Where Have All Our Leaders Gone?

Roya Rastegar

When Europe faced mass death after a domino of plagues in the 17th century, European states —in order to maintain their power — shifted their governance from the “right to kill” to the “ability to let live.” French philosopher Michel Foucault theorized this change as “biopolitics” — a new type of sovereign power under which hospitals, prisons, and schools became a central duty of the state. 

These institutions are now being reimagined as civic life comes to a grinding halt. We are bracing ourselves for mass death under the threat of a global pandemic. Our democratic process is at risk and it is time to radically reimagine politics and political leadership. 

Politics cannot continue to be politics as usual.

Our nation has come under attack so forcefully by the virus because our government was slow to act. The current administration’s inactions are already resulting in devastating losses of human life and economic stability. President Trump failed to heed the warnings of other countries like South Korea and Singapore. His racially motivated, cynical approach has knowingly put American citizens in harm’s way — a domestic act of violence by the federal government against its people. 

Every day, the federal government’s misinformation and mixed messages directly raise the death toll and the fallout of COVID-19. It has still not called for a nation-wide, shelter-in-place order. The human, economic, and psychological costs continue to balloon across the country. The federal government failed to prepare frontline responders with adequate supplies of protective equipment, obliging them to risk their lives to save the lives of others. On the day after the World Health Organization warned about a limited stock of personal protective equipment, the Trump administration sent 18 tons of masks, gowns, and respirators overseas. The federal government has abdicated its central duty to protect Americans.

A new form of governance must be designed to protect our country. All of our former and future political leaders must step up. This is an unprecedented time that requires unprecedented leadership. It is incumbent upon former presidents Obama, Clinton and Bush, to come forward and lead. The title of President is a lifetime obligation, and there is no time to worry about “stepping on the toes” of the current administration. We need leaders across party lines to turn their rousing words into action. Non-partisan coalitions must urgently come together to innovate and strategize solutions to protect us from unparalleled human and economic devastation.  

Coordinated political leadership can bring together state governments, media, medical facilities, and wealthy individuals. I plead with the former Presidents, and future leaders of this country to do the following.

1) Establish a nation-wide “lending library” of medical equipment to ship to the areas most impacted, when they are most in need. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s similar call solves the dire shortage of medical equipment facing the entire country. Political leaders have the reach necessary to rally and coordinate a nation-wide effort to pool and mobilize the resources we do have.  New York is the American epicenter of the pandemic right now, but other states will soon follow — New Jersey, Michigan, and Louisiana.

2) Pressure the White House to hand the microphone from the president to non-partisan medical experts who are on the front lines of COVID-19 research and treatment. The partisan approach to sharing information is resulting in confusion, hysteria, and death.

3) Call on the media to stop broadcasting live the president’s briefings, and instead air pre-recorded clips with a fact-checked sidebar. The president has misled the American public about the severity and nature of COVID-19 for more than three months. His briefings are functioning as a platform to campaign for himself and perform the role of president, without actually doing anything presidential. 

We must crawl out of the chaos the federal government has dragged our nation into. Before the 2016 presidential election, President Obama was warned of Russian interference into our democratic process. Our data was scraped and stolen; the public was divided into silos and conquered with false information and forged facts. But President Obama pointedly promised a peaceful transition of power to Americans. Trump was inaugurated into office, and Republicans never held him to account for allowing our democracy to be compromised, because it suited their self-interests and protected their power. 

Allowing thousands of Americans to die is not peaceful.  With a presidential election this year, keeping our nation in crisis suits this administration. Digital warfare triumphed in 2016. Biological warfare cannot prevail in 2020.

The virus clarifies our interdependence on each other. My personal health is related to your health, and our nation’s collective health. My survival depends upon your survival.  We have an opportunity to transform politics and the future of our democracy. Our country deserves leadership that is authentically of the people, by the people — and for the people. 

Roya Rastegar is a writer and filmmaker who lives in Los Angeles. She holds a Ph.D in the History of Consciousness from the University of California.  She wrote the critically acclaimed WILDNESS (2012) with director Wu Tsang, and produced GAGA: FIVE FOOT TWO (2017), THE OBITUARY OF TUNDE JOHNSON (2019), and the upcoming VENUS AS A BOY (2020).


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