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We are at a critical juncture in our history -- a crisis point in many respects. I think most people would agree with that.

Clearly, public health issues are at the top of the list of challenges we face. It is essential we make significant progress in controlling the coronavirus brand of terror. That is the key to de-pressurizing the most evident elements of the crisis and acting on issues that have to be confronted.

We are dealing with not only the humanitarian crisis but an unprecedented economic crisis with devastating unemployment -- numbers that translate into raw human realities. And we have the technological and communication dichotomy in this era of social media. It provides benefits and costs: transmitting information and misinformation, resulting too often in fear or panic, and too easily manipulated by unscrupulous purveyors of conspiracy theories.

All four Arkansas members of the U.S. House delegation supported the $484 billion coronavirus relief package last week, aimed particularly at helping small businesses and hospitals. With this fourth relief package, Congress has now committed almost $3 trillion in emergency spending to help manage the fallout in an economy hit by a wrecking ball -- and to deal with ramifications of the crisis in a reinvigorated and reconstructed society.

A fundamental question as we look ahead concerns the role of government. Government has served as whipping boy and a target for blame from some quarters. The reality, however, is that challenges of less magnitude than this pandemic need a solid governmental foundation for order and direction. One in six American workers have filed for unemployment benefits in only five weeks. State budgets have been battered, with the quiescent economy drying up their sales tax revenues.

With Trump's autocratic style, his flair for publicity and his outspokenness (if often contradictory), Congress has been relatively reticent for months.

There are many spin-offs or ancillary areas, such as education or sports, that rely on governing authorities to function properly and set a tone for shared goals and common interests and experiences.

Most importantly, all these elements depend on leadership to be effective -- and here's where we are really lacking. Much is said about budget deficits, but at this point it is the leadership deficit that really needs attention.

We can look at recent experience to draw some lessons. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell plays a critical role in what the Senate does or doesn't do. Although McConnell is hardly a dynamic figure, his position in the Senate makes him the gatekeeper Trump must contend with. McConnell, unlike Trump, prefers to keep a low profile. What they have in common is the quest to gain, maintain and exercise power. In Trump's case, he will usually take the flamboyant route. Other than his adagio with Trump, McConnell is most identified with nomination-blocking and money-raising. Trump is intent on going his own way and trying to keep his critics and opponents off balance. However, his claim to have "total authority" to issue decrees backfired.

Yet another bizarre episode involved Trump's call for "liberation." Trump broke with his own guidelines to call for protestors to "liberate" Michigan, Minnesota and Virginia because they were not acting quickly enough. He also said the Second Amendment was under siege and he cited that as a reason there should be protests.

A big part of his regular routine is his unending attacks on the media, most recently blasting what he calls "fake news" or the "dishonest media."

Trump asserted that as president, his authority is "total" and that he has the power to order states -- which have told businesses to close and people to remain at home to limit the spread of the coronavirus. "The president of the United States calls the shots," Trump said. "They can't do anything without the approval of the president of the United States."

Trump said there were "numerous provisions" in the Constitution that give a president that power, but did not name any. "When somebody's the president of the United States, the authority is total," he said.

And, of course, there was his venture into quackery with his outlandish and dangerous comments about disinfectants as a cure for covid-19. He later said he was being "sarcastic" when he mused about possibly using disinfectant to kill covid-19 in patients. It was dangerous to even mention it jokingly, but most who watched Trump on TV thought it was serious on Trump's part.

What this all points to is the absence of leadership. We need steady hands at the wheel. We need reinvigorated leaders who embody humility and honesty. And we should reconstruct political processes and institutions and rely on information from the scientific community. We need a holistic view and approach, recognizing that the whole is more than the sum of its parts.

We need visionaries who are grounded in fundamentals, who understand and respect the norms and history of our government and public affairs, who are not locked into zealous partisanship, and can draw talented, skilled, committed citizens to share leadership.

We face a long, hard struggle ahead and it is imperative that we have strong leadership.

Commentary on 04/29/2020

Print Headline: The missing ingredient

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