A Tale of Two Countries

The New Year happily brings us out of Year 2020.  It was a year of failed opportunities by the two most powerful countries in the world:  China and the United States.  The leaders of both of these countries suffered from a state of massive denial.

The coronavirus first reared its ugly head in Wuhan, China in November of 2019.  Unfortunately, the President of China, Xi Jinping, did not want to deal with the problem when alerted by Chinese doctors of a disease that had the capability of being transmitted to humans.  He did not want to upset the applecart, called the Chinese economy, inasmuch as he was more focused on an upcoming trade deal with the Americans.  When President Xi finally realized the gravity of the situation, it was already February and, sadly enough, for the rest of us the “corona” cat had been let of the bag with the virus quickly spreading to other countries.  It did not help that President Trump earlier had pulled many American epidemiologists, experts in contagious diseases, out of both China and the White House.

Meanwhile, Mr. Xi shuttered all businesses and travel resulting in a general lockdown decree that the Chinese people were forced to obey.  This stance, though dictatorial in nature, rapidly flattened the curve related to the prevalence of the Covid-19 in China with the mortality rate showing a steep decline.  Although Mr. Trump’s advisors dutifully informed him of the existence of the virus, I remember one of his early messages stating because the virus will miss America, we had nothing to worry about.  His attempt to reframe the reality of what lay ahead into a positive moment was ill conceived as we now have approximately 350,000 dead Americans by this invasive disease with the count increasing each day.  I likened his message to the Biblical story about the Jewish peoples’ homes being “passed over” by the Angel of Death, when the first-born Egyptian male child was killed, that Passover commemorates.

Mr. Trump and Mr. Xi committed the same mistake: They wanted to keep the economy booming as it reflected on their successful leadership.  But President Trump was more concerned about his personal acceptance rather than the health and ultimate good of the country.   For example, a recent article in the New York Times pointed to the fact that Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law and senior advisor, argued that wearing masks would be seen as instrumental in providing safety so that Americans could dine in restaurants or attend sporting events.  However, Mark Meadows, the White House Chief of Staff countered this statement by telling the President that use of masks was detrimental to his political base.  Regrettably, for both Mr. Trump’s candidacy and the country, the President chose the latter interpretation and continued to refuse to cover himself with a mask and follow the rules of social distancing.

Overall, there was little coordination among the agencies involved in such matters as testing, and in tracing trouble spots where the virus was penetrating.  While Mr. Trump does not deserve all the blame for the virus spreading, nevertheless, he did not exhibit the role of a leader when he repeatedly denied the magnitude of the problem in declaring that the source of the difficulty was too much testing and not the pandemic.

A good leader makes a decision in an emergency based on his nation’s best interest not his political future.  Furthermore, a good leader needs to listen, access and employ the most expert voices available.  In the case of China, Mr. Xi could conceal his errors and misjudgments in contrast to an open society like America where it could not be concealed.  The sheer number of people that have died in America due to Covid-19 has demonstrated a lack of quality management by Mr. Trump.  Because Mr. Trump’s poor response to a crisis cost him a second term, his epitaph may someday read:  President Trump’s Waterloo–COVID-19.