility for where we are and vow to make it better. There will be a light at the end of the tunnel, but the person delivering that message must have credibility if Americans are to accept it.
And Zeldin might decide that now is the time to open his communication channels with all of us. Zeldin has not held a true, open invitation town hall since April 2017. This would be a great time to initiate open, online communications. My congressional campaign has hosted monthly town halls since September 2019, and we are switching to online format this week to avoid public assembly. Zeldin might want to follow our model. As of this writing, Suffolk County had over 50 confirmed cases of coronavirus, and that number has no doubt grown significantly. What is the federal response going to be? Cuomo has requested that the President mobilize the military to help fight the epidemic – where is Zeldin’s role in this process? There is clear assistance that could come from the Army Corps of Engineers and the National Guard providing both hospital beds and logistics. We will certainly need it.
America must unite to get to the other side of this health crisis. I believe in Americans and I have no doubt that we will. But it will be much easier if we have a president who will lead us to that other side.