Op-ed: Things lost — graduation and great leadership

Wednesday, May 20, 2020 - 1:02pm

It has been two weeks since I and thousands of other Wolverines in the class of 2020 graduated. As we stepped into the real world, we found ourselves in a once-in-a-generation public health crisis and an economy that is spiraling downward, with over 1.65 million Michiganders applying for unemployment benefits and the GDP projected to drop by 12 percent in the second quarter alone. While I stare into the unknown and march ahead into an uncertain future, I can’t help but think “it didn’t have to be this bad.” 

If we had real leadership from the federal government that heeded the warnings about this global pandemic and took swift action to protect Americans, we could have mitigated the damage done by COVID-19. Instead, we have a president who ignored warning after warning, downplayed the risks and is now careening between crises, leaving myself and millions of Americans with the feeling that we must overcome this challenge alone.

Today, President Donald Trump is coming to nearby Ypsilanti, MI to take a victory lap around a Ford manufacturing plant, repurposed to produce ventilators, that has only just begun production. This comes just weeks after Michigan faced severe ventilator shortages and Detroit-area hospitals were on the verge of being overwhelmed. In March and April, as the crisis mounted, we heard story after story of nurses treating patients without the proper personal protective equipment, or hospitals forced to plan for a day when they would have to ration the use of lifesaving ventilators. Trump was warned about this pandemic in January, but instead of leading with compassion and consideration for American lives and livelihood, he called it a “hoax” and did nothing to prepare. Now, we are still in the trenches, and this empty action is too little too late.

Even as parts of our state tentatively begin to reopen and the curve appears to be flattening, it’s hard for myself and many of my fellow graduates to feel hopeful for our future. Months after being promised, “anybody who wants a test gets a test,” our country still faces testing shortfalls. And day after day, we’re faced with a federal government that clearly has no cohesive plan to reopen safely. The most we get are half-hearted messaging gimmicks and empty words while Trump flounders. Instead of addressing the pandemic that has killed thousands of Michiganders and forced over 1.65 million from their jobs, he chooses to pick fights with our leaders, like Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, and spout baseless conspiracy theories.

In the past, presidents have stepped up in times of collective struggle to help Americans feel confident about the future. They were compassionate and decisive in the face of uncertainty and wanted to understand and relate to our struggles. Even if the future felt hopeless, we could — at the very least — count on our president to show some empathy during times of extreme hardship. But not anymore.

Molly Foulkes is a field organizer for the Michigan Democratic Party and a recent graduate of the College of Literature, Science & the Arts. She can be reached at mfoulkes@umich.edu.