It’s more glaring than Pearl Harbor and 9/11—and it’s all the fault of Donald Trump’s leadership.
Last September, I met the vice president for risk for a Fortune 100 company in Washington, D.C. I asked the executive—who previously had a long career as an intelligence analyst—the question you would ask any risk officer: “What are you most worried about?” Without pausing, this person replied, “A highly contagious virus that begins somewhere in China and spreads rapidly.” This vice president, whose company has offices throughout East Asia, explained the preventative mitigating steps the company had subsequently adopted to counter this potential threat.
Since the novel coronavirus has swept the world, I have often thought about this person’s prescient risk calculus. Most leaders lack the discipline to do routine risk-based horizon scanning, and fewer still develop the requisite contingency plans. Even rarer is the leader who has the foresight to correctly identify the top threat far enough in advance to develop and implement those plans.
Suffice it to say, the Trump administration has cumulatively failed, both in taking seriously the specific, repeated intelligence community warnings about a coronavirus outbreak and in vigorously pursuing the nationwide response initiatives commensurate with the predicted threat. The federal government alone has the resources and authorities to lead the relevant public and private stakeholders to confront the foreseeable harms posed by the virus. Unfortunately, Trump officials made a series of judgments (minimizing the hazards of COVID-19) and decisions (refusing to act with the urgency required) that have needlessly made Americans far less safe.