By Michael Willard
In crisis workshops, there are three life and death points I emphasize over all others: 1.) Envision a worst-case scenario; 2. Short-term sacrifice trumps long-term misery, and, the old saw, 3.) What did you know and when did you know it?
Having advised on issues where hired thugs took over a client’s business using automatic weapons, an espionage and spy situation in Russia, as well as untold product contamination crises, I write with some authority.
I also wrote a book about it — “Crisis Management in Eastern Europe” — that became popular with multi-nationals doing business in risky markets where a crisis is a sun-coming-up occurrence.
The current mismanagement of the COVID-19 pandemic is a textbook example where all these principles were tossed out the window, and bad decisions were piled on top of one another like logs on an already roaring flame.
Instead of considering the dire implications of the coronavirus, the President suggested it was no worse than the flu, and that the few cases in March would “magically” disappear. As I write this, 75,000 Americans have died.
Instead of taking decisive action — like some other countries — to shut down the virus, he came down on the side of the economy and his re-election. The concern about lives lost was a throw-away line.
The key question in Watergate as posed by the late Sen. Howard Baker to witnesses was “What did you know, and when did you know it?” It was a litmus test that has stood the test of multiple scandals and crises.
The President now talks about seeing the “light at the end of the tunnel” with this pandemic. Despite his intelligence committee briefings, he pretends not to know that this particular light most likely is an oncoming freight train.
There are, of course, other bedrock and long-established crisis planks that are being ignored: Make decisions on facts. Communicate with transparency. Enlist credible allies (partners). Work the problem — and not the emotion.
However, I believe the most relevant of these points — at this moment — is communicating why we must experience short-term sacrifice to avoid a long, bumpy road of on-going misery.
This is difficult for most people, particularly if they are not being paid, and the bills are coming due. Short term sacrifice can mean going without food.
Add to this list living in a society where many erroneously feel the Second Amendment allows them to be armed to the teeth while the First Amendment gives them the right to ignore health guidelines.
However, what price do we as Americans feel is too high — 100,000 deaths, 150,000, 200,000, more?
I preface this last section by making several stipulations. I am neither doctor nor a scientist. I am not an economist, and I struggled to get through high school algebra. I also am not clairvoyant.
For the most part, I’m a writer. My gosh, I write in the over-worked genre of serial killer novels. I’m also a PR and advertising guy which, some believe, gives me the same DNA as cotton candy.
However, I do believe that risk and reward are kissing cousins. I believe in broad strokes and bold action if one encounters a Godzilla-sized problem that can derail this wonderful 250-year experiment in American Democracy.
Okay, buster, what’s your silver bullet solution?
For starters, I would have an over-arching strategy, and I would appoint a pandemic czar who could pass elementary science, preferably someone who wouldn’t kowtow to the President.
I never would have sent willy-nilly checks of $1,200 to everyone. That’s hardly sufficient to pay the rent and buy groceries for a month. Better to drop dollars from the top of the Washington Monument, and let folks scramble.
I would have an even more stringent lockdown, requiring social distancing and everyone wearing face masks in public for 60–90 days. However, in Willard’s World, no one would go hungry. Rent, mortgage, and car payments, utilities, etc. would be suspended for the period.
Here’s the kicker. The US Government would set aside trillions to pay most people to stay home. It would be an extended, paid vacation for employees, owners, managers, self-employed, etc.
Of course, to receive this livable stipend there would be a minimum means test. Those who could obviously manage the lockdown would be excluded from off-work pay. Unlike Social Security, it would not be egalitarian.
It would be the government’s short term sacrifice to avoid misery.
Okay, I haven’t dotted the “i’s” or crossed the “t’s” on what I am sure is already being called “Willard’s Folly”. There is also a recovery plan for the US Treasury, but that’s for another day.
Well, you come up with another one that is humane, fair, and keeps America out of the coming Decade of Troubles.