Stop Looking for 'Leadership' During the COVID-19 Outbreak

If you really want politicians to do something helpful, ask them to stop "leading" and to get out of the way.


As the COVID-19 pandemic hit the U.S., pundits and opposition politicians pounded President Trump for displaying a "lack of leadership" in response to the deadly virus. And it's true that, as always, the president was prone to minimizing inconvenient developments, bristling at critics, and contradicting members of his own team. Without a strong, focused figure in the White House (maybe somebody less deplorable?), we can't possibly pull through this crisis, the opponents suggested. But that's ridiculous; anybody making their responses to events contingent on political office not being held by narcissistic ass-clowns is putting their fate in the hands of circumstances they can't control. They're making a false virtue of dependency.

That's not to say we shouldn't listen to people who have expertise. Epidemiologists shared widely reported warnings in January of "the spread of 2019-nCov within and outside mainland China."

"The more we learn about it, the greater the possibility is that transmission will not be able to be controlled with public health measures," Toronto-based Allison McGeer, an infectious disease specialist, cautioned at roughly the same time.

Even China's awful political rulers, who muzzled medical whistleblowers after they warned of the disease (there's leadership!), admitted by the end of the month that the situation was out of control.

Just weeks later, the World Health Organization, as clumsy and prone to stroking authoritarian regimes as it is, said the virus had "pandemic potential," while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned of "severe" disruptions to American life from "community spread" of the new virus.

Anybody paying attention had the opportunity to get ready for what was comingif they were allowed to do so by our fearless leaders.

It's worth noting that, when political officials act, their most positive efforts come from getting out of the waythat is, by undoing the "leadership" they demonstrated on earlier matters.

President Trump announced "compassionate use" easing of restrictions on patients' use of drugs that don't yet have FDA approval for treating COVID-19.

Congress extended liability protection for makers of protective N95 face masks so that hospitals can directly purchase equipment that isn't specifically approved for medical purposes under cumbersome FDA rules.

Eased regulation enforcement, announced by the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS), means the government won't take action against health insurers who modify their catastrophic plans to cover COVID-19 diagnosis and treatment for their customers.

Licensed physicians can also now practice across state lines, under CMS waivers that ease a host of other rules that bind the practice of medicine in red tape. The feds played catch-up on that one: states including Arizona, California, Florida, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Washington had already moved to ease restrictive licensing of medical providers before the feds jumped on the issue.

Even the Transportation Security Administration is joining in, modifying its insistence that doom is found in any liquid container of more than 3.4 ounce capacity so that travelers can carry 12-ounce bottles of hand sanitizer on airplanes.

"The coronavirus is forcing authorities to admit many of their regulations are unnecessary," Reason's Nick Gillespie noted.

After so much obstruction of innovation and the flexibility that individuals and organizations might have brought to situations like the current pandemic, some officials are undoing a bit of the damage they and their predecessors inflicted on us. They should be thanked for that, even as we recognize that such damage was the "leadership" they exercised in the past.

But, in response to a dependent public accustomed to wait to be told what to do, we're getting that leadership good and hard, too.

Panicky curfews and shelter-in-place orders around the country already disrupt life for millions of Americans, including their ability to make a living. But how much good can they do when researchers say "such measuresmost notably, large scale social distancing will need to be in place for many months, perhaps until a vaccine becomes available"?

There's no doubt that we need to adapt to the pandemic, but completely suspending normal interactions and economic activity might have us all starving in the dark before the end of the 18 months anticipated until we can line up for our shots. Those curfews and shelter-in-place orders are unsustainable beyond the short term and are likely to hurt worse than the disease itself (unemployment claims are already jumping).

To address shortages in medical supplies, President Trump invoked the long-dormant Defense Production Act, which gives the federal government extraordinary power to bully the private sector into accepting government contracts and "to allocate materials, services, and facilities." If the elements of the law are actually put into effect, they "amount at least in some measure to switching from a market economy to a command economy," cautioned George Washington University's Michael Abramowicz at the Volokh Conspiracy.

Why would Trump need to evoke command economy powers when companies are already responding to high demand and rising prices by "running round the clock" and "increasing capacity"? To demonstrate leadership, of course!

And if you're looking for the latest round of taxpayer-funded government goodies, Congress has a $1 trillion-dollar treat for us all. It's a measure that borrows yet again against the future to offset some of the harm government has inflicted on small businesses and individuals forcibly sidelined across the country.

Americans will be paying for the new spending spree long after we've forgotten that we were already paying off old spending sprees. There is your leadership.

"Nothing makes government grow like a crisis," as I warned last week. "Even after the public panic retreats, the politicians' calculations subside, and COVID-19 becomes more knowable and treatable, we'll be left with the permanent swelling of government."

Americans have been led to that world of ever-growing government power by our own complacency, our insistence that somebody lead us, even if it's off a cliff. We could inform ourselves, make our own decisions, and voluntarily work together, and many of us are doing just that. But too many of us depend on others to decide for us, tell us what to do, and point us in a direction, any direction.

If you really want politicians to do something helpful, ask them to stop "leading" and to get out of the way.

NEXT: Sens. Richard Burr, Kelly Loeffler Accused of Coronavirus-Motivated Insider Trading

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  1. “Cap’n, I wish you ‘d quit being so good to me.”

    Funny how most the ’emergency help’ consists of just getting rid (temporarily) of government meddling.

    1. Right? That’s the big thing I’ve noticed in all this. I mean, now you can have alcohol take out and delivery around here. Ok, why not all the time, you fucks?

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  2. Yes! By all means, get all of the bosses out of the way, and let the peons help themselves! More Indians, fewer Chiefs!

    I am your well-meaning, benevolent, do-gooding, concerned, private patriot-peon here today, so let me mention this here helpful tidbit: As you might catch “Chinese / Trumpese Virus”, you might possibly come down with throat and lung congestion, and you might be tempted to therefor make yourself a homemade “lung flute”, upon which to personally blow upon, with your personal, bodily body. To supposedly create sound waves to expel excess mucus, see? Kinda like “coughing”, but assisted by a cheap plastic flute!

    FOR THE LOVE OF GOVERNMENT ALMIGHTY, do NOT do that!!! Or else, you will incur the wrath of the dreaded Flute Police!!!

    To find precise details on what NOT to do, to avoid the flute police, please see … This has been a pubic service, courtesy of the Church of SQRLS!

  3. Meanwhile, J.D. Tuccille was in my morning paper praising government-led collective action. Will the real J.D. please stand up?

    1. please stand up. please stand up.

    2. The simple fact is that neither extreme works, yet most have a vested interest in extremes. Scientists need to drive the science and pols need to gather public resources and create policy. Without the other, it’s as effective as one-hand clapping. Then the only valid argument is how much of each.

      As for the cable pundits and Internet parrots like SQRLSY, their only contribution is being whiny pre-pubescent clique members whose job it is to rearview drive, come up with pissy comments… oh, and probably “raise awareness” or something equally useless.

      1. WTF, Bluwater!?!? What excuse do YOU have, for USA Government Almighty being the ONLY NATION ON THE PLANET to require me to get PERMISSION to blow on a cheap plastic flute? North Korea has more lung-flute freedom than we do! What is your excuse?!? I’d really like to know!

        If YOU like Nanny Guv Almighty to snuggle and coddle you, and protect you from freedom (and having to make decisions for yourself… OH, the HORRORS!)… Then go join Scientology, or some other stupid authoritarian cult, to tell you what to do… And leave the rest of us alone, to fight for REAL individual freedom!

        Or is this yet more idiocy from Tulpa, talking just to hear his-her-its head rattle?

  4. When the commies bring out the guillotines, I never actually thought I’d be here, but I’m actually going to be in the mob cheering them on.

    1. It’s going to be surreal watching the blades get sanitized between uses.

  5. FWIW, Larry Hogan (R-MD), Chair of the National Governors Association, seems to be picking up mainly praise for his leadership. How about an analysis of that?

    1. No, I wasn’t. Those were the voices in your head.

      1. Oh, for Christ’s sake. The reply was intended for up the thread, of course.

        1. If only there were an edit button…..
          Seems like the squirrels have petards, and they know how to use them.

        2. 2-chilli, use your editorial powers for good and demand an edit button, once and for all. Perhaps a pandemic is what it will take to get an edit button around here.

          1. Or at the very least a preview feature.

    2. But he had a picture taken with Mike Pence, so he’s just as deplorable as any other Rethuglican, say the vast majority of Washington Post commenters.

  6. If you really want politicians to do something helpful, ask them to stop “leading” and to get out of the way.

    Well, that’s certainly an evergreen statement, but what the hell’s it got to do with the coronavirus?

  7. “They’re making a false virtue of dependency.”

    In case you have not noticed, dependency is the core principal of the new-age compassionate socialist. They leverage the human tendency to benefit and bond through cooperation, as well as the psychological need that some people have to give themselves up to their god/king/state. But they also seek to mandate a deep dysfunctional type of dependency that crushes individual initiative in favor of institutionalized collectivism, managed by self-appointed elite.

    Cries about racism, sexism, egalitarianism, and especially capitalism are just derivatives of their core commitment to dependency.

    1. I think you are right. What a pathetic way to see the world.

      1. I think he’s absolutely right. Very astute.

    2. Everything is so terrible and unfair.

      So, join us! Haha

  8. Come senators, Congressmen
    Please heed the call
    Don’t stand in the doorway
    Don’t block up the hall
    For he that gets hurt
    Will be he who has stalled
    There’s a battle outside
    And it is ragin’.

    1. How many bats must a man chow down
      Before you call him batman?
      How many sneezes must batman unveil
      Before one lands in your hand?
      Yes, ‘n’ how many times must the spittle balls fly
      Before they’re everywhere fanned?
      The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
      The answer is blowin’ in the wind

  9. Without knowing how many tests are coming back negative, I fail to see how anyone can make any kind of informed decision. For example, the Diamond Princess had 3618 people tested and 696 were positive. That’s a 19.2% infection rate. We don’t know if everyone was exposed, but we do know that lots of places, CA for example, are suggesting that 56% of their population could get infected. Where is the evidence that infection rates are anywhere near that high? Absent that kind of information, it would seem to make more sense to make projections based on a 20% infection rate rather than assuming everyone would get it if exposed.

    1. Seems like people should be a lot more interested in the cruise ship data. That’s the only place where we have a complete, closed population that has been tested.

      1. But that population was also subjected to more closeness and recirculated air than a real world environment. So all we know for sure is that we don’t know.

        1. True, it’s not a typical environment. But it should calm the people who think everyone is going to catch it and develop serious illness. And it’s the only available data that’s worth anything for determining the communicability and severity across all infected people. I think it’s at least enough to tell us that more dire predictions of numbers of deaths or severe illnesses are wildly inflated.

          1. Plus a very high percentage of older people.

      2. Well Zeb if you looked at that you wouldn’t be panicking about this so much. Which is what the media wants you to be doing.

        1. As much as I want to blame the media, I think it’s more of a pervasive inability to interpret simple numbers and figures by a lot of people. For example, we all know that infections and deaths are expected to increase, but when those numbers do increase as expected, our leaders clamor to ‘do more’ to prevent what we already expect.

          The real question should be whether or not the rates of infection are behaving as expected. But to answer that, you have to first ask the question about infection rates and I don’t see anyone doing that.

        2. Weren’t John and Paul predicting “north of 49%” a couple or three weeks ago?

          1. Fatality rates north of 49%.

  10. The article attacks Trump for not doing eniugh while attacking the government he is in charge of doing to much. Inconsistent but Consistent With TDS

    1. It’s only really inconsistent if you assume he is claiming that the president should never do anything. Not all things the government might do are created equal.

  11. $20 trillion plus damage to economy. Probably 1 million extra people die. So $20+ mil per life. Not worth it. Sorry not sorry.

    1. Economic crashes kill people too. It’s harder to identify which people exactly, so it’s easier to ignore.

  12. Articles like this help keep me sane.

  13. “Even after the public panic retreats, the politicians’ calculations subside, and COVID-19 becomes more knowable and treatable, we’ll be left with the permanent swelling of government.”

    So you’re saying the $1,200 checks will keep flowing.

    1. What would you buy with the money? I’m thinking an AR-10.

      1. That was my first idea, but then I decided my good old M1 will work just fine, so I’ll send mine to a food bank, homeless shelter, or something similar.

      2. think I’m going to get that ar-14 biden keeps talking about.

      3. Nah, gotta go with the AR-14!

        The only rifle endorsed by Joe Biden.

    2. Well, sort of; they will ‘tailor’ the benefits to their buddies once the ‘crisis’ part is declared over.

  14. They want a fürher, not a leader

    1. How about a man of steel or at least a man of the path?

    2. The media, bureaucracy and political class don’t deserve to survive this. politically.

  15. The greatest service, the only real service, that a government has ever provided any private citizen(s) is benign neglect — leaving them alone to live and prosper without government meddling and plundering.

    1. Said before me better and more dramatically:

      The government is good at one thing. It knows how to break your legs, and then hand you a crutch and say, “See if it weren’t for the government, you wouldn’t be able to walk”.
      ~ Harry Browne

  16. I mean, are we gonna ignore that the tangerine man could’ve saved a lot of lives and money had he not dismissed the pandemic team in the first place?

    You argue against “borrowing against our future” but a prime reason for that is we weren’t prepared and then his dumbass went and called it all a hoax anyway.

    Government readiness would’ve actually *saved* money here.

    1. This is the dumbest most retarded possible take on this. It’s breathless in it’s stupidity and dearth of actual value.

    2. Now tell us about how he defunded the CDC.

      1. The CDC bungled all this without any help from Trump. They fucked up basic lab procedures.

    3. “and then his dumbass went and called it all a hoax anyway.”

      Is that so? When did he do that?

    4. Maybe the CDC should have focused on controlling diseases rather than vaping and whatever other dumb crap they were looking at. This is a problem that goes well beyond trump.

      1. Well, research into that ‘gun violence epidemic’ isn’t going to fund itself, ya know.

    5. “…and then his dumbass went and called it all a hoax anyway…”

      Which was a CNN lie to begin with an has been debunked several times since.
      Lefty fucking ignoramuses have no use for facts.

    6. So you are saying he ignored the virus while he was cutting off travel from China to stop the virus, Biden was calling it racist, and Sanders said as of 2 weeks ago he still wouldn’t do it? Democrats only had one thing on their mind the first two months of the year… impeachment and how terrible that their political attacks failed? Democrats have only been paying attention to this once they figured how to politicize the issue… about 3 weeks. Before that, any action he took was used as political ammo.

      Biden and Sanders still haven’t acknowledged that shutting the borders was or is a good idea, despite virtually every country on the planet doing it. Thank goodness we don’t have either of those clods in office.

      1. +10000

    7. He didn’t totally dismiss the pandemic team–but he did reduce it and combine it with several other offices, which had objectives that were much different–which obviously did not work out well. Bit it likely would not have mattered much even if the full office still remained.
      Trump has repeatedly ignored and/or dismissed facts that at are at odds with his own thinking, however erroneous or narcissistic it may be. Nowhere has this been more apparent than in the COVID-19 situation. Experts throughout the world were sounding the alarm about COVID 19 at least two months ago, and Trump’s response was denial and ignorance until just a few days ago. Far too little and far too late. Now American lives will be lost and millions are out of work, at least partly because our “President” preferred ignorance and denial to facts and action.

      1. Denial and ignorance was behind the travel ban to China? That was back in January.

        He also had a task force on the virus at that time.
        He addressed it during the SOTU in early Feb. Of course the ignorance was there from Ms Pelosi taking the stage to tear up his speech.

        Ms Pelosi and Mr Schumer were at that time and into March still encouraging people to gather together in large numbers.

        Trump is not perfect. But claims of denial and ignorance is B.S.

  17. “We could inform ourselves, make our own decisions”

    One way our government could help is to grant high school graduates, regardless of merit, an MD or degree in epidemiology. We’d all be experts and leaders.

    1. Or our government could give Americans up to date and properly prepared instruction and information, thus protecting the citizens. That is a major part of government’s job.
      Instead, the government stumbled and fumbled, at least partly because its leader–Trump–refused to acknowledge and prepare for the situation, instead practicing denial and ignorance.

  18. The best example of ‘leadership’ I can see in today’s news is:

    Boeing director Nikki Haley has quit the jet maker’s board, stating her objection to the company’s attempt to secure a federal government bailout totaling $60 billion.

    Unfortunately of course that sort of leadership doesn’t do anything to reduce Boeing’s bailout. But supporting that sort of leadership might mean finding a way to support/incentivize what Haley did — and to find/publicize ways to gut Boeing like a trough-swilling pig in the long-term so that that long-term inability to pay back $60 billion becomes as well known as their short-term insistence on getting $60 billion with promises to pay it back maybe in future cuz jerbs panic jerbs etc

    1. Yep – big props to Haley there.
      Astute political move, can’t hurt her 2024 push

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  20. Stop looking for leadership.
    “Grown men do not need leaders.” – Edward Abbey

  21. “Stop looking for leadership ?” What nonsense! What was needed was thoughtful informed leadership at least two months ago, when this situation first became apparent. High intensity and high priority work on testing, procedures, and public information should have started coming from the top at that time. Instead, what we got from our elected leadership, especially Trump, was denial and ignorance. His failure to acknowledge a problem and take action to protect the citizens is nothing less than Presidential malfeasance, and will cost untold amounts of American lives.

    1. The only denial and ignorance that can be found here is posted under the name “MidnightMike”

  22. Back when Trump downplayed the virus, WHO was recommending against travel bans and no one at the local level was calling for state wide shutdown. The Korean president spent most of February reassuring their people to go on with their normal lives. De Blasio and Cuomo probably thought this was a manageable situation and delayed shutting down schools.

    Trump was mostly correct to downplay the panic, and the state governments lacked any sort of finesse and imagination in shutting down territories with more than 50 million people. There are more Americans in an official shutdown than the entire population of Korea. Trump’s bluster is what it is, but should he have declared nationwide shutdown and ordered massive round of testing, which would crippled the nation?

    Don’t fool yourself, most people agree with Trump’s earlier attitude. People in LA took advantage of a sunny day during a rainy week and hit the beaches and hiking trails, prompting Gacetti to close them. These people aren’t all “denalists” or “it’s just a flu bro” crowd, they’re looking at mortality rate and other stats and taking their chances.

    Enough of this nonsense. Lock down NY and the sick elderly and let rest of us live our lives. Containment should go on for maybe 2 weeks and after that someone better come up with an exit plan.

  23. But that’s ridiculous; anybody making their responses to events contingent on political office not being held by narcissistic ass-clowns is putting their fate in the hands of circumstances they can’t control.

    But enough about Bush, Obama, and Hillary.

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