The president will lead us back from the brink

Pennsylvania Avenue is now quiet. The swans drift along without interest in the canal. Sitting in the White House at 73 years old, the President is responsible for keeping Americans alive. He will come on television and radio soon and make a series of announcements. Summoned by destiny and fate, he will prepare the nation for sacrifice.

To reduce the amount of people walking around at night, all street lights will go dark nationwide. Mailboxes will be coated with special paint so if the virus is nearby it will change color. You must keep calm and do not carry on.

Rapid construction of trench graves have been ordered to bury the dead. The ideal depth is 8 feet.

Sentries and guards will be placed around key cities and industrial areas as the manufacture of new equipment and supplies must be prioritized if our nation is to have a chance at survival.

Watchers will be tasked with identifying potentially compromised individuals. Anyone suspected of being compromised will be detained.

Masks will be issued to everyone. You should sleep with it nearby and carry it on you at all times.

In the event you are traveling and suspicious individuals come near you or you see the light signals overhead, immediately disassemble your bicycle. If you are driving, remove the spark plugs and carburetor. If you do not know how to do this, go to your nearest garage and learn how.

Shelter your house by placing cardboard over the windows or use blackout curtains. Use paint and other supplies to seal every possible crack around doors and windows.

Volunteers of women and able-body children and seniors are needed to move much-needed supplies into transport across the nation. Contact your nearest police, fire, or health department for information on where to proceed.

Children will be placed on trains and sent away from the cities and into the countryside. Your local train station will have details starting tomorrow.

The above account, with a few changes by me for our current medical crisis, is what Winston Churchill did to prepare Britons for the inevitable air bombardment of the island.

It’s remarkable how similar our current situation is to May 1940. Instead of gas masks we need face masks. Instead of painting mailboxes to change color in the event of gassing, we need flu tests. Instead of sentries looking for paratroopers and bombers, we need people looking for the sick.

Within hours of becoming Prime Minister, Winston Churchill had established most of his government. Within days he had prepared the nation with what German propaganda minister Joseph Goebels called, “Perhaps the best messaging of the war.”

“I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat,” said Churchill.

It was a sentiment that dated fifty years earlier to Theodore Roosevelt, whom Churchill admired:

“Every man among us is more fit to meet the duties and responsibilities of citizenship because of the perils over which, in the past, the nation has triumphed; because of the blood and sweat and tears, the labor and the anguish, through which, in the days that have gone, our forefathers moved on to triumph.“

Donald Trump is no Churchill, and he sure as hell is no Theodore Roosevelt.

In London, people tripped over sandbags and curbs as the city went dark at night to prevent pilots from identifying the layout of the city.

People carried masks with them, issued by the government, wherever they went. In the countryside, farmers and residents left heavy equipment scattered through their fields to deter gliders and enemy aircraft landings. Everyone knew their duty.

As the nation and world swings violently economically and pushes ahead confusingly and without direction or leadership right now, it’s nice to think about what could have been with the right leadership.

With leadership that treated Americans as patriots, intelligent, and with as much to lose as we stand to gain. Ironically, America wasn’t much of a world leader then, either.

Real leadership in turbulent times means preparing your citizens for what is likely to happen. It means devoting all of your attention to the problem at hand. While you maintain the big picture strategy in your head, you give clear instructions to the nation about what is expected, and what is expected of each person.

We’ve not had that. Governors and sometimes mayors have tried to step in to fill the gap, but this is what Americans elect Presidents to do. Nixon remarked that “most of the job is just foreign policy”. The domestic stuff only came to pass in emergencies.

The British were prepared for the Germans. They knew what was coming and they made sure the public knew it, too. But they weren’t always right.

Churchill and Neville Chamberlain before him had developed strategies that relied on the French. Britain could defend herself only if the Germans had to continually fly from and back to bases all the way in Germany. The French, with their well-trained and well-armed army were there firewall. It was unthinkable to them that they could fall so fast, or at all.

We’re in the same situation with COVID-19. It’s unthinkable to us that we might fall so fast, or at all. But we can’t rely on the imagined firewall of our doctors or healthcare sector. There is no Maginot line for viruses.

Americans need to be told the reality of the situation and prepared for war. Treated with respect and recognition for the labor we have done and have yet to give in debt, time, energy, and tears.

Coronavirus is like a really lousy snow day

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything, and it’s not every generation that gets to fight a global pandemic. So, it’s time to immortalize some thoughts on this blog.

Like most of the news today, I find solace in knowing this isn’t entirely new. In the 1918 Flu Pandemic people would drop dead in the middle of the street and no one knew why. It might seem silly to think we’re reminding people to wash their hands, but at least we have the good sense to wash our hands. Our understanding is vastly improved. And we’ve learned how to manage health before we totally overrun our healthcare network.

I see rumblings of people irritated that if they can work from home now, clearly we always could and “capitalism wouldn’t let us”. That strikes me as a little self-serving. An immense amount of value is brought into the world through collaboration, teamwork, and just bumping into other smart people. Also, to say nothing of the fact we all know work is different at home. Sometimes better, sometimes worse, but rarely has purposeful. There’s a big difference between sitting on the couch with Netflix on in the background vs. the conference room.

Likewise, much of humanity’s greatest works of art, literature, science, and math came from people who sequestered themselves off from humanity for long periods. But no one operated in a total vacuum. They relied on spouses, kids, and the collaboration of others before and after their best work.

Unlike 1918, our ability to work remotely at all is itself a remarkable bit of progress. Cities ground to a halt and entire economies just stopped when cities closed schools, public gatherings, and quarantined themselves 100 years ago.

We’ve experienced all parts of this COVID-19 situation before. Just never all at once. This is like if we had the flu of 1918 and the stock market crash of 1929 at the same time. But it’s all overseen by Harding’s total incompetence, Andrew Johnson’s racism, combined with Nixon’s fragile ego and paranoia.

What’s more remarkable is if this situation continues for several weeks or months, and it looks like it will, this will be the first time a generation of Americans will have to live with scarce resources.

It’s one thing to talk about a dwindling social safety net, but most Americans haven’t had to live without access to on-demand toilet paper, dining out, and other supply shortages in a long time. Our parents surely remember the gas lines of the 70s, but gas is cheaper than ever right now. Prior to that, this nation hasn’t had to “do without” something since the 40s.

It is fruitful timing considering this nation continues to debate healthcare, too. As reports from the BBC have noted, “America does not have a health system. They have a health sector.” That’s about the best description I’ve heard of how we choose to operate healthcare.