Waging a war against a deadly virus during a pandemic is different from fighting a war against a foreign enemy. I understand that. But, no matter the type of war we are fighting, the priority must be to call on the genius of American innovation, invention and the powerful ability to create and produce all that we need to win the war.
President Trump didn’t create the coronavirus. But he did create the confusion and the chaos that has been the hallmark of the White House response or lack of response to it. He has never taken it seriously and has done nearly everything he could to abdicate leadership in responding to this deadly virus.
The president told the American people the “coronavirus is a hoax.” He said, “it will disappear in warm weather.” “It’s like the flu,” he said. “It’s not going to have much impact in our country,” he said. Those comments alone are uninformed and dangerous. Add to that his thoughtless nonsense that maybe injecting bleach could cure the virus. Unfortunately, this is a leaderless White House at a time when leadership is most needed.
A spectator, a critic and an accuser
The COVID-19 pandemic has now cost over 190,000 American lives, and the president still chooses to be merely a spectator, a critic and an accuser.
Real leadership would have immediately initiated an aggressive and successful national testing program when this virus began to work its way through our country. And it would have created a national program for the production of protective equipment including gowns, masks, gloves and other equipment enlisting American companies and their workers to produce it.
Instead the president denies those responsibilities and blames others.
He and his confused assistant, Peter Navarro, have spent their time trying to blame U.S. corporations including GM, Ford and 3M with a blizzard of inaccuracies about the production of personal protection equipment (PPE) and other products. The 3M criticism is especially bizarre.
This century-old company, located in Minnesota, invented the N95 masks in 1992 and this year will produce 2 billion masks. They will do that with new production lines, vast amounts of overtime for their workers, and a company commitment to respond to this pandemic. 3M and other American companies and their employees are demonstrating an impressive effort to produce more life-saving products during the pandemic.
When the president and Navarro stop unfairly complaining about American companies, they turn to blaming governors, mayors and even hospitals.
As is usually the case, this president can’t seem to tell the truth about the hole he himself continues to dig.
An unbridled marketplace
Not having a national program for PPE and testing equipment has resulted in an unbridled marketplace for masks, gloves, gowns and other items resembling a “hogs at the trough” visual. Middlemen sprung up overnight to rake in billions in profits. Often, they were a mailbox rental as opposed to a company that produced anything.
Some hospitals reported paying $7 for masks that previously cost 50 cents and paying $25 for shields that previously sold for $1.25. The president should have created a national market and invented national production opportunities for the items that were needed by the medical and first-responder heroes.
Trump and Navarro have also blamed former President Obama for depleting the national stockpile of equipment. But Trump has been in office for three years and it was his administration’s responsibility to replenish the stockpile.
There is no joy in pointing out where the president has failed. But real leadership is critical during a crisis like this.
The spirit of cooperation during World War II turned our economy into a powerful machine with workers and companies working around the clock to produce all of guns, planes, ships, trucks, tanks and more to put the best equipment in our soldiers’ hands to defeat the Nazis. Lingerie factories were converted to make camouflage netting. Factories making beer cans were converted to make hand grenades. A company making lipstick cases was converted to making bomb casings. Strong national leadership mobilized the country to produce what was needed to win a war.
It’s enlisting, not nationalizing
Roosevelt didn’t “nationalize” businesses. Nationalizing businesses is not the right thing to do. Instead, FDR enlisted businesses with new public and private investment and an ability to profit from the production to produce the equipment that American soldiers needed.
Russia’s Stalin observed after the war, “it was U.S. production that won the war.”
This crisis can call on the same spirit of patriotism and American commitment to U.S. invention and production of vaccines, PPEs, testing and all that we need to win this war against the virus.
But that will still require real leadership that I’ve not seen from the White House.
Byron Dorgan served 12 years in the U.S. House of Representatives and 18 years in the U.S. Senate, representing North Dakota. He is a senior policy advisor at Arent Fox, a Washington, D.C.-based law firm.
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