Friday, April 10, 2020

Two Commentaries On Covid-19 Responses

Lieutenant General Todd Semonite. Remember that name. Imprint it on the very front of your brain. Why? Because he is the commanding general of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The Corps that moves stuff, builds stuff, puts it exactly wherever it is needed, on a short timetable. When they don’t have exactly what they need, they improvise – American ingenuity on display. That is their job, every single day. I have seen General Semonite interviewed twice now. A no nonsense, old school kind of guy. If you can be clear about what you need (as some governors and mayors are), he is totally focused on just getting the job done. “No” and “can’t be done” are not part of the vocabulary.

Thanks to General Semonite and his extended team, there are temporary, makeshift, and converted facilities going up as hospitals all over this country to respond to the Covid-19 onslaught on our medical centers. Convention centers, dormitories, and vacant hotels converted to overflow hospitals. Tent hospitals built on football fields, parking lots, any open space that can be used. Usually completed in less than a week. It is what the Corps does. And thereby, they demand our respect and admiration as part of the best of America.

This is what you get from true leadership in times of crisis. You turn to someone who has experience in getting done what must be accomplished. Who has a clear understanding of what is needed, what has to be brought to bear, what has to be done, and in what sequence. As President Lincoln turned to General U.S. Grant to defeat the Confederate Army and end the Civil War. As President Roosevelt turned to Dwight Eisenhower to end World War II in Europe; “Ike” then turned to General George Patton to spearhead the allied drive to push the Nazi army back to Germany. Whatever issues of personal character might legitimately be questioned about Grant and Patton, they were singularly focused on getting their assigned job done – no excuses, no distractions. General Todd Semonite appears to have all those similar qualities of leadership (without the character baggage). The leadership needed in these times. What do we get to fight this “war” against Covid-19? We get a responsibility-denier President who still thinks he is running a tiny family-owned business in Manhattan. He in turn appoints his son-in-law (Jared Kushner) to be our Covid-19 point man in background charge of the federal response – notwithstanding that he has NO experience in logistics, health and medicine, pandemics, crisis management, or running a multi-organizational operation.

The art of leadership is all about finding the right person (people) at the right moment to fit the right demand. Clearly defining the results expected, putting those people fully in charge, and then getting out of their way. We do not have anything close to that “right person in charge.” What we have got instead continues to be amateurs at the top, the skilled professionals below. As a result, many people are and will suffer in a variety of different ways. Some will unnecessarily die. Why?

On Tuesday April 7, Wisconsin held an election. Other states that had originally scheduled their elections for March and April long ago rescheduled them to May or June in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The Democratic Governor of Wisconsin, together with the state Public Health Director, tried to postpone the election, but the state’s Republican legislative leaders sued to overturn the postponement. They won in the state’s Supreme Court and the federal Supreme Court. So the election went on.

Why the big push? Because on the ballot was one seat on the state’s Supreme Court, and the Republicans were pushing their conservative candidate to win it. At all cost. And the calculus was that a low voter turnout would favor their candidate. So the election went on, combined with other voter suppression tricks that have been employed in the 2016 and 2018 elections: reduced early voting days/hours; no expansion of mail-in / absentee voting; no extending of absentee voting deadline; moving or reducing polling sites – especially in Democratic-leaning Milwaukee. Nevertheless, voters turned out, many enduring average wait times of 2-3 hours. Putting themselves at personal health risk, standing six feet apart where possible, covered in masks where available, many of them senior citizens most-at-risk for vulnerable to Covid-19. Doing what they needed to do to exercise their right to vote. Mocking this risk, the Republican leader of the Wisconsin House posted a video claiming that “it is absolutely safe to go out and vote,” spoken while he was covered head-to-toe in full PPE gear.

Once again it was demonstrated what lengths some Republican Party officials will go to in order to win by manipulating the rules of game, rather than winning on the strengths of the candidate or the soundness of one’s political argument. Except this time it was not just about winning or losing an election. It was literally about risking one’s life in order to vote. This episode is yet another example of our longtime values, our respect for one another, being thrown in the trash can in favor of one’s selfish, personal, or political benefit. We are absolutely losing our collective minds as a Country.

©   2020   Randy Bell   


Anonymous said...

Good insight.

Anonymous said...

Lt. General Semonite is our Eisenhower, our Patton, our Grant to win the war against COVID19.

Anonymous said...

Wish we could clone this general. Kind of like Cuomo...feels so much better when there is solid leadership.

Anonymous said...

Great writing randy. we all have to rise to the task. it's denting. and exhausting. 6 ft on the side, 6 ft down.,when we look 6 ft up the sky is the limit.