We’ve needed a leader. What we’ve had is a liar, and against COVID 19 the liar has maneuvered us “from failure to catastrophe,” to quote Vanity Fair’s headline. That about sums it up.
A leader, given facts Trump received in February, would have mobilized an army of scientists and gone to war against the virus. She would have told the nation to get ready. He would have protected the most vulnerable and called for sacrifice from the strong.
And Trump? Too afraid to lead, he lied. He’s still lying, even as the small-town mortuaries fill with folks who voted him into office.
And me? I’m a follower, not a leader. As I said some years ago, “giving a speech does not make one a leader any more than, as Billy Sunday liked to say, ‘standing in the garage makes you a car.’ I was running from fear when I spoke [at the 1992 Republican National Convention], not running for office.”
I learned the cost of failed leadership in the AIDS epidemic. We were all epidemic and zero leadership. We soon learned that dead leaders are ineffective, and COVID is now proving that a pretender is no improvement on the dead.
In a speech to an audience of philanthropic leaders in 2006, I admitted of AIDS (and could today say of COVID) that “we have enough science to find and treat the virus. We have the medical knowledge we need to keep people alive, but the dying continues. How is this possible? It’s possible because communities and nations require leaders. Without leadership, vision is impossible. Without leadership, individuals pursue only their own missions, their own welfare, their own interests….”
I’ve been beating this drum for nearly 30 years. The President’s Commission on AIDS, of which I was a member, was being adjourned in 1993. I flew from my husband’s funeral to the commission’s final news conference to deliver these few remarks: .
The commission is packing up and going home. And so am I. But I will not go passively or quietly. I am going to ask for leadership today, and again tomorrow, and I am going to raise my voice each time I ask, until those who have asked for confidence have earned it — by leading.
…Most of all, the nation needs moral leadership. Without it, we will perish; with it, there is hope. Morally, it is no more possible to think of AIDS as a crisis for the infected than it is to think of slavery as an African American problem, the Holocaust as a Jewish problem, or abuse as a child’s problem. When this message finds a leader to deliver it convincingly, we will begin to understand…. I need to go home and answer hard questions from two children. But someone needs to lead.”
It won’t be Donald Trump: He’s morally bankrupt, capable of grotesque behaviors, able to deceive, devoid of integrity, lacking any interest beyond self-interest, surrounded by corrupt cronies, capable of bellowing and bullying but wholly incapable of leading.
A decade ago Captain “Sully” Sullenberger took 155 lives in his hands and maneuvered US Airways Flight 1549 into an emergency landing in the Hudson River in what became known as the “Miracle on the Hudson.” Last week, an indignant Sully told America: “The future of the nation is in our hands. It is up to us to VOTE…HIM…OUT!”
Sully understands what it means to cradle the lives of others in his hands: 155 lives, or 210,000 lives. And with three simple words, Sully’s leading.