Where are Our Political Leaders When We Really Need Them?

We just celebrated the founding of this nation in which truly great leaders took up arms against the overwhelming power of the British Empire, fought a bloody war of independence, and at a huge cost in lives, homes and businesses, somehow prevailed.

Yet now, in our hour of great peril as a global pandemic wreaks havoc on the nation, the silence from our current batch of politicians is appalling. While their inaction reaps an almost unimaginable toll of disease, suffering and death, our populace is justifiably wondering, “where are our political leaders when we really need them?”

Of course we have come to expect a leadership vacuum from the White House, where a self-absorbed reality TV actor occupies the Oval Office. His record of abject failure hangs like an albatross around his neck as he tries to wish it all away, pretend it’s not happening, and simply move on to the next episode of The Apprentice President.

But of course this is no fictional television show, this is the reality of America right now. And sure enough, under our poor excuse for leadership we are No. 1— leading the world in number of infections and deaths from an epidemic other nations have successfully brought under control. But the skyrocketing infection rate in America — at more than 50,000 a day with predictions that number will likely double — is nothing over which our politicians should pound their chests or pat themselves on the back.

On a national level, instead of telling the populace the truth about the on-going tragedy we find our top-level infectious disease experts muzzled by the White House and prohibited from talking to the American media. In the meantime, a deranged president holds mass rallies with no social distancing — ensuring “super spreader” events to sicken and kill even more Americans.

Closer to home, it was no great thing to see Montana join the list of the top 10 states where coronavirus infections have risen 50% or more. Justifiably lauded for his early steps to declare a state emergency in March, require quarantines for out-of-state visitors and lock down non-essential businesses, Gov. Steve Bullock reversed course prematurely. There are no longer quarantines for out-of-state tourists as Montanans lament the flood of license plates from states like Texas, where at least 10% of the population is known to be infected.

Nor is there any mandate to wear protective masks when out in public, as many other states have done. Instead, as reported late last week, Bullock pretends to lead by telling Montanans and our flood of tourists: “We’ll continue to look at how Montanans are responding. I think the best way actually to make sure that we’re all masked up is making sure that folks in all of our communities are saying that this is something that is just acceptable.”

If Bullock is worried that taking prudent measures to protect Montanans will hurt his campaign for Republican Steve Daines’ Senate seat, he can relax. On the coronavirus issue Trump-puppet Daines is invisible, as are gubernatorial wannabes Greg Gianforte and Mike Cooney. In fact, virtually all of those telling Montana voters they are leaders seem to have their lips mysteriously sewn shut.

Of course people want to return to pre-pandemic “normalcy” of jobs, socializing and lack of fear that breathing in public will be deadly. But a healthy economy must have a healthy populace. Dying for dollars won’t cut it — nor will the near total lack of leadership from the politicians who promised us they were leaders.

George Ochenski is a columnist for the Daily Montanan, where this essay originally appeared.