We do have a problem right now with selfishness and with people who don’t understand that circumstances have changed in the face of COVID-19.
But our problem is not really with the shopping cart full of toilet paper or the kids still playing on the beaches. Our problem is with those who are supposed to be responsible adult leaders and who have been granted great powers under our system. Some were elected or appointed to government positions; others have power in our economic system. Either way, they are citizens who have the same duty as anyone else to respond to public emergencies.
Experienced medical clinicians and researchers are telling us that we need N95 masks and ventilators and other tools and supplies on a massive and unprecedented scale. We all know that we have the wealth, skills and capital in the U.S.A. to meet this need. But no one knows if we will actually do so.
It’s not just the foolish egocentricity of our President that makes us uncertain. It’s not just other federal agencies that could find ways to step forward but have hesitated. Our business leaders have vast scope to be creative. And of course our large nonprofits could take a chance of rocking the boat for once. Our news/entertainment industry could put its spotlight on what is needed.
We the people are mostly doing our part, even without enough information. But our leaders are not doing their part. They seem to believe business as usual is acceptable.
If we are going to stay home, if we are going to risk our livelihoods, our small businesses, and maybe even our homes, we want those who are more fortunate and have more authority to do at least as much as we are doing.
Those that can get us the masks and ventilators should do so — in plenty of time to meet the need. They will get paid, even if it’s not immediately. Those that have access to media need to make sure it shares a consistent science-based message. Those who donate to politicians need to refuse to support any politician who puts their own concerns ahead of those of the nation. Those who provide necessities could continue to do their jobs without profiteering.
None of us are going to forget these first days of uncertainty. Our leaders have already failed us. But they have weeks, perhaps months, to correct their mistakes.
But if this frightening episode of our history ends with the same kind of irresponsible incompetence with which it began, let no one doubt there will be serious accountability.