Risky Business: When the Government Doesn’t Want to Govern

EARLY ON IN his most recent book, The Fifth Risk, Michael Lewis writes:

The United States government … managed a portfolio of risks that no private person, or corporation, was able to manage. Some of the risks were easy to imagine: a financial crisis, a hurricane, a terrorist attack. Most weren’t: the risk, say, that some prescription drug proves to be both so addictive and so accessible that each year it kills more Americans than were killed in action by the peak of the Vietnam War. Many of the risks that fell into the government’s lap felt so remote as to be unreal: that a cyberattack left half the country without electricity, or that some airborne virus wiped out millions, or that economic inequality reached the point where it triggered a violent revolution. (Emphases mine.)

fifth-risk-paperbackLewis’s book opens in the summer of 2016, when the Clinton and Trump campaigns were instructed to meet with the Obama administration, as required by federal law, to begin learning about the government whose highest office they were purportedly seeking. Team Trump, as Lewis describes in appalling detail, was profoundly disinterested in this undertaking, an attitude that had not changed by January of 2017, when it received the keys to the executive branch. He continues:

Enter the presidential transition. A bad transition took this entire portfolio of catastrophic risks — the biggest portfolio of such risks ever managed by a single institution in the history of the world — and made all the bad things more likely to happen and the good things less likely to happen.

Which, of course, is precisely what occurred.

Published in 2018, two years before the novel coronavirus overwhelmed the world, two years before the Minneapolis Police Department murdered George Floyd, and two years before municipal governments across the country spat on the First Amendment by tear-gassing peaceful protestors and detaining journalists, The Fifth Risk persuasively lays out just how much Uncle Sam provides for this country, almost all of it out of the public eye and much of it responsible for keeping safe and solvent the very citizens who profess to loathe government. As always, Lewis writes clearly and compellingly. The book is no screed; rather, it’s a nonpartisan plea for Americans to educate themselves about, well, what their government actually does, as opposed to what Fox News says it does.

It is that early passage that gets me, though. Beginning on Inauguration Day 2017, the United States assumed a far greater risk of devastating losses precisely because the President and his team had no desire to govern. The last three-and-a-half years have confirmed this in general, with the last four months making it inarguable.

Some reading this will see it as just more political stupidity from a snowflake libtard who hates America. It is not. I write here not of politics but of governing, which are crucially different things. In placing his hand on a Bible and swearing an oath to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States,” the President promised to “establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, [and] promote the general Welfare.” These tenets are the foundation of our most sacred governing document. They are what the Founding Fathers believed were the government’s chief responsibility.

With months to prepare for COVID-19, the President stuck his head in the sand, refusing to listen to the dire warnings of the country’s best public-health experts and condemning tens of thousands of Americans to death. With his country in desperate need of unity, the President has wrapped himself in the flag of a treasonous nation that took up arms against the United States to preserve the right to own other people. And with the economy on the verge of collapse, the President escapes to the golf course every weekend.

As Lewis writes, months before he was elected, the President signaled with clarity that he did not want to, well, preside. Our current national calamities are the price all of America is paying for this potent, destructive failure. | DL

COVID-19 No. 16: Hey, People Are Listening! Well, Okay, Most of Them …

IF MY TRIP TO THE GROCERY STORE this morning is any indication, we are taking the situation much more seriously than we did two weeks ago, when I last visited.

Then, I rolled up about 5 minutes before the store opened and still made the first wave of 15 people to be allowed in. Today, I got there about 20 minutes early and was 17th in line, requiring a 20-minute wait.

Then, shoppers mostly paid lip service to social distancing, standing uncomfortably close while waiting in line. Today, the gaps were at least twice the recommended 6 feet.

Then, about half of shoppers wore masks. Today, it was all of us, with the exception of the guy in front me in line, who at least had a scarf covering his face. Of course, lest you think that everyone in southeastern Pennsylvania has embraced science and the expertise of biomedical professionals, when I encountered Scarf Guy inside the store, his face was uncovered.

As happens often, if not always, this crisis has brought out our best and our worst. Healthcare workers are literally risking their lives daily, and so many people have stepped up with uncommon charity and generosity. Yet the brazen, depressing selfishness of others seems equally prevalent. From spring breakers and bar hoppers who didn’t want the party to stop, to megachurch shysters insisting their worshippers praise Jesus in person, to runners breaking into parks to log their miles with friends, a shockingly large number of people have been putting others at great risk of debilitating and possibly fatal illness.

That’s to say nothing of the continued incompetence, stupidity, and corruption of the federal government, whose botched handling of this from the earliest days has caused vast amounts of unnecessary suffering and needless deaths. I have to force myself every day not to dwell on this, because the rage simmering within me at this evil — and that’s what it is — would be all-consuming were it to come to a boil.

Anyway. The sample size I’m describing here is far too small to draw any large conclusions. But what I saw in line and in the store was encouraging, and these days we need all the encouragement we can get. | DL

COVID No. 9: I Am Not an Epidemiologist, So Take My Optimism With a Grain of Salt

DON’T ASK ME HOW IT HAPPENED, and please don’t come at me tomorrow to see if it’s still there. But somehow, someway, to paraphrase the great Marshall Crenshaw, I found not simply acceptance today but optimism.

Maybe it was the dawning hope that a major project unexpectedly handed to me at my new job will be seen through successfully; maybe it was hearing R. cheerfully FaceTime with her cousin this afternoon; maybe it was the bracing 2-mile walk I took while it was still dark this morning; maybe it was the sun-soaked stroll around the neighborhood I took just before lunchtime. Whatever it was, the existential threat of the last several weeks just didn’t seem as looming today.

I’m under no illusions that the next several weeks won’t suck. But it’s … several weeks. Not years, not a lifetime. Several weeks of sucking it up, being there for each other, rolling with it. Yes, me and my family, we’re lucky. For now, and hopefully for as long as this lasts, we can do these things. We can afford to do these things. I hope that as a country, one assaulted by a sickness that cares not for race or age or status, we can close ranks and do the right thing by everyone.

I have sadly little confidence our government can do this. And this is not a both-sides-need-to-get-it-together thing; there’s a party that controls half of the Congress and the White House, and unfortunately it’s the party that has patted science, research, data, and evidence on the head and sent it strolling down the garden path while it catered to the shrinking, shriveling demographic of old straight white guys.

My hope is that the united will of the people — because, again, this is an illness that is striking down the high and the low; COVID-19 doesn’t play the us-versus-them game — can win the day.

Blind optimism, perhaps. But I believe there will come a time, a time not so long away, when I will hug my extended family and my dear friends, when I will shake hands with colleagues, when I will sit in the stands with a cold beer and cheer on my beloved Phillies, when I will go to work — actually go to work, not step into the home office and turn on my laptop. I do not envision this time as a dream or as a hope, but as an eventuality.

He said, eyeing a half-full glass. | DL