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BY BILL MEFFORD

May 17, 2020


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Tough-guy Christianity meets tragic mismanagement
A recent article on ReligionDispatches.org points to the refusal of this administration to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic with any kind of scientific reasoning. Instead, both Donald Trump and Mike Pence have chosen to respond in a more muscular “tough-guy” way, even though that has done nothing to slow the spread of the disease.

Meanwhile, the New York Times reports that the "Wartime Production Law Has Been Used Routinely, but Not With Coronavirus - The Defense Production Act has been invoked hundreds of thousands of times in the Trump years. But with the pandemic, the president sees it as a 'break the glass' last resort."
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. - Romans 2:2
I have long wondered why the Trump administration has been so dreadfully awful in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. This is not surprise at their incompetence, which is a hallmark of this administration; they do almost everything badly except acts of cruelty. However, their response to the pandemic has been especially horrid, even for them.
 
An appropriate response would have required good leadership and management, and especially it would demand that experts be allowed to function in their expertise. However, when you are an alpha male tough guy who loves to take charge, listening, managing, and leading are not things that come naturally. Not to minimize the pandemic at all, but it seems to me, a non-scientist layman, that the actions that should have been taken were fairly simple. First would be to listen to the experts. When they warned back in December of a coming pandemic, that should have been the first clue to take action and to follow their advice and start preparing. 
 
But even if you were late to the preparation stage because you fired the people tasked with forecasting pandemics, when the pandemic hit the country in January there was still time to move. One thing that everyone has agreed was imperative in February was to invoke the Defense Production Act, a Korean War-era law used by the Executive branch to direct corporations to respond to national emergencies. This New York Times article states that “The Defense Production Act includes a range of authorities including issuing loans to expand a vendor’s capacity, controlling the distribution of a company’s products and the more commonly used power of compelling companies to prioritize the government’s order over those of other clients.”
 
This would have given great power to the Executive branch to make the PPE and ventilators that hospitals have so desperately needed to combat the virus and properly care for those who are sick. If the government had nationalized some corporations and directed the coordination of necessary supplies to the most needed areas, while then following the guidelines established by the CDC rather than shelving their mandates, they still would have had a good chance to stunt the spread of COVID. All the while, there should have been a heavy emphasis on ensuring that testing was accessible and available. 
 
When you are an effective leader, you listen to the right people and you let experts do what they are best at. When people are upset about being locked down, you simply say that your hands are tied because you are following the experts and this is their call. You are called compassionate because your policies actually reflect compassion for people who are sick and the caregivers who are providing the healing.

Yes, this takes a lot of work, but the thinking behind this approach is fairly straightforward. The politics are fairly simple. If you want to be re-elected into leadership, then show good leadership. And the best part is that this would have saved God knows how many lives. If you follow experts' advice and save lives, then you are regarded as a hero who is wise and thoughtful - just the kind of message you want floating around during an election year.
 
But this approach is an absolute impossibility with this administration. Wise and thoughtful ain’t Trump. Instead, he and Pence are playing to their evangelical base and opting for a strongman approach – power through, refuse to back down. Don’t listen to those bespectacled know-it-all scientists who sit around all day in their lab coats. Be a man and refuse to wear protective gear – even when you are touring a factory that makes protective gear! Beating this is up to us with a little bit of faith in an American Jesus who will protect us and allow us to overpower this illness, conquer what challenges us, and capture our destiny. You can almost hear the action-hero music in the background, can’t you? Jesus was not a thinker – Jesus was an action hero, staring down death, casting all care aside, coming to the rescue of his friends, protecting the women-folk, and becoming the hero for all eternity. Jesus is the MAN!
 
(Yeah, I have listened to one thousand too many evangelical sermons.)
 
And sadly, watching the horrendous “leadership” of this administration, watching them bounce between cruelty and incompetence, I once again find myself concluding that perhaps its biggest problem is its foundation on a broken theology antithetical to the biblical life and ministry of Jesus. Bad theology can have tragic consequences, and we are watching this every day in real life.
Read a book. Think an original thought. Wear a mask and gloves. Socially distance. And thank hospital workers.
Holy Mother God, we thank you for your love and compassion for us, for picking us up and giving us refuge, for loving and forgiving us when we did not ask, for cleaning us up and allowing us to live peacefully in your love and care. Help us to follow you more closely, be gentle in our words and actions and give to others what you have lavished upon us. Amen.
Bill Mefford is the Executive Director of the Festival Center in Washington DC.
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