Lessons in Leadership:  Captain Courageous vs. President Mr. Me

Pearl River     It’s not every day when the United States and any of the world that bothers to look gets such a stark lesson in leadership than what we have seen recently, both in what it is and what it is not.

President Trump in a rambling announcement of the Center for Disease Control’s strongest recommendation that all Americans, healthy or not, wear some form of mask or face covering when going in public in order to protect their lives and that of their community, in every word undercut what was good for the many with his irrelevant remarks that were “all about me.”  Here was the President had to say,

“With the masks, it is going to be a voluntary thing. You can do it. You don’t have to do it. I am choosing not to do it. It may be good. It is only a recommendation, voluntary.”

Luckily, his comments were almost incoherent, so perhaps the clear recommendation from the CDC will cancel out the false vanity, macho narcissism of the president.  What is crystal clear in his comment is that he puts his own feelings ahead of what is good for 350 million Americans.

Then to underline that for Trump vanity is everything, he adds,

“Wearing a face mask as I greet presidents, prime ministers, dictators, kings, queens — I don’t know.  Somehow, I just don’t see it for myself.”

The reporter from the New York Times, added that the president had “stopped receiving foreign dignitaries weeks ago.”   It’s another Trump fib, but at least by not meeting foreign leaders, he’s not potentially infecting other countries.

Then on the other hand we have Navy Captain Brett Crozier, commander of the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, Theodore Roosevelt with 5000 sailors, pilots, and crew under his direction.  After working through the military’s chain of command to raise the issue of coronavirus beginning to threaten this crew and spread through his command, he wrote a four-page memo and emailed it with copies to twenty or thirty people, raising the issue that the lives of his sailors were the Navy’s greatest asset, and that he needed to be allowed to come to port to evacuate them before the crisis spun out of control.  Someone in that chain leaked the memo to the press.  Reportedly the acting Navy Secretary was adamant that Crozier had to go.  Without any investigation of note he was relieved within three days with various excuses trying to claim he had failed to lead by not following proper procedure in the chain of command.  There were excuses about morale, worrying family members, and appearances that covered up the clear issue that Crozier had raised:  were the lives of his crew the most important priority.   He asked why sailors would have to die needlessly. What excellent questions.  In the leadership challenge, he was forced to choose between his twenty-eight-year career since graduation from the US Naval Academy, and the lives of his people.  He chose his people, rather than himself.

What might the president learn from the captain?  Real leadership is taking responsibility and putting your people above your own interests.

Trump likes applause and adulation from the crowd.  He would envy the sendoff that Captain Crozier received as he walked through hundreds of his crew and went down the gangplank leaving the ship, as they chanted his name in thanks for his actions.

The Navy has now had to remove hundreds of sailors from the ship to hospitals and quarantine conditions.  The President probably won’t learn anything from this, but it’s a cinch that the Navy will be forced to answer hard questions about whether its priority is covering up the crisis or protecting its forces.  Maybe they’ll learn something, even if the president doesn’t?


A Pandemic is Another Terrible Time to be Poor

Pearl River     There’s no good time to be poor in America.  Not surprisingly, a pandemic bringing rampant disease and deaths in droves is a spectacularly bad time to be poor.  Some are even noticing the poor now, although that doesn’t necessarily mean that a whole lot is being done about it.

For example, it turns out that lower-waged and other blue and pink-collar workers have to work, regardless of the peril to themselves and the community.  Home health care workers, construction workers, tradespeople, grocery stockers, delivery workers, and hundreds of others are essential, grateful for the paychecks in these times, but unprotected and at risk.  The Times using cellphone data found that lower income workers delayed by three days on average being able to follow stay-at-home orders around the country.  In what has to be the understatement of the day, the reporter wrote, “The impact of the virus is thought to also be higher in lower income neighborhoods.”  Roger that, Captain Government Oblivious!

The reports on unemployed data are stark, but give only a peek at the disaster.  Almost 10 million have applied in March, and that doesn’t count the millions that are still trying as state unemployment websites crash repeatedly.  It will get worse: “Forecasting firm Oxford Economics projects that by May, the U.S. will have lost 27.9 million jobs and have a 16% unemployment rate, erasing all the jobs gained since 2010 during the record-setting 113-month stretch of employment gains through February. That job loss would be more than double the 8.7 million positions cut from payrolls during the 2007-2009 recession and its aftermath. And those jobs were lost over 25 months.”

People are going to go hungry unless there is fast action.  Washington Post columnist, Catherine Rampell, surveyed a number of food banks to report, “In surveys of food banks conducted from March 19 to 23 by Feeding America, the nation’s largest organization for domestic hunger relief, 92 percent reported increases in demand for food assistance. The size of the increase varies by location, with some reporting doubling or even septupling their usual distributions.”

The homeless, always with us, in the pandemic are seen as street-side hotspots like nursing homes that could flare up and take down whole communities, prompting action.  Finally.  The stimulus bill is the biggest federal and state expenditure for the homeless in history.  Cities are trying to rapidly move them off the streets into some kind of stay-at-home situation.  Nonetheless experts estimate that close to 5% or more than 3500 nationally will die.

But, wait, the stimulus bill will do the trick.  Well, hmmm.  Turns out for very low-income people who haven’t had to file tax returns, they will have a problem.  Automatic payments are guaranteed only to those whose information is already in the computers at the Internal Revenue Service or the Social Security Administration. Everyone else must follow instructions posted by the I.R.S., which says many low-income people and others who aren’t usually required to file tax returns will need to do so if they want their payments.  Goodness knows, we can’t give the poor a break.

This is now when we’re still chasing our tail to catch up with our heads.  Who doesn’t believe for lower income and working families that it isn’t going to get way worse before we have a hint at anything getting better?