Sunday, April 26, 2020

How Do Our Leaders Make Tough Decisions?

Our guest writer today is Roger Carlton, columnist for The Graham Star newspaper in Robbinsville, NC. Thank you, Roger, for more thought provoking words.  
Roger Carlton

The higher up you are in government the tougher the crisis management job. Mayors and County officials must make local decisions like closing certain roads and how much to invest in emergency medical services. Governors must make state-wide decisions like closing schools and limiting the number of people who can gather. The President must decide how to allocate critical supplies like ventilators and face masks, when to activate medical ships and where to send them and shutting down airports.

President Truman decided to drop two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki killing or maiming more than 200,000 people. This ended World War II and saved more than 1 million lives if we had to invade Japan. He famously said "The buck stops here." Attorney General Janet Reno mishandled a crisis when she blew up 76 Branch Dividians near Waco Texas. She accepted responsibility and moved on.

 The Governor of Louisiana and Mayor of New Orleans failed when they allowed Mardi Gras to go on and are now paying the price. Their strategy was cry that they weren't warned. Local officials in South Florida and the Governor blew it when they allowed spring breakers to mingle on the beaches. Unfortunately the hotel and restaurant lobby overcame the medical experts. Florida is paying the price now.

More than three years ago, this column was about the election of President Trump and a concept known as "loyal opposition." This means that he was our president and while you may not support his policies and actions, he was still our president and leader. During the past three years, his ability to earn respect and support has been an inverted Bell Curve. Straight down to a Pollyanna ignoring of the expert warnings of a pandemic and then straight up to supporting three relief bills and then down again with a thinking out loud blunder suggesting a quarantine of nearly 20 million people in the New York, New Jersey and Connecticut area. Overall, to be fair, his performance has improved and that is showing in his approval ratings.

Suggesting that we need to get people back into churches by Easter and get the economy going is a difficult choice. If we lessen the current strictures on our lives, many more people will die from the virus than necessary. There may also be a lessening of the risks to our economy if the 3.2 million people who filed for unemployment last week and millions more this week, might begin to be able to go back to work.  Dying people and their grieving families versus people who can't put food on the table. How would you like to have to make that choice?

The thought process that most top leaders follow is called "utilitarianism."  Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill and Thomas Hobbes all influenced this thinking in the late 1700's  when the Industrial Revolution was tearing up traditional societal norms. Utilitarianism instructs leaders that ethical decision making is creating the greatest good for the greatest number of people. To make decisions in this context requires expertise, contemplation and empathy. It also steps on justice and individual rights. Tough stuff when you think about it.

We must remain hopeful. This too will end and then we can evaluate which leader did well and which did not. Each of us can do our part by being responsible with precautions. We must support and thank our first responders who are at risk and the workers in stores that remain open who are also 


Elephant's Child said...

For myself I suspect I would always put health before the economy.
Dead people don't work, and don't buy goods and services.
I do hope this world wide crisis can be managed - for us all.
It is early days yet, but the countries whose leaders have made the hard decision to shut down early, shut down hard seem to be faring best.

Glenda Beall said...

I agree with you EC. But I know it is a hard decision when you are head of a country to try to please all the people. I hate to see governors rush into opening up too soon. I think they should wait until the illness is slowing down before opening restaurants, etc. I saw that a Long horn restaurant in a nearby Georgia town is open for dine in now. I saw groups of men going in and none were wearing masks. I think these macho guys think they are bullet proof, but why don't they think of others they could infect and cause death of.