The prospect of not having a baseball season in 2020, while the other major professional sports manage to cobble together something resembling seasons, feels like a frustrating metaphor for widespread failures in American leadership this year. Those in charge of steering the ship bickered about the approaching storm and sailed us right into the rocks.
Begin with the assumption that millionaire players and billionaire owners should recognize how lucky their positions are when more than 44 million Americans have applied for unemployment insurance. It is somewhat understandable that players would be reluctant to let owners walk away their obligations laid out in guaranteed contracts, and vaguely understandable that owners would want the players to share in the sacrifices that a season with fewer or no fans in the stands will bring. (Then again, the players are already accepting the risks to their health that come with playing the game during a pandemic. There’s no way to social distance when you’re stealing second base.)
Hopes are waning for long-proposed plans to start the baseball season by July 4, now just three weeks away. We’ve seen a lot of posturing, finger-pointing, and blame-trading. Maybe the players have some legitimate gripes, or maybe the owners do, or maybe both, or maybe neither. But neither side has, so far, kept their eyes on the prize or the purpose of their institutions . . . which is to play baseball games. Without any games, there is no television revenue, no ticket revenue, much less merchandising revenue. In a spectacular display of self-destructive blindness, the two sides are fighting in part over how to split revenue (revenue that isn’t coming in yet), while the clock ticks away on the time they have to earn that revenue. And it’s hard to see how the cancellation of an entire season could do anything but hurt the long-term health of the game. Why invest your passions in your local MLB team if the players and owners will deny you an entire season?
Two sides who were so wrapped up in their particular interests, and obsessed with gaining leverage over the other that they forgot the purpose of the enterprise? Leaders who prioritize winning a news cycle over addressing the root of the problem? Boy, Americans haven’t seen much of that lately, now have they?
The coronavirus pandemic threw a colossal problem at America’s national, state, and local leaders. Some mistakes were inevitable. Some success stories are easy to find, such as the heroism of America’s doctors and hospital staffs, and the dramatic expansion of testing, week by week, month by month. American citizens largely obeyed sweeping lockdown rules and laws that were largely thrown together as the pandemic progressed.
But when America stumbled in responding to the pandemic, one could usually find the fingerprints of elected leaders.
- In order to avoid a shortage of masks for medical personnel, authorities initially discouraged citizens from wearing masks. Now that masks are plentiful, some segments of the public don’t want to wear masks — and they cite the original messages discouraging their use.
- A Wall Street Journal investigation found that squabbling between the New York state government run by governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York City government run by mayor Bill de Blasio impeded and complicated the transfer of patients from hospitals reaching capacity.
- Governors of New York, New Jersey, Michigan, and California either mandated or encouraged nursing homes to readmit patients who were recovering from coronavirus and still contagious. Thus, a move designed to keep hospital beds open spread the virus among the population most likely to succumb to it. Governor Cuomo claimed the Trump administration required the move, a claim PolitiFact rated “mostly false.”
- Governors and mayors engaged in ludicrous flip-flopping over whether citizens can gather in crowds and whether protests represented a risk of spreading the virus.
- Vice President Mike Pence told a group of governors Monday, “in most of the cases where we are seeing some marginal rise in number, that’s more a result of the extraordinary work you’re doing.” Pence is half-right that a rising number of positive cases is not necessarily cause for alarm, particularly if it aligns with an increase in testing. In some places, such as Miami-Dade County, the rate of positive tests is going up while hospitalizations are going down, a circumstance that does not warrant alarm. But in other places, such as Ventura County, Calif., Austin, Houston, and Dallas in Texas, Alabama, and northwest Arkansas, the number of hospitalizations has increased dramatically, an extremely ominous indicator.
- President Trump hasn’t altered his combative persona one iota in the crisis, relishing public fights with Democratic governors, members of the media, and anyone else who irks him. The president refused to wear a mask while touring Puritan Medical Products in Maine, prompting the company to toss out the swabs produced in the president’s presence.
The coronavirus pandemic hasn’t changed any of America’s leaders; it only revealed them. They are eager to shift blame, hate to admit what they don’t know, fear sharing bad news for the public, make excuses, change their minds with little warning or justification, and always seem inclined to maximizing their histrionics to spur donations from partisan grassroots.
In short, they’re much more eager to beat the opposition than beat the problem in front of them — much like the warring sides in Major League Baseball.
Right now, both baseball and political leaders seem to lack a sense of stewardship — a sense that they have inherited something precious from their ancestors and that they must tread carefully and cautiously, to ensure they pass along something better to the next generation. There’s little sign that they actually value what they’ve been entrusted with. Instead, they seem to see their positions as platforms for self-promotion and self-aggrandizement.
Perhaps this crop of leaders could have coasted during an era of peace and prosperity, like the post-Cold War Nineties. But 2020 is a calamitous year, and our leaders not only don’t want to win the game, they can’t even stop infighting while the other team scores.