Joe Henderson: Trustworthy leaders will tell people the truth, even if it hurts

enlarged coronavirus, covid-19 under the flag of Florida state. Pandemic of respiratory disease
We all want to get back to normal, but that's not going to happen soon.

Leadership in today’s political world isn’t just about celebrating good times. It’s also knowing how to navigate through periods like we now experience. Trustworthy leaders can look people in the eye and give them God’s honest truth about how things are.

We’re all worn out from the pandemic, either emotionally or physically. Unemployment numbers have spiked to unimaginable levels, and that won’t improve any time soon. Workers face layoffs, pay cuts, furloughs, and small business owners face possible catastrophe.

So, yeah, everyone – especially the heroic health care professionals and first responders – could use some good news. More importantly, though, they could use the truth.

And the truth is that Florida shouldn’t be open for business any time soon. I want to go to the beach, too. Teachers would love to be back in the classrooms. It would be just like old times if we didn’t have to wear a mask when shopping.

I’d love to go back to church in our actual sanctuary.

I’d love to head to Tropicana Field and watch a Tampa Bay Rays game, or to Amalie Arena to see the Lightning in the NHL playoffs.

Wouldn’t it be just the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ luck if the NFL season is ruined before anyone could see Tom Brady in the home team uniform at Raymond James Stadium?

But most businesses in the state need to stay in hibernation until we’re sure this virus is under control.

I groaned, too, when Florida Surgeon General Scott Rivkees said people should continue wearing masks and practicing social distancing until a vaccine is developed. That could take a year or more.

Wishing won’t make this go away, though. If a leader pretends it can and takes rash and foolhardy action, many more people could die.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has floated the idea of re-opening Florida’s public schools sometime in May. That’s lunacy, and I believe the Governor knows it should not be done.

But even worse, President Donald Trump said he has total authority to order states to reopen.

“The authority of the President of the United States, having to do with the subject we’re talking about, is total,” Trump said. “The President of the United States calls the shots.”

That’s not leadership. It’s a fantasy, like when he said Democrats’ criticism of his response to the virus “is their new hoax” to discredit him. Oh, and Trump’s position also puts him at odds with the Constitution.

We need facts, not wishful thinking.

This is a time for hard choices, not swagger. Why do you think people trust New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Dr. Anthony Fauci? It’s surely not because we like everything they say, but I think people respect that they’re getting straight talk.

When businesses do begin to reopen, it won’t happen all at once. It will be a rolling start that could take weeks or months. Even then, people will have trepidation about public gatherings. And they should.

The first report of a new infection at that time will send people stampeding for home.

Yes, we all want this to be over.

It may be a long time before we know exactly when that is, but one thing is for sure. That time isn’t now.

Joe Henderson

I have a 45-year career in newspapers, including nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. Florida is wacky, wonderful, unpredictable and a national force. It's a treat to have a front-row seat for it all.


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