There are no silver bullets. In the next twelve months, or until a vaccine is proved successful, everybody on the planet will be at some risk. What do we do in the meantime? If lockdown persists as the mood and mode, the cure will indeed be worse than the contagion. Deaths and anxiety-embedded illnesses from lockdown will exceed the virus’s victims.
We all have friends who are especially cautious. Several friends of mine begin social distancing in November to avoid colds. I suspect they also avoid parents of school-aged children; for them, the risk always seems to outweigh the rewards of living more freely.
Other of my friends become philosophical when tactical answers are not on offer. They might muse that for those of advanced years, lockdown is worse than death.
Avoiding both ends of the spectrum, here are some thoughts about planning for life during the next twelve months and beyond. We are not good at planning for the unanticipated, but the next twelve months begins now. Perhaps more than anything, we need acceptable forums to talk dispassionately about the models being considered. And, the need for expansive and generous leaders has never been greater.
Planning, of course, requires assumptions, and assumptions are not easy when life and death are on the table. Broadly stated, what will the new normal look like?
The big debate as I write is over face masks. Face masks are strange to us, but if we want to gather with a lot of people, they will not be optional. But then the complications quickly multiply. Easy to advocate masks at ballgames, but then masks preclude “peanuts, popcorn, and crackerjacks.” Or maybe seating should be every other — halving ticket sales. If masks are a short-term part of the new normal, the President should encourage their use. A person, especially the President, cannot favor opening large venues while being dismissive about face masks.
Governors and Mayors have been the “phase one” leaders with expert guidance from epidemiologists, especially Dr. Anthony Fauci. They should also be a part of “phase two” innovations. Planning is underway for the reopening stage of our public response. I would suggest the national organizations of Governors and Mayors and health care officials study carefully what is happening in the Asian democracies while demanding much more granular profiles of what is happening in America.
Also, Sweden will provide an interesting test case. Its leaders have opted for lighter touch regulation. As I understand, bars and restaurants are still open. The vulnerable decide not to go, and those that do, trust each other to be careful.
There are also States that have opted for the Swedish approach. We will not need to go to Scandinavia for an assessment.
It seems agreed that the measure of President Trump will be the overall judgment of how he handled or is handling the crisis. Its exit will be as important as it’s arrival, and what we do at each stage and how that works.
This next stage will be in the middle of the Presidential campaign. If Trump takes a polarizing approach, he will lose. He is most comfortable on the attack. COVID-19 should have taught him a different style of leadership because when you ask Governors and Mayors to take the lead, and he has, you must give them a role in planning the next stage.
Is it even possible for Republican and Democrat leaders to work together in an election year? Will the Governors and Mayors in the large Blue states sit down with their counterparts in the Red states within a federal framework directed by the White House? While that is what should happen, I doubt it will.
Alternatively, and perhaps preferably, the convenors (organizations with well-earned credentials) should begin to assemble representative task forces that work quickly and share widely their recommendations. Conflicts and some confusion will be evident; this is almost always the case with invention.
The overarching question is how we reopen America? The underlying operational questions are numerous and complicated, and that is the primary reason we need an innovative approach.
But, if Trump chooses to be more expansive, this is my suggestion: designate Vice President Mike Pence to form and direct a multi-faceted and rapid assessment Task Force drawing on the institutional and innovative assets of the public and private sectors which stand behind American uniqueness and strength. Pence, under this circumstance, should not campaign — that is the price of leadership.
Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books.