The American people need to know we’re facing a different enemy than we have ever faced.
This enemy hides in shadows and has no regard for human life. This is an enemy who preys on innocent and unsuspecting people…but it won’t be able to run for cover forever.
— President George W. Bush, September 12, 2001, televised address
“I look at it (COVID-19), I view it as, in a sense, a wartime president. I mean, that’s what we’re fighting” – that’s what President Trump said on March 18. The president’s analogy was solid. Every U.S. citizen is imperiled, and our soldiers – healthcare professionals and all those who support them – are on the front lines. But if this is a war, why has Commander-in-Chief only invoked but minimally exercised the Defense Production Act to mobilize industries to counterattack?
The Defense Production Act could, for example:
- Allow the government to order manufacturers to reprioritize contracts so that the production of surgical masks would take precedence over other paper products.
- Allocate medical equipment, like ventilators, to where they are needed most instead of having states bid against each other for limited supplies.
- Make guaranteed loans to expand the production of products to fight the virus.
There’s an unsettling parallel between the last time we declared war in 2001 and President Trump’s declaration of war against COVID-19. The government sent troops that lacked protective gear to the front lines and then did not ramp up production of the equipment that soldiers needed. Our elected leaders did not heed those in the military who warned that this could be a long war. An early surge in forces could have prevented many injuries and loss of life.
We can’t fault a sitting president or Congress for accumulated gaps and failure of oversight in our military. There were cracks in the military that had been exposed earlier and ignored. But, once a decision is made to move to a wartime footing, we expect our leaders to act with urgency, match existing resources to an embattled reality, and incentivize new capabilities to meet rising demands. And we expect them to be able to focus on the present and think a few steps ahead.
Comparisons with the “War Against Terror” should alarm us. President Trump is correct in highlighted the deficiencies in emergency health care that he inherited. But he is responsible and should be held accountable for actions that he could have taken earlier to mitigate the damage, and for inaction once the severity of the danger became clear.
Implementing a coordinated national strategy for fighting this war – and not just signing a declaration permitting the creation of a policy at a future date – is the most critical action that we need now. Now is not a time for the president to start writing The Art of the Pandemic. It’s time for the Federal government to build a supply chain that can at least beat the enemy back. Musing hopefully about the “pent-up demand” that will dramatically reverse the fall of our economy instead of helping our healthcare workers is not a future-oriented strategy for picking up the pieces once this war has abated.
Our presidents express horror when other governments commit atrocities against their citizens. How is withholding help different from inflicting casualties on the public? I know this is harsh. But those who don’t pull the levers of support that can lead to fewer losses, you are now on notice. Please send a message to President Trump, and your elected officials in Congress and the Senate, to act like we’re at war and not just talk about being at war.