By TINA RYNBERG and JEFF BENESCH
In the midst of the COVID-19 virus outbreak and quarantine, local Democrats have a lot to discuss. But with our April meeting cancelled, and the May meeting of the La Mesa Foothills Democratic Club in peril, we must look for other means of communicating with each other.
It’s becoming increasingly clear, at the cost of tens of thousands of American lives, that “Democrats govern better than Republicans.” Our club’s vice president of political action Chris Pearson coined that phrase several years ago, and it’s never been truer than now.
One of the most prescient perspectives of our current condition was penned by author Michael Lewis in 2018’s “The Fifth Risk.” Lewis introduces us to character John MacWilliams, a risk assessment deputy at the Department of Energy. Joe Klein reviewed the book for the New York Times in 2018, writing:
“Lewis asks MacWilliams to list the top five risks. The first four are predictable: Broken Arrows. North Korea. Iran (that is, maintaining the agreement that prevents Iran from building a nuclear bomb). Protecting the electric grid from cyberterrorism. But the fifth, most important risk is a stunner: ‘program management.’ …
“‘Program management’ is the existential threat that you never really even imagine as a risk. … It is the innovation that never occurs and the knowledge that is never created, because you have ceased to lay the groundwork for it. It is what you never learned that might have saved you.
“It is myopia. It is the absence of leadership. It is democracy without citizenship. Enter Donald Trump.”
I was particularly interested in a section of the book near the beginning, when Lewis quotes Max Stier, founder of Partnership for Public Service, who says: “The basic role of government is to keep us safe.” More from Stier: “People don’t understand that a bungled transition becomes a bungled presidency.”
Trump’s had 28 acting cabinet secretaries, more than any one- or two-term President ever. Acting cabinet positions don’t need congressional confirmation. We still have 4 “acting” heads of departments: Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf, Director of National Security, Richard Grinell, and Management and Budget’s Russ Vought. FEMA has had a confirmed director only since January and still had no deputy director. During our unprecedented national emergency, and near economic collapse, wouldn’t it have been appropriate to have confirmed, vetted and fully qualified heads of these particular departments?
The U.S. and South Korea (population 51 million) had their first case of coronavirus on the same day in January. As of early March, the U.S. has 336,830 cases and 9,618 deaths. South Korea? 10,284 cases and 186 deaths. Leaders in South Korea used aggressive testing measures and introduced social distancing practices immediately. The U.S. still has eight states, all with Republican governors, with no stay-at-home measures. We have no coordinated national testing strategy. Most people wait days for their results if they are “lucky” enough to qualify for a COVID-19 test. South Korea showed what a country with coordinated national leadership can accomplish and slowed the virus two months ago.
Trump dallied, lied, misled, had his inexperienced son-in-law coordinate some of the national response, and thousands of Americans have died and many thousands more will die in coming weeks and months. As our economy nears collapse with 10 million (and counting) unemployment claims, millions of small businesses (and some large ones) shuttered, a possible and unprecedented 30% unemployed workforce, the stock market off one third and dropping, we can only wonder how much different our preparation and response would have been had a Democrat won the 2016 election. The next few months will be trying ones for all candidates, particularly ones we actively support and work to elect. The virus is affecting primaries in much of the nation so we won’t have the confirmed Democratic Presidential candidate until June or July, though it looks like Vice President Joe Biden will be our standard bearer. Fortunately, most polling shows him ahead of Trump in all of the critical battleground states.
Our local efforts to canvass, sign-wave, get-out-the-vote, fundraise and hold events like candidate forums and coffees are all in a state of flux right now. We urge you to stay connected and keep informed. And most importantly, stay safe and healthy. Please check out our interactive website at lamesafoothillsdemocraticclub.com, and check out our Facebook page for lots of information and updates.
— Tina Rynberg is president and Jeff Benesch is vice president of programming of the La Mesa Foothills Democtratic Club.