Commentary: We have the right leader for these COVID-19 times

By Hylton Phillips-Page

The response to COVID-19 has been remarkable. Different segments of our society have all stepped up to do their part in addressing the challenge.

Companies have voluntarily turned production capacity into manufacturing something needed: masks, gowns, shields, sanitizer, respirators and ventilators. The military has constructed temporary hospitals across the country, delivered two hospital ships, and have provided the medical personnel necessary to staff them all. Religious organizations have filled the void by providing help to the increasing number of needy and Samaritan’s Purse has constructed temporary hospitals in New York City. People across the country have generally complied with social distancing recommendations and have also started producing needed items in short supply. Does President Trump deserve credit for any of it?

As a businessman, he has encouraged companies to be partners in restoring the economic health of the country, so I am not surprised they now feel a civic duty to contribute in other ways. Our healthcare organizations are innovating at breakneck speed, being creative with treatments while working on vaccines and therapeutics. President Trump has gotten the federal government out of the way by removing crippling regulations. I doubt a nationalized healthcare system would have been capable of this type of response. President Trump’s very good relationship with the military and religious organizations have made them eager to help in any way they can. Democrats have adversarial relationships with all three groups, so it’s hard to imagine they would have stepped up in the same way.

Democrats have been critical of President Trump for not being the autocrat they believe him to be. He has encouraged states to find solutions to their problems locally where possible, with the federal government helping to fill any gaps where necessary. This is how our government is supposed to work, according to the Constitution. States had ample opportunity in calmer times to order supplies in anticipation of a crisis, but chose to spend their money elsewhere. So, while it’s convenient to blame President Trump, the states must take responsibility for their lack of preparedness.

President Trump has also been criticized for allowing companies to voluntarily comply with any government requests, using the Defense Production Act sparingly. This is also more in line with who we are as a country, we are not Russia or China and that is a good thing. Interestingly, Democrats have been critical of President Trump closing the border, something that almost certainly saved lives.

While any leader can be second-guessed as to how quickly they should have responded, it’s important to understand the environment in which they made their decisions. The first case of the coronavirus in China was reported in early December 2019.However, Chinese authorities continued through January 2020 to downplay the potential for the disease to spread. On Jan. 14, the WHO made a statement finding no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission and on Jan. 17, the CDC stated the risk to the American public was deemed to be low. Only on Jan. 30 did the WHO declare a global health emergency, with the CDC confirming person-to-person spread publicly for the first time. That day, the president created the White House Coronavirus Task Force and the next day declared coronavirus a U.S. public health emergency, issuing a ban on travel between the United States and China. It was not until Feb. 26 that the first case of suspected local transmission in the United States was announced by the CDC and President Trump named Vice President Pence to lead the Coronavirus Task Force on that day. On March 11, the WHO declared coronavirus a worldwide pandemic and on March 13, President Trump declared a national emergency.

Democrats have also been critical of the “happy talk” in President Trump’s daily briefings. These briefings have the goal of updating the public on the steps being taken to address the problem and to provide some hope that there’s light at the end of the tunnel. Our leader must be the calming voice that consistently produces results, not the voice of doom that provides no hope for the future.

President Trump will soon be making the critical decision on how to reopen the economy without triggering a reoccurrence of the pandemic. We should all hope that this decision is made wisely, as both a reoccurrence of the pandemic and a crippled economy are unacceptable.

Later this year, Americans will be in a position to judge for themselves how well Trump has done and his reelection will depend on it.  Democrats are invested in seeing Trump fail, they tried the Russia hoax and impeachment, with little to show for their efforts. This is at least is a real issue with significant consequences for failure. The polls are currently trending in President Trump’s direction, and we’ll know soon enough how it all turns out. 

Hylton Phillips-Page is a resident of Rehoboth Beach.