Mayor Bloomberg, are you listening?
It’s March 22nd, 2020. The world now knows what response to a pandemic looks like and how it feels. The human cost of our world’s response is tragic, paid immediately in lost lives.
But the economic cost is even higher, and it will be paid out over time. First, with a dramatic worldwide economic slowdown; later, when the debts for our present response come due.
The Tragedy of American Government Leadership
In America, the land of rugged individualism, we seem to have lost the focus of our response to both health and economic issues. For too many years, Americans have trusted their elected officials to provide leadership, wisdom, and dialogue around ideas and ideals that serve us best.
Starting, perhaps, with the Vietnam Era, or perhaps the Korean War, America’s government has consistently misstepped in ways that have undermined America’s leadership in the world, culminating in our present era of isolationist policy that, instead of making America great, has made America laughable.
- American government leadership on healthcare has swung from pandemic readiness to pandemic indifference, from an expensive attempt at one-size-fits-all universal health insurance to approving up a health care delivery system that poisons more than cures;
- American government leadership on worldwide issues has vacillated between idealistic expansion by force and dead-end diplomacy with dictators, has first embraced then ignored opportunities to guide response to climate change; has encouraged the world toward nationalistic economic policy rather than cooperative collaboration;
- American government leadership of economic issues has been myopically funding “too big to fail” corporate conglomerates rather than offering support for the basic engines of American ingenuity: small businesses.
America’s government leadership is too broken to be effective, too partisan for any real dialogue, and too self-invested in its own power to think of others first. While this has provided a lot of entertainment over the years, it’s no longer a laughing matter.
It’s possible that the most effective part of American government at this moment in history is the American military, which can operate with some slightly-beneficial separation from the elected officials who provide its funding.
Some are calling for “a Churchill moment” in American government, but there aren’t any Churchills in American government and haven’t been for some time. Many of the recent potential Churchills have simply offered their resignations when they found it was impossible to do whatever it takes to make a sustainable change from the inside.
The Tragedy of American Exceptionalism
Sadly, too many exceptional Americans are also too invested in partisan-flavored government leadership, whether as voters, paid advocates for changes to government policies, or serving by election or bureaucratic appointment.
American exceptionalism has been purchased at a bargain price and diluted so far as to be unrecognizable except as rampant commercialism. Even more tragic is that the human and economic cost, somehow, is being borne by the very Americans who believed heartily that they were getting much more for their money.
American willfulness to elect a different-colored leadership has become the issue, rather than the actual possibility for an effective response to pressing issues that impact voters or any color. The myth of government majority power resulting in durable solutions has been disproved for at least two generations of Americans, and yet it still animates many American voters whose touchstones are the very greedy media that capitalizes on their fears.
America has allowed itself to become enslaved selfies and selfishness, feel-good-ism and fear, me-first agendas and useless dogma.
This, just to be plain, this is nowhere near good and definitely not great. And Americans, mostly, drink the Kool-Aid that our government can help us in the present pandemic.
But today, this is where we are: unexceptional participants in a global health care crisis from which we had no protection, and from which we believe that the government must deliver us.
The Hope of Rugged Individualism
When you think that what you do won’t make a difference, think of the many-thousand-of-years-old wisdom that you probably already know.
- The Golden Rule is about giving first, not some aphorism about tit for tat.
- If the Law of Attraction is more your style, take a look around at what you’ve already attracted and ask yourself honestly: is this what I need right now?
- The Dali Lama – known for his compassion, among other qualities – has been our era’s embodiment of collaborative wisdom. This quote stands out in stark contrast to modern American recent practices of rugged individualism: “The more we – as a nation, a group, or as individuals – depend upon others, the more it is in our own best interests to ensure their well-being.”
It’s time for American individualism to embrace the reality of our age: everything we do has an impact on everyone else. The American era of selfish action has brought about an era of income inequality, and America’s example has been replicated worldwide.
That’s not the kind of rugged individualism that works in the long term. Kindly refer back to the three bits of ageless wisdom quoted above:
the way forward must bring everyone along or it is not wise.
There’s hope for America and for the world, but it’s hopelessly insane to keep doing the same things and expecting different results. People are starting to get it, and creative, effective solutions embody it.
What’s Already Being Done
It heartening to learn that, at least as of this writing, researchers are finding way to repurpose approved medicines for treatment of COVID-19 disease that were originally developed during the SARS and MERS epidemics.
It’s a good thing that individuals and businesses are leading the government in best-practice responses to the pandemic, including shuttering operations and sheltering in place to “flatten the curve” of the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus that causes the disease COVID-19.
We can look forward to more good reports from parts of the world whose response was appropriate and timely, and we can learn from these early survivors how to mitigate or perhaps end the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus.
But more is needed and necessary.
A worldwide economic shutdown is not sustainable. No government can reimburse its economy for loss of trade without devaluing the very currency of that reimbursement. One the scale of real impact, a couple of thousand US Dollars over a few months doesn’t even rise to the level of “a finger in the dike” since it wrongfully assumes that a more powerful force will arise to actually resolve the real trouble.
There are thousands – perhaps millions – of incredible neighborhood responses to the pandemic that are helping many people survive shortages and isolation.
So, while there are good things being done, they are clearly not enough.
What the world needs is out-of-box thinking based on tried and true wisdom, not more greed- and fear-mongering.
What we need most right now are patriots. Yes, patriots. People who are willing to put their lives on the line in the war against this pandemic. We can already see this kind of patriotism in the first-responders, healthcare, government, and essential services workers who put their lives at risk do continue to do their jobs for the benefit of all the rest of us.
But cresting the pandemic wave isn’t our biggest problem. We need to restart the world’s economy, and soon. George Mullen has written about this in the context of American economic potential, and it would be wise for the world’s citizens to take note. The rest of us can’t simply take an extended vacation during this pandemic and expect to return to life as we once knew it on the other side.
Brave leaders at the small business and corporate level will need to step up and offer whatever sacrifices are required to keep the embers of the world economy from going out. We will all need to face a choice: shall I to become a part of a fight that could realistically take my life on behalf of the future of humankind?
What we choose in answer to that question puts us in touch with what’s real, what’s authentic, what’s vulnerable – and it does that in ways the world has needed for some time.
Patriots – world patriots – who answer that question affirmatively will join those already on the front lines of the pandemic with economic support for the effort, and some – perhaps too many – will pay the ultimate price for their patriotism. But they will be remembered by the survivors, who will inhabit a better world thanks to their sacrifice.
The New Leadership
The post-pandemic new leaders will enjoy credibility far beyond their present colleagues in government and business, since they will have actual, present, factually-demonstrable results of their success, not mere ideas about what economic or social policy might work best.
Hopefully, some of these new leaders will aspire to hold elected office and begin to clear the cesspool of partisanship that has become characteristic of America’s pre-pandemic government.
Hopefully, voters will gain new clarity about policies that actually work, and the media will respond to these health interests by shifting from fear-based to fact-based reporting.
Hopefully, surviving citizens worldwide will find a renewed self-interest that enlivens their economic and government leadership in new ways – ways that promote collaboration rather than competition – so that the world can address itself to resolving issues and putting reasonable protection in place for issues that, like the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, threaten all of us.
Playing The Insanity Game – Or Not
Mayor Bloomberg, you may have missed your chance at this kind of leadership, or perhaps you will decide to embrace the opportunity you could still claim. The thing you’ll have to realize is that defeating one politician in high office is just playing the insanity game that got us to where we are today. You don’t need to be President – or defeat one – to make a difference right now.
Mr Mayor – seriously – while you still have some of that $1B left, send every American who completes the census a check for $1,000 or so. This will let the best parts of American ingenuity and individualism take over. You’ll have to do this without expectation, of course, and with acceptance of whatever comes next, since much of it will be completely out of your control.
Your legacy for that personal gift would far exceed your wildest dreams of defeating the current Administration, and it might help give the American economy a morale shot it could use to ride the pandemic and restart commerce without the requirement that the American government mortgage Americans’ future any further.
It might even inspire the kind of patriotism that would rightfully make America great again in ways that allow Americans to join the tide that lifts boats worldwide. Maybe it will inspire additional billionaires worldwide to put their resources to work for good.
Isn’t that what we want for America? For the world?