Daryl Grigsby: A national crisis requires a strong federal presence
The other day I watched Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar answer questions regarding the federal response to the coronavirus pandemic. His first five sentences included the words “counties,” “governors” and “local issues” several times.
At no point did he acknowledge the federal government had a pivotal or substantial role in responding to a global pandemic.
I worked for local government for 42 years, and served as incident commander or section leader during several incidents, including earthquakes, floods, snowstorms, power outages and mudslides. An important concept in emergency response is each organization must play the role consistent with its realm of responsibility. So, a national crisis requires a strong and unquestioned federal presence.
While I do not equate my local government career with the profound responsibility of leading the nation — there are basic principles in emergency response which apply in every situation. The most important thing is that each agency fulfill obligations consistent with their status.
Each state, county, city and municipality has an important role to play in this crisis, but clearly, if an incident impacts the entire nation — the most important, significant, and responsible party — is the federal government.
While other nations were preparing plans, taking responsibility, and issuing mandates and directives, our president was mouthing mindless utterances that “it’s going to disappear, like magic.” He made those comments in February and March, and some version continues to this day. By mid-March some states were issuing statewide stay-at-home orders with no definitive mandates from our national leadership.
The federal government, under the direction of Donald Trump and Vice President Pence, issued “guidelines” and created a task force that was completely absent from public view for weeks on end. Another lesson I learned from my stint in emergency operations centers is the importance of reliable and accurate information — every single day. For weeks we heard a litany of falsehoods alongside a shocking abdication of responsibility as Trump delegated the job of protecting the nation to governors, mayors and county executives.
So what have we now? Rates of infection and death are seemingly out of control across the country. Even worse, the United States, with 4% of the world’s population, in recent days has constituted between 10% and 20% of world’s COVID-19 deaths.
Why is that? Because Americans are more prone to the virus? Because we have more pre-existing conditions? Because we were caught off guard? Because we don’t have the resources of other countries? To me the answer is simple — the rate of infection and death in this country can be tied absolutely and unmistakably, to the inaction, paralysis, delegating, finger-pointing and blaming behavior of the president of the United States.
If you want the job, you have to do the job. It’s not that complicated.
Azar talked about the importance of wearing masks — noting it was essential in controlling the virus. Yet, his boss never wears a mask — and — remarkably holds indoor rallies without a mask in sight. There are many disturbing images of recent rallies with no social distancing and no masks — in states where the virus is spreading uncontrollably.
We have a leader who did nothing but blame Obama, blame China, blame governors, and proclaim unfounded cures such as magic, sunshine, disinfectant and ultra violet light. From the top of our government, there has been no science, no accountability, no communication, no clarity, no empathy, no consistency, no compassion, no truth, no data, no mandates, and above all, no leadership.
After watching a Trump interview spiral into fiction and blame, my wife noted his behavior now is what was evident in his presidential campaign. Our nation elected him despite obvious character flaws. We saw him brag about groping women, belittle the disabled, demonize immigrants, and ridicule opponents. President Trump’s behavior in office is no different from Trump’s behavior on the campaign trail. Unfortunately for all us of — as president — lives are at stake.
I believe it is likely future historians and generations will look back on this time and conclude that Donald J. Trump is guilty of gross negligence leading to the deaths of thousands of Americans of all races, income levels and geographic regions.
Is the federal government responsible for the pandemic itself? Not at all. Is the federal government derelict in their duty to protect and promote health and general welfare? The current shocking upward trend in infections and our disproportionate share of global deaths answers that question.
Daryl Grigsby lives in Nevada City.
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