Why politicians hesitate during a crisis

Photo by Library of Congress on Unsplash

When a crisis erupts, we want swift, certain action. When we don’t see it, we criticize our leaders.

Are they so dumb for being caught unprepared, or are they incompetent and that’s why they are slow to react?

After we express our collective outrage, leaders feel pressure to show they have a plan, but in a crisis, this leads to less transparency, and in some instances, outright lies.

Giving leaders space to make deliberate and thought out responses can be more important than taking action for the sake of action.

Politicians, like most people, won’t believe a threat they cannot see
Even before fake news became a refrain among the populace, there had always been a disconnect between what was reported in national and international news, and what people experienced at a local level.

News has tended to cover events that were sensational, such as runaway vehicle chases, or national headlines — things people never experienced in everyday life. It took the likes of Facebook for people to get news of what was happening to ordinary people in their ordinary lives. Even though the reporting was not vetted, it felt like more relatable news.

Think of the last time a mayor, governor, or president took unilateral action that severely limited people’s ability to travel and earn a living without a war? Pandemics of a national scale are so rare that even if there is a gameplan, it isn’t shared with the nation. Sure, our next batch of leaders won’t have an excuse for ignoring infectious diseases, but what about nuclear war — when was the last time someone really gave that much thought?

Politicians have two issues to contend with in the United States. First, it’s a democracy secured by a constitution that limits the power of government. Second, it’s not a centrally planned economy, so many decisions are left to individual businesses.

Decentralization helps afford people freedoms, rights, and to some extent the necessary flexibility and adaptability that makes an efficient and prosperous society. However, being flexible doesn’t mean you can be quick, or follow a command and control process.

We may blame government for not shutting things down quickly enough, but I am personally glad their is hesitation to reopen the economy. Now we’re blaming businesses for requiring masks, and people want things open. While hesitation in the beginning of the crisis killed people, the hesitation now is saving lies.

No one likes a person who hesitates. Yet we all do it, and for good reason. Hesitation happens when we’re unsure of an outcome. We are waiting for something, a feeling or a fact, to make us commit.

We hope scientific evidence can drive our decisions moving forward. To do that, we need to respect authorities who have spent a lifetime studying the subjects they opine on, and limit the time given to people just talking for the sake of it.

I personally wonder why we give so much attention to random journalists covering health news when we can go straight to the source. Our inability to do our own research — study primary sources, and appreciate the expert’s interpretation of that information, really limits our ability to understand the truth. The truth is not a soundbite, and it’s on us to do better.

Reader, commenter, and writer. Informed by my experiences as a parent, entrepreneur, and attorney.

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