10 Expectations of Our American Leaders
A Citizen’s Response to the Moving of the Testing Goalposts
This week, the new White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany was asked whether all Americans should be able to get tested for Covid-19 before they go back to work. Her reply was that “the notion that everyone needs to be tested is just simply nonsensical.” She then went on to explain that the Trump Administration will “deploy testing strategically, because that’s what the American public expects of us.”
Is that what we expect of you?
As we begin to reopen our country after this once-in-a-lifetime pause, no matter where you live, what you do for work, or which political party you support, we, as citizens, must be a strong voice in this conversation. We are the American public. We must be loud and clear about what we expect.
The death toll is staggering: over 70,000 Americans — people you and I know and love — have died across this country in two months’ time. That is more American lives lost to the crisis so far than during the Vietnam War. Here in New York, we have now lost more than four times the number of people than were taken from us on 9/11. The latest projections predict that we will see 3,000 deaths daily by June 1. That’s a 9/11 every single day.
Leadership is owning that “the buck stops here.” Stop passing it.
Plainly put, without widescale testing, we are looking at a frightening reentry. We will see the inevitable carnage of vulnerable populations (the sick, the elderly, the diabetics, the asthmatics, the obese), of public-facing nonessential goods and service providers (hair stylists, manicurists, dry cleaners, clerks), of our selfless sacrificial workers (subway conductors, bus drivers, meat-processing and plant and factory workers), and of Black communities and those of color — communities we already know are being disproportionally decimated. We cannot stand for this, a response desperately lacking in the American strength we know we full well possess.
As we move forward, the stakes could not be higher. In fact, perhaps because they are so high and because we have no similar experience to compare this to in our lifetimes, the circumstances demand that we be loud and clear: We have great expectations for our leaders. Yes, we have much to solve and build together, the responsibility of which falls on every one of us, but I offer these 10 expectations of our American leaders — primarily Trump but also presumptive candidate Joe Biden, our Congress, our governors, our mayors, our CEOs, and our media.
Here is what the American public expects:
- We expect you to lead. You asked for the job; we gave it to you — now do it. Do it until the crisis is done. Do it with integrity, humility, and great care. Leadership is owning that “the buck stops here.” Stop passing it. And if you choose not to lead by putting the best interests of the American people first always, we expect your Cabinet to invoke the 25th Amendment and remove you.
- We expect the truth. We expect information to be sourced and delivered with a great respect for facts. We do not want filtered, political spin. We do not want slogans. We do not want hedging and dodging of the question. We do not want lies. We refuse to be distracted by silly memes and late-night tweets and new shiny objects. We expect to be spoken to as hard-working, well-meaning adults — and as a good people. We want truth, and those who tell it to be fully protected.
- We expect you all to get along. We are tired of partisan politics. We are exhausted by the divide in our country, in our cities, and, frankly, in our own families — between Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, the Obama lovers and the Trumpers. It’s over. We’re done with the arguing. We want collaboration. We want cooperation. And we expect results.
- We expect to hear from the experts. We expect you to have the modesty and presence of mind to step aside, when appropriate, and let the scientists and doctors speak. In any forum. To anyone. About anything. We expect experts and their insights to inform every decision you make.
- We expect you to wear a mask. We expect you to socially distance. We expect you to model any behaviors and practices that you have asked us, our communities, and our children to do. These are not partisan issues. We will not accept being divided into camps based on who wears a cloth mask on their face. We are in this together. Are you or are you not with us?
- We expect tests. Yes, we expect hundreds of millions of accurate, free, reliable tests that can be done at home, daily, while we wait for a vaccine. We expect you to use the full power of the federal government and the full might of American industry to develop and deliver the tests that we need to reenter the full swing of society. And we expect our health care system to be fully supported so that getting sick and being treated comes at no financial cost to tax-paying people.
- We expect financial support. Our taxes come from our hard work. The money you’re sending us is ours. I will only speak for myself when I say that $1,200 will do little to save my own personal economy. We expect you to do better. We expect you to rise to this historic occasion. We expect systems of financial disbursement to work, loan applications and unemployment websites to actually function and respond with urgency. If you can find the money to bail out airlines and corporations that have failed us repeatedly, you can find the money to sustain hard-working households that need support until the economy comes roaring back.
- We expect an education plan that truly works. The secondary crisis of educating our children during this pandemic is festering quickly at our dining room tables. American parents are struggling, some incredibly so, under the pressure of educating their children at home. We expect a comprehensive plan for the reopening of our education system that honors our teachers, our students, our parents — and the childcare needs that they all must consider.
- We expect full government-issued personal protective equipment — PPE — for every frontline worker in this country. Every doctor, nurse, grocery clerk, cab driver, Coca-Cola delivery guy, and every plant and factory worker. This is the United States of America. If we are to be the best country in the world, we expect the best treatment for the very people who sustain us. And if workers are to risk their lives in the operation of your businesses, we expect their CEOs to join them on the frontline. You should be the tip of the spear.
- Lastly, we expect you to mourn the dead. Over 70,000 of our neighbors are gone. We expect from the highest level of leadership messages of grief, hope, and comfort. After 9/11, after Superstorm Sandy, during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, we saw the faces of our fellow country people on our televisions daily. We laid them to rest. We honored them as a nation. We saw their smiles, eyes, and the love in their faces that they carried for the families, their children, and the people they left behind. We can handle it. We want to see who they are, and we want to say goodbye. It will help us heal.
In return, we will be patient. We will be kind. We will be cautious. We will be caring. We will change our summer plans and sew masks and continue the now godforsaken modern ritual of Zoom cocktail hours and drive-by birthday parties. We will stay apart when every fiber of our beings wants to come together. We will hunker down. We will support one another. We will hold judgement while you work. We will think deeply about how to transform our lives for the foreseeable future — all while we wait for a vaccine.
What you, our leaders, never seem to understand fully is that when you ask us for our votes — and dollars, clicks, and our time — we invest with our full hearts in you, in your boldness, and in your ability to lead us. Crisis or no crisis, none among us has given up on the idea that this is the greatest country in the world. That is not a notion “simply nonsensical.” We believe it. We always have. We always will. And because we do, we must be the gold standard. We must be the best.
If you expect us to cooperate, to care for and uplift each other, to unite in the face of such devastating tragedy and to find and be our best selves, then we expect the very same of you.
I challenge you to deliver a citizen’s response. Learn more at acitizensresponse.com. #acitizensresponse