The following is a guest column by Helio Fred Garcia, originally published on Forbes on October 19, 2021.

In mid-September the United States passed a tragic milestone: one in every 500 Americans had died of Covid-19. By early October, it was one in every 469 Americans. And counting …

For decades in my crisis management practice, I have preached that the severity of an underlying crisis does not determine how the crisis turns out. Two organizations in the same crisis at the same time can have dramatically different outcomes. Rather, the timeliness and quality of the response determine whether or not an organization suffers a catastrophic outcome. Act effectively and quickly and the crisis resolves or plays out with minimal damage. Delay or dither and things get disproportionately worse.

It is uncommon for multiple organizations to go through the same crisis simultaneously. But Covid-19 is a crisis with which every organization around the world has been grappling. We now have experienced a kind of laboratory experiment of how different jurisdictions responded to the pandemic differently. We can track the different outcomes. We can learn from them. And we can apply those lessons, not only in the continued pandemic response but in future crises, as well.

Crisis Management Works

All the trends point to a common conclusion: Crisis management works. But only when we manage the crisis effectively. Failing to follow crisis management principles can have devastating consequences. There are three rules that lead to the successful resolution of a crisis:

1. Take the crisis seriously.

2. Take the risks seriously.

3. Mitigate those risks.

We can see clearly how the death rates in different jurisdictions were different based on leaders’ adherence, or lack of adherence, to these rules.

A Tale Of Two Nations: Republic Of Korea And United States Of America

On January 20, 2020, the U.S. had its first confirmed Covid-19 case. That same day the first confirmed Covid-19 case was recorded in South Korea.

Unlike the U.S., South Korea took the crisis and the risks seriously. Six years earlier, it had been burned by its mishandling of a public health emergency that had led to dozens of deaths and that had almost brought down the government. Not this time: No dithering, denial or delay.

Initially, South Korea had the highest Covid-19 death rate outside of China. But its leaders quickly worked to mitigate the risks. They launched a whole of government response. In particular, South Korea followed all the mitigation guidelines that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advised. These included mandatory masking, distancing, quarantines, contract tracing and testing. And it worked. Infection and death rates plummeted and have stayed low.

The United States did not take the crisis or the risks seriously, nor did the U.S. act to mitigate the risks. President Trump and his allies persistently denied or downplayed the reality of the virus.

The United States never had a whole-government response. And the nation never consistently followed CDC guidelines. In 2020, leaders, including the president, rationalized away the risks. They failed to model safe behavior, even including the wearing of masks. They continued to have large unmasked gatherings. And the pandemic itself became inexorably tangled into the politics of a presidential election, with large numbers taking sides about the reality of the virus itself, a disturbing trend that continues to this day, nearly a year after the election.

But public health experts have been sounding the alarm about the risks for more than a year. Last October, Columbia University’s National Center for Disaster Preparedness concluded that of the 217,000 American Covid-19 fatalities to date, as many as 210,000 could have been prevented by taking appropriate precautions. At the time the U.S. had the highest Covid-19 rate among peer countries. Korea had the lowest.

At about the same time, the venerable New England Journal of Medicine said that the U.S. had failed at every step to take effective mitigation steps and said Americans were dying because of a leadership vacuum.

In February 2021, the British medical journal Lancet noted that as many as 40% of American Covid-19 deaths could have been avoided.

Even after the vaccines became widely available, the seeds of distrust and division continued to hamper mitigation efforts, especially in states whose governors forbade mask mandates and where vaccine hesitancy prevailed.

By late September 2021, American deaths had surpassed two round numbers — one in 500 Americans, for a total of 700,000 deaths. Columbia University Professor Jeffrey Sachs noted that if the U.S. had done what was necessary to keep the death rate the same as our peer countries, 650,000 fewer Americans would have died.

So, what is the current Covid-19 death rate in South Korea compared to the U.S.? One in every 20,000 South Koreans, compared to one in every 469 Americans.

South Korea followed the three crisis management rules:

1. It took the problem seriously.

2. It took the risks seriously.

3. It did what was necessary to mitigate those risks.

The United States did not. The difference: American Covid-19 deaths are at 42 times the rate in South Korea. Most American fatalities were preventable, especially after the vaccines became available to anyone willing to take them.

We see at the national level dramatically different outcomes to the common crisis. There are many lessons we can harvest from the tragedies — including the dangers of misinformation and of political polarization of science. But the crisis management lesson, devoid of politics and ideology, is clear: In a crisis, take the crisis seriously, take the risks seriously, mitigate the risks fully. The outcomes will be far less devastating.

This is an excerpt of a guest column by Helio Fred Garcia, originally published on Commpro.biz on September 21, 2021, in honor of International Day of Peace.

Around the world, and here at home, ideologically-driven opportunists are very good at using communication in ways that lead to oppression, exclusion, and violence.

Communicators of good will have an opportunity to channel our gifts to counter this prevalent and dangerous trend.

The Holocaust Museum’s Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide defines “dangerous speech” as:

“speech that increases the risk for violence targeting certain people because of their membership in a group, such as an ethnic, religious, or racial group. It includes both speech that qualifies as incitement and speech that makes incitement possible by conditioning its audience to accept, condone, and commit violence against people who belong to a targeted group.”

We see examples of such dangerous speech all around, here and abroad:

  • Fundamentalists of every stripe hijack the identity and vocabulary of religion to promote oppression, exclusion, and violence in the name of religious purity.
  • Nationalists hijack national identity and the vocabulary of patriotism in ways that lead to violence in the name of racial, ethnic, national, and ideological purity.
  • Supremacists hijack the vocabulary of science and society to commit cruelty and violence against immigrants, religious and ethnic minorities, and those who support such groups.
  • Even some American governors hijack the language of liberty and freedom in ways that put their citizens at risk of contracting a deadly disease. And they stand idly by as their hospitals overflow with unvaccinated patients and announce that they can no longer accept patients with other life-threatening conditions. Worse, citizens so mobilized commit violence and threats of violence against healthcare workers, school districts, restaurant owners, and others who are simply trying to protect themselves and the people in their care.

There is much hand-wringing in the media and elsewhere about just how polarized American society has become. And with good reason.

But engaged citizens can do something about it, here and elsewhere in the world.

In particular, members of the communication profession can challenge the use of communication to divide and to oppress. We can model communication in ways that protect those at risk. We can call out the dangerous speech and its consequence when we hear it. We can hold leaders accountable when they persist in using such language.

And we can help institutions to reclaim their identity and vocabulary to more fully fulfill their missions:

  • We can help religious organizations reclaim the identity and vocabulary of religion as a source for peace. We can highlight the deeply-held and widely-shared moral teaching of all faith traditions: kindness, reciprocity, and service to community.
  • We can help reclaim national identity and the vocabulary of patriotism to show that we are part of a common civic enterprise. We can show that not only are all created equal, but all are also equally deserving of respect and dignity.
  • We can help at-risk communities harness their power, and we can hold those who attack those communities accountable for the consequences.
  • And we can use the ballot box to hold accountable those political leaders who know better but who pander to an ideological agenda that puts their citizens at unnecessary risk of catching and succumbing to a deadly disease.

Silence in the face of oppression always helps the oppressors.  If ever there was a time for communicators to up our game and deploy our gifts, it is now.

Read the full article here.

This is an excerpt of a guest column by Helio Fred Garcia, originally published on Commpro.biz on September 13 2021.

About a week after the 9/11 attack, I noticed an alarming pattern: A surge of hate crimes against people perceived to be Muslim or Arab. What seemed to be patriotism was really nationalism wrapped in a patriotic flag.

I felt sufficiently alarmed that I felt called to sound the alarm. But twenty years ago there were no blogs, and CommPRO.biz, and similar platforms did not yet exist. So I sent my first and only mass email on a divisive social issue to my entire contact list.

Soon after 9/11, as President George W. Bush rallied the nation, Americans felt the need to wear the American flag on their lapels, and to wave the flag whenever they could. But a predictable and unintended consequence was the use of the flag as a weapon – symbolically and physically. As I said at the time,

“We lose – American society loses – when we resort to evil in the name of our flag, when we view innocents as undeserving of sympathy, dignity, or humanity simply because they’re Muslim, or Arab, or Asian. The terrorists distorted the values of Islam by attacking us. We distort American values when we attack innocents.”

This was not the beginning of a dangerous trend, but the re-emergence of one. It led inevitably 19 years later to insurrectionists using flagpoles carrying the Stars and Stripes as lances to assault Capitol police officers.

I began studying the trend twenty years ago, and last year my book: Words on Fire: The Power of Incendiary Language and How to Confront It showed how Donald Trump’s rhetoric was the natural extension of that dangerous trend.

On the 9/11 anniversary we are admonished never to forget. I never will. But it is also important for engaged citizens and civic leaders to never forget that even the better angels of our nature sometimes battle with our own worst demons. Sometimes the demons win, with potentially devastating consequences.

….

The following was originally published as a mass e-mail on September 21, 2001.

I’m not wearing an American flag on my lapel today. It’s not that I’m unpatriotic. Rather, I fear the unintended, but fully predictable, consequences of well-intentioned patriotism.

Waving the flag is powerful symbolism. It can stand for loyalty and solidarity in times of crisis, but it can also stand for aggression against people simply because they are perceived to be different. Since last week we’ve seen troubling signs of ugliness in the name of Old Glory. Soon after the terrorist attack we saw innocent Muslim women and children, whose mosque windows had just been shot out, taunted by thugs waving American flags and cheering USA! USA! Asked by a television reporter what he was doing, one thug proclaimed, “Supporting the US of A .”

An Arizona man shot and killed a Sikh gas station owner and tried to kill a man of Lebanese descent and another of Afghan descent. As he was arrested the assailant justified his rampage shouting, “I stand for America all the way.” Another Sikh was killed with a baseball bat soon after the terrorist attack. The two Sikhs who were murdered were neither Muslim nor Arab, but they wore turbans. Because many Americans don’t have a nuanced view of foreigners, anyone who looks South-Asian is at risk.

Frankly, our country doesn’t have a very good track record at mobilizing the masses against a foreign threat. Solidarity quickly mingles with and morphs into aggression and leads to suspension of our most cherished values. After Pearl Harbor thousands of innocent and patriotic Americans of Japanese descent lost their liberty and property and were held behind barbed wire for years.

In 1916 – just as President Wilson rallied the country to go to war in Europe – my grandfather, along with hundreds of others, was fired from a major auto company because he was German. (He established Chilean citizenship and changed his name from Hesse to Garcia and got his job back, an option unavailable to those persecuted because of their appearance.)

The World Trade Center and Pentagon terrorists were evil not just because of the enormity of the death and destruction they caused. They were evil because they viewed their targets as undeserving of sympathy, dignity, or humanity. We lose – American society loses – when we resort to evil in the name of our flag, when we view innocents as undeserving of sympathy, dignity, or humanity simply because they’re Muslim, or Arab, or Asian. The terrorists distorted the values of Islam by attacking us. We distort American values when we attack innocents.

Now is the time to focus on what unites rather than on what divides.  But the idolaters of the flag focus too much on unum and too little on pluribus. It’s more important that we come together as people than that we come together as a people.

So what am I wearing on my lapel? A world religions pin. It has a Christian cross. And the star and crescent of Islam. And a Star of David. And also symbols of Buddhism and Hinduism and my own faith, Unitarian Universalism. The pin reminds us of what the great faith traditions have in common. Their collective wisdom and their emphasis on our mutual humanity are what America, at its best, really stands for.

This is an excerpt of a column Logos Advisor Maida K. Zheng published on LinkedIn on May 26, 2021. 

 

This is written for the manager and the employee because both need to be reflective of what immaturity can look like, for different reasons of course.

 

We’ve all heard it before: “leadership is a privilege.” I 100% agree with that sentiment. Although, all too often we promote folks to leadership positions before they are ready — causing issues that didn’t need to happen. Being good at what you do is not enough to be a good, mature leader.

 

The number one sign for spotting an immature leader is observing how they treat their colleagues before they are in a formal leadership position.

 

Ask yourself:

 

Do they regularly belittle their colleagues? Are they only a team player when the boss is there to see? How do they think on their feet? Are they able to improvise and adapt to challenging situations? Do they regularly make excuses for their mistakes but freely take credit for things they did well… even if the credit should be shared?

 

Also, another good indicator is how they treat their current supervisors they may not respect. Do they often behave inappropriately? Do they cause issues and pose questions to simply be disruptive? Are they disrespectful?

 

The questions can go on and on. They are good questions to consider as those are all good indicators that someone may not be ready for a leadership position now. Maybe after training and growth they can be — but they are not ready now.

 

An important thing to look for before promoting someone into a leadership position is adaptability and empathy; a good leader needs both. An immature leader may be excellent at what they do but lack the experience to know how to read a room, which makes their leadership unpredictable at best, toxic at worst.

 

An often overlooked quality of someone who has the potential to lead is vulnerability.  If you are a manager, consider really taking a look at your candidate and observing if they are willing to be vulnerable. (Now, I am not talking about oversharing…that’s a different issue all together.) What I am talking about here is, is your candidate willing to admit they need help from their team? Do they know the importance of apologizing? A lack of vulnerability in a leader often also leads to a lack of good decision-making skills. 

 

It’s no secret that leaders need to be able to make decisions, oftentimes under pressure in the heat of a moment. Management should recognize that someone who throws up a wall and refuses to be vulnerable will either make flippant decisions that harm the team or will pass the blame onto others when they made the wrong decision.

 

Read the full article here.

This is an excerpt of a guest column by Helio Fred Garcia, originally published in the May issue of PRSA’s Strategy & Tactics.

A foundational principle of any organization’s crisis response is that indifference to the situation is toxic. Leaders must show they care. This was true before COVID-19 and it will become even more essential as we recover from the pandemic, which has been the most disruptive crisis most of us have ever faced.

To be clear, the need for leaders to care during times of crisis is neither sentimental nor soft. Rather, caring is a necessary discipline for leaders — a fact made clear when we analyze the factors that build trust and reputation.

For all organizations, a common goal in every crisis is to maintain or restore the trust of stakeholders — which include investors, employees, customers, suppliers and increasingly, communities. And it’s much harder to restore trust after it’s been lost than to maintain that trust in the first place.

Trust is the natural result of promises fulfilled, expectations met and values lived. When people experience a company fulfilling its promises — whether those promises are explicit or merely implied by a brand’s identity — their trust in the organization remains or increases. When people see a brand break its promises, on the other hand, their trust in the organization falls.

Similarly, when customer expectations for a company are met, trust in the brand remains or increases. But when leaders or companies fail to meet those expectations, trust erodes.

Such expectations can be set by the company itself, through explicit or implicit promises and/or through precedents set by the organization’s past behavior. Consumer expectations also derive from laws and social mores, which change over time. Company leaders should always stay abreast of social expectations.

When it comes to the trust that rises or falls according to the values lived by a business, the company’s stated values set an expectation. When people experience a company living up to its stated values, their trust remains; conversely, when they see a company failing to live up to its stated values, their trust diminishes.

One of the disciplines of effective crisis response is to get the decision criterion — the basis of choice — right. A poorly handled crisis often results from leaders making decisions based on what scares them least. In times of crisis, leaders need to make decisions based on the tested criteria that determine trust.

 

Caring builds trust

When deciding how to respond in a crisis, leaders do well by first identifying their most important constituents and then asking themselves: What would reasonable people expect a responsible organization to do in this circumstance?

Reasonable people don’t take their cues from internet trolls or bots, from critics or adversaries or even from the news media or social media. Instead, reasonable people respond to those they trust and to those whose trust they need for themselves. Reasonable people have expectations that are appropriate to the crisis, to the harm that people have experienced and to the kind of organization that is experiencing the crisis.

A responsible company asks what reasonable people would expect it to do, which leads to the company having a fuller array of predictably helpful options.

Consider, for example, the scenario that an explosion has occurred at a factory. Reasonable people won’t expect a responsible company to immediately know what has caused the blast. Reporters will ask for an explanation and people on social media will speculate, but stakeholder trust won’t dissolve simply because the company doesn’t know the cause at the time of the explosion.

Reasonable people will expect the company to acknowledge what has happened, to work with first responders to rescue those inside the factory and to provide for the families of employees who were injured or killed.

We can inventory the specific expectations of different stakeholders — including employees and more particularly, those workers directly affected by the disaster; customers and more precisely, those who have used a certain product from a certain retailer on a certain date.

Regardless of the nature of crisis an organization faces, every interested party shares a common expectation: that the organization and its leaders will care. Customers, employees, investors and others expect leaders to care that the organization’s processes, systems or judgment have failed; that as a consequence people have been placed at risk and need to be protected; and that the company may need to make changes to prevent similar crises from occurring again.

In any crisis, what it means for leaders to care can vary according to the circumstances, but the need to care is universal. At a basic level, caring means that leaders mitigate any ongoing risk to people and help them out of the crisis.

 

Building for the future 

In the past year, half a million Americans have died from COVID-19 and 30 million others have been infected by the virus. The pandemic crashed the economy, forcing hardships on many people. Collectively, our mental health has suffered from the stress of the coronavirus outbreak, including the strain of being confined in our homes. How we work has changed, perhaps forever. At the same time, social and political divisions seem to be growing, not shrinking.

Having suffered these hardships, people are fragile, exhausted and vulnerable, even as they try to feel hopeful for the future.

Leaders should know that people need them to care, now more than ever. Some leaders might feel tempted to assume (or to hope) that everything has already returned to normal, so they can step on the accelerator for their businesses. And in non-crisis environments, that may be the case. But for leaders of organizations still recovering from the pandemic, the need for caring has only increased.

Caring requires empathy; and empathy requires humility. Leaders who have successfully guided their organizations through the pandemic have demonstrated humility within themselves and expressed empathy for others. As we move into recovery, we can follow their example.

Read full article here.

This is an excerpt from a guest column by Helio Fred Garcia, originally published on Commpro.biz on January 18, 2021.

National Archives, Public Domain

Today we commemorate the life and work of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

On this day it is important to note that the man who for two more days is the sitting president has spent nearly a decade systematically attacking the very dream Dr. King described in his 1963 Lincoln Memorial Speech.

Donald Trump’s campaign and presidency were themed to evoke an America before the civil rights wins that began to dismantle some of the worst abuses of the Jim Crow era. And it happened right before our eyes, as Trump embraced white supremacist policies and normalized white nationalism.

And twelve days ago, on the Elipse just a mile from the Lincoln Memorial, Trump inspired a crowd filled with white supremacists to invade the U.S. Capitol, where some hoped to assassinate the Vice President and Speaker of the House.

That evening, after watching the Capitol assault on television, Trump told the attackers, “We love you. You’re very special.”

Dancing with White Supremacists

In my latest book, Words on Fire: The Power of Incendiary Language and How to Confront It, I track what I call Trump’s dance with white supremacists. Throughout his campaign and presidency, Trump has followed a recognizable pattern: He signals to white supremacists, and they signal back. Andrew Anglin, editor of the neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer, has frequently referred to it as a “wink-wink-wink” relationship.

It began nearly ten years ago, when private citizen Trump addressed the 2011 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) and declared he would run in 2012 to unseat President Barack Obama. He revived the long-discredited birther conspiracy that Obama was secretly Kenyan and Muslim. This got the attention of white supremacists. He continued pounding the birther theme for six years, straight through to the last month of his 2016 campaign.

White supremacists perked up even more in his 2015 campaign launch when Trump declared that Mexicans are rapists, when he called for a wall on the southern border, and when he later promoted a total and complete ban of Muslims entering the United States.

In early 2016 Former Klan leader David Duke endorsed Trump and urged his followers to volunteer for his campaign. He said, “Voting against Donald Trump at this point is really treason to your heritage.”

In late August 2016, Trump named Breitbart News co-founder Stephen Bannon to lead the Trump campaign. Bannon had previously said that Breitbart was the “platform for the alt-right.” The phrase “alt-right” was coined in 2010 by Richard Spencer, a prominent white nationalist who later was one of the Charlottesville organizers, as a less menacing phrase for white nationalism. After the election Trump named Bannon his senior White House strategist. In this way, the alt-right had a direct channel into the White House.

God Emperor of White Supremacists

On the day Trump was declared president, white supremacists celebrated and took credit for putting him in office.

The Daily Stormer wrote:

“We won, brothers. All of our work. It has paid off. Our Glorious Leader has ascended to God Emperor. Make no mistake about it: we did this. If it were not for us, it wouldn’t have been possible… And the great news is, we’re going to be given credit for it.”

David Duke tweeted:

“This is one of the most exciting nights of my life -> make no mistake about it, our people have played a HUGE role in electing Trump! #MAGA”

Richard Spencer tweeted:

“For the first time in my adult life, I am really proud of my country because it feels like hope is finally making a comeback. #Trump.”

Making Whiteness Great Again

Ten days after the election, in an auditorium of the Ronald Reagan Office Building several blocks from the White House, Spencer addressed the white nationalist group he ran. He said,

“We willed Donald Trump into office. We made this dream our reality. . .  And this Trumpian dream is only the beginning . . .  We demand to live in the world that we imagine… For us it is conquer or die. This is a unique burden for the white man, that our fate is entirely in our hands… That is the great struggle we are called to. We are not meant to live in shame and weakness and disgrace. We were not meant to beg for moral validation from some of the most despicable creatures to ever populate the planet. We were meant to overcome—overcome all of it. Because that is natural and normal for us. Because for us, as Europeans, it is only normal again when we are great again.”

Spencer closed his speech with a rousing call,

“Hail Trump! Hail our people! Hail victory.”

Spencer raised a glass up high with his right hand, in an apparent toast. Members of the audience rose and gave a Nazi salute extending their right arm out to the front. One man gave the salute multiple times, shouting “Sieg Heil!” – literally, “Hail Victory” in German.

In August of Trump’s first year Richard Spencer, David Duke, and other white supremacist leaders organized the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville.

Trump and others insisted that the Charlottesville protest was about the removal of a statue of General Robert E. Lee. But it was much more.

On its website, The Daily Stormer admitted that the Charlottesville protest was not simply about a statue:

“Although the rally was initially planned in support of the Lee Monument, which the Jew Mayor and his Negroid Deputy have marked for destruction, it has become something much bigger than that. It is now an historic rally, which will serve as a rallying point and battle cry for the rising alt-right movement.”

One of the organizers, Michael Hill, president of the white nationalist group League of the South, tweeted to his followers:

“If you want to defend the South and Western civilization from the Jew and his dark-skinned allies, be at Charlottesville on 12 August.”

The Daily Stormer posted on its Facebook page:

“Next stop: Charlottesville, VA. Final stop: Auschwitz.”

“Battle cry” is not a casual reference. The Daily Stormer live-posted during the protest, including this:

“THIS IS THE BEGINNING OF A WAR! WE HAVE AN ARMY”

After counter-protester Heather Heyer was killed by a neo-Nazi, President Trump said that there was hatred and bigotry on many sides. The Daily Stormer wrote:

“Trump comments were good. He didn’t attack us. He just said the nation should come together. Nothing specific against us. He said that we need to study why people are so angry, and implied that there was hate… on both sides! So he implied the antifa are haters. There was virtually no counter-signaling of us at all. He said he loves us all. Also refused to answer a question about White Nationalists supporting him. No condemnation at all. When asked to condemn, he just walked out of the room.”

Two days later President Trump said there were “very fine people, on both sides,” David Duke tweeted a thank-you to the President.

Daryl Johnson, former domestic terrorism expert at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, wrote a Washington Post column in which he noted the alignment of the white supremacist agenda and Trump’s policies and priorities:

“Neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klan members, militia extremists, and other radical right-wing zealots march side-by-side at pro-Trump rallies across the country. Trump’s endorsement of the border wall, the travel ban, mass deportations of illegal immigrants — these ideas were touted on white supremacist message boards merely 10 years ago. Now they’re being put forth as official U.S. policy. Such controversial plans have placated white supremacists and anti-government extremists and will draw still more sympathetic individuals toward these extremist causes along with the sort of violent acts that too often follow, like Charlottesville.”

Fifteen days before the 2018 midterm elections, President Trump declared himself to be a nationalist. He addressed a rally crowd and said,

“You know, they have a word, it sort of became old fashioned. It’s called a nationalist. And I say, really, we’re not supposed to use that word. You know what I am, I’m a nationalist, OK. I’m a nationalist. Nationalist! Use that word!”

The following year, when Trump called for four congresswomen of color to “go back to where you came from,” The Daily Stormer wrote,

“This is the kind of WHITE NATIONALISM we elected him for.”

The Final Days

Capitol police in the House chamber protecting members of Congress.

In Trump’s final days in office the twice-impeached president has said he will not attend the inauguration, which Twitter interpreted as,

“[E]ncouragement to those potentially considering violent acts that the Inauguration would be a ‘safe’ target, as he will not be attending.”

And now Trump has an army: groups of white supremacists – Proud Boys, Boogaloo movement, QAnon, and others – who are mobilizing to replicate what happened on January 6. The FBI is warning about possible violent armed attacks on the January 20 inauguration and on symbolic targets in all 50 states.

The Lincoln Memorial is locked down, as is the National Mall up to the Capitol, protected by fences, razor wire, and more than 25,000 national guard troops in full combat gear including automatic weapons.

The Dream, Deferred

Dr. King’s dream was that we would judge people by the content of their character.

At the end of the Trump presidency, we see that he fails the character test. The tone is set from the top. Trump has spent a decade trying to dismantle Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s legacy. In his celebration of white supremacists and glorification of violence, he is the very antithesis of Dr. King.

This is an excerpt from a guest column by Helio Fred Garcia, originally published on Commpro.biz on January 4, 2021.

The first American case of COVID-19 was diagnosed on January 20, 2020.

Exactly one year later Joe Biden will be sworn in as the 46th President of the United States.

What happened in the United States in between is different from what happened in other developed countries.

Twenty million Americans contracted COVID-19 between the first case and the end of the year.

2020 was the single deadliest year in American history. The first U.S. COVID-19 fatality was on February 6. By year end another 351 thousand Americans had died from the virus. For context, that is more than all the U.S. combat fatalities in World War II and Vietnam combined, but in a single eleven-month period rather than in the 24 years of those wars. For several weeks in December we were seeing the equivalent of a 9/11 casualty rate every day, with total 2020 COVID-19 fatalities equal to 118 separate 9/11 attacks.

Much of this was avoidable. And yet, here we are. So the question is – why did this happen?

Everything Changed

It was a year that changed everything: what it means to be “at work” or “at school”; how we visit the doctor; how we greet each other; how we shop for groceries and other goods; how we say goodbye to loved ones as they take their final breath.

It was a year of great trauma: medical, emotional, spiritual, economic, social.

And it was a year that saw great sacrifice and some of the best of humanity: in the front-line medical workers, in the agility of many companies to re-imagine their business models and their product offerings, in the emergence of a new class of heroes – postal workers, delivery drivers, and grocery clerks, who risked infection to keep us supplied.

And it was a year that intensified much that had already been fraying in the fabric of American civic life: hyper-polarization in politics, mistrust of each other and of civic institutions, and the shattering of social and political norms.

In the time of the pandemic we saw the explicit elevation and endorsement of white supremacist and conspiracist groups, such as the Proud Boys and QAnon. But also the largest civil rights protest in American history, with more than 25 million Americans marching in support of Black Lives Matter – and this in the days and weeks following the first wave of reopening after two months of stay-at-home orders.

After decades of one party discrediting science – from refusing to accept the reality of evolution, to redefining when human life begins, to denying the reality of climate change – we saw millions of Americans deny what scientists, public health experts, and their own doctors told them: that the virus is real, that it is deadly, that you can transmit it even when asymptomatic; and that masking, distancing, and handwashing are keys to prevention. The American population seemed to divide into those who believe what science teaches and those who choose not to. But as a popular T-shirt and internet meme noted, Science Doesn’t Care What You Believe.

The pandemic coincided with one of the most bizarre and contentious presidential election campaigns in American history, in which despite no evidence of fraud the sitting president refused to acknowledge defeat and lost more than 50 lawsuits challenging the results. And who for the eight weeks between the election and the new year seemed to give up on being president. He stayed out of sight and silent on anything having to do with the pandemic, even as fatalities approached the 350 thousand mark and infections soared to 20 million, and as he rage-tweeted about the so-called “massive fraud” that had prevented his re-election.

But the hardships were real and were devastating. In the weeks before and after Christmas, hospitalization rates reached record highs, with whole regions, including southern California, reporting zero intensive care beds available. At least one Los Angeles hospital started treating patients in the gift shop; another in a cafeteria; yet another in its chapel. But the real shortage was of medical personnel to treat the record number of patients. Doctors began talking about the need to choose which patients to treat, and which to leave to die.

The nation saw the infection rate grow by a million cases every few days. And despite pleas from public health officials and hospital front-line workers, Americans continued to travel for the holidays, risking what health workers called a surge on top of a surge. And some governors refused to require citizens to wear masks in public. Florida’s governor even forbade Florida cities and counties from requiring masks and social distancing in their jurisdictions. And the White House, the State Department, and other federal agencies held dozens of holiday parties indoors and without a masking requirement: yet more super-spreader events.

Incompetence

It did not need to be this way.

Much of the suffering, the hardship, the sacrifice could have been avoided. It resulted from a lethal combination of incompetence, dishonesty, and neglect.

The United States, alone in the world, intentionally refused to follow or mandate basic public health steps: a national masking, distancing, testing, and contact tracing policy. There was no whole of government response; at best there were fragments of government responses. And some parts of the government seemed to be at war against other parts. Indeed, some parts of government seemed to be at war against themselves, such as the White House Pandemic Task Force, where in a single press conference the politicians would contradict the public health experts, and vice versa.

The president and other senior government officials modeled the opposite of the public health guidelines, remaining unmasked in public and holding super-spreader events where the crowd was unmasked and packed close together – in violation also of local masking and distancing ordinances.

Continue reading here.

The except is from an op-ed by Helio Fred Garcia published on December 2, 2020 in Modern Restaurant Magazine.

The COVID-19 pandemic, a crisis has radically reshaped the dining experience and caused a devasting impact on a once booming industry. A September survey by the National Restaurant Association found that 43 percent of full-service operators and 33 percent of limited service operations do not expect to still be in business in six months of things continue as they are. And restaurants are anticipating a total loss of $240 billion this year as a result of the pandemic.

In many ways, the ingenuity of owners and managers has enabled many restaurants to survive this prolonged crisis. As restaurants have introduced innovative solutions to continue serving their customers, such as curb-side pick-up, delivery and drive thru options, or expanded their business to grocery services, the industry has seen marginal gains since the spring. But it has not been enough.

The unfortunate reality is that it is unlikely the industry will be able to bounce back in the coming months. And the restaurant experience when we finally emerge from this pandemic will likely look much different than it did before.

So, what can restaurants at this point in this crisis?

Take Risks Seriously

The US response to COVID-19 pandemic is, in my opinion, the single worst handled crisis in our nation’s history. At the time of writing this, more than 10 million Americans have contracted COVID-19, and nearly a quarter million people have died. And this could have been avoided.

A study published in October by Columbia University’s National Center for Disaster Preparedness found that between 130,000 to 210,000 American fatalities would have been avoided if the nation had consistently applied policies equivalent to what other developed democracies had done.

A foundational principle of crisis response is to understand the scope and specifically the risks that a crisis represents, and then to do all that is necessary to mitigate those risks. The longer it takes to do that, the worse the crisis will get.

As we have seen, the federal government, in particular the current occupant of the White House, failed to take the risks of the pandemic seriously. And President Trump continues to diminish or ignore the risks of COVD-19, even as infection rates spike and more members of his administration test positive for the virus.

The changing of administrations may turn the tide of the country’s response, but we have quite some time before President-Elect Biden can enact meaningful change. In the meantime, the continued lack of a coherent federal response before the inauguration will likely to cause even more harm.

As cases surge across the country, restaurants need to take the risks of COVID-19 seriously. And that means recognizing that half measures won’t work in the long run.

While it may be tempting to continue indoor dining as we head into winter, the growing infection rate, as well as sporadic mask-wearing and social distancing policies across the country, will likely make indoor dining less safe, putting both customers and employees at risk. Restaurants need to recognize and take these risks seriously, and to be prepared to take decisive action early to protect their customers and their employees.

Foresee the Foreseeable

Many crises are not foreseeable. But months into this crisis, there are some thing we can foresee.

We are now in the third wave of the pandemic. In early November, we saw back-to-back record highs for daily cases. The likelihood, if things remain unchanged, is that we will reach a quarter million deaths by Thanksgiving.

President-Elect Joe Biden has signaled that he will take a far more aggressive approach to COVID, and has begun revealing a national strategy. In his acceptance speech, Biden declared, “We cannot repair the economy, restore our vitality, or relish life’s most precious moments… until we get this virus under control.” He continued, “I will spare no effort — or commitment — to turn this pandemic around.”

Restaurants need to be prepared for Biden to enact some form of restrictions for as long as necessary to control the virus.  That means restaurants have time to prepare what will foreseeably be one of Biden’s first acts as president.

Take the Pain

No one wants the country to shut down. There is a real and lived cost for all of us in this moment of collective crisis, one that will be felt for years to come. But one of the principles of crisis management is that sometimes we need to take the pain in the short-term in order to thrive in the long-term. This is one of those times.

Restaurants have already taken the brunt of the pain during this pandemic. And previous governmental relief for the restaurant industry has fallen short.

However, restaurants will need to be prepared to take the pain of drastically reducing their operations again, of furloughing their employees, or of shutting down for some period of time. This is a difficult decision for any business make. But it is the only way that we as a nation will make it through this crisis, and ultimately the only way the restaurant industry will be able to truly thrive again.

As restaurants will need to make difficult, but necessary, decisions to protect their customers and staff, the restaurant industry can also be proactive in fighting for relief. Since June, the National Restaurant Association, the Independent Restaurant Association, and other have been actively lobbying for expanded relief for the industry. And as the government transitions in January, the industry may find new allies to aid this cause and ensure the long-term viability of the restaurant industry going forward.

Plan for the Future

While it will likely be necessary to take the pain in the short-term, restaurants can also plan for the long-term.

In crisis management, we know that in every crisis there is opportunity. COVID-19 has changed nearly every part of our society and daily lives. As we come out of this crisis, the restaurant industry, like many others, will not look the same as it did before the pandemic. But that does not mean it cannot as good as it was before. Or that it can be even better.

The industry has already demonstrated its resiliency in the creative ways that restaurants have adapted their business models to survive during the pandemic. Should a national shut down happen, restaurants can use that time to be proactive and plan how they will rebuild after the pandemic has ended.

What will the restaurant and dining experience be after COVID-19? Restaurants can take this time to re-imagine what this experience can be like in a post-COVID-19 world, and then organize their resources to re-invent and re-invigorate both their companies and the industry as a whole.

The restaurant industry has a long road ahead to get through this crisis. But by making smart decisions in a timely way, restaurants can get through this crisis – and help us all do the same.

This guest column by Helio Fred Garcia was released on CommPro.biz on November 2, 2020.

Here’s where the United States stands on the eve of the election: We have more than 9 million confirmed COVID-19 infections. We’re at nearly 100 thousand new cases daily; more than a thousand daily fatalities. We’re well on our way to be at a quarter million fatalities in a matter of weeks; half a million by the inauguration.

I have previously called the nation’s COVID-19 response the single-worst handled crisis, and the single largest leadership failure, in the nation’s history. Over the weekend, Dr. Anthony Fauci told The Washington Post that the nation needs to make an “abrupt change” and that we’re “in for a whole lot of hurt.”

If Donald Trump is re-elected, we can expect the situation to continue to get exponentially worse. He continues to deny the severity of the virus.

The White House science office announced this week that among Trump’s accomplishments are “ending the pandemic.” Stanford University researchers reported this week that Trump’s “superspreader” rallies in the summer through September 22 resulted in at least 30,000 infections and 700 fatalities. And that is before his own diagnosis, and his ramping up the frequency of the rallies through election day.

If Joe Biden is elected, there will still be 70 days before he takes office, and things can get much worse in that time.

We don’t have the luxury of waiting. A President-Elect Biden will need to use all the moral and political authority he can wield to get politicians and citizens to fundamentally change the way the nation is responding to the pandemic. And to recognize that all the other crises, from economic to mental health, derive from the failure to respond effectively to COVID-19.

Foundational Principle of Crisis Response: Take Risk Seriously

A foundational principle of crisis response is to understand the scope and specifically the risks that a crisis represents, and then to do all that is necessary to mitigate those risks. The longer it takes to do that, the worse the crisis will get.

Trump never took the risks seriously, at least in public. As early as February and for months after, he told Washington Post associate editor Bob Woodward what he knew about the virus:

  • It is spread in the air.
  • You catch it by breathing it.
  • Young people can get it.
  • It is far deadlier than the flu.
  • It’s easily transmissible.
  • If you’re the wrong person and it gets you, your life is pretty much over. It rips you apart.
  • It moves rapidly and viciously.
  • It is a plague.

But he was telling the nation the opposite.

The Washington Post has documented the scope and frequency of Trump’s lies while president: In his first 827 days in office, he told 10,000 lies or false statements, he told 10,000 more in the next 444 days. By July 2020, he was averaging 23 lies or false statements per day. By mid-October, it was more than 50 every day.

Last month Cornell University’s Alliance for Science published the first comprehensive study of COVID-19 misinformation in the media, and concluded that President Trump is likely the largest driver of the such misinformation.

And that misinformation had consequences. An analysis in mid-October by Columbia University’s National Center for Disaster Preparedness concluded that between 130,000 to 210,000 American fatalities would have been avoided if the nation had consistently applied policies equivalent to what other developed democracies had done. (Note that South Korea and the United States had their first cases on the same day. Our death rate is 78 times theirs.)

Columbia University, National Center for Disaster Preparedness

Advice from a Crisis Manager

I don’t have Joe Biden’s ear. But if I did here’s what I’d tell him and his team:

1. Create a true whole of government response.

We have never had a whole of government response, unlike most of our peer countries. Even at the federal level, we’ve had a fragments of government response. Different parts of the federal government had conflicting policies; political appointees micromanaged what had previously been independent agencies; there was inconsistency over time. And the states have been left to figure it out on their own.

Where Biden and his team don’t have authority (before inauguration, with states, cities, and counties), use persuasion and call for clear, consistent, and consistently-implemented policies and practices to stop the spread, treat the people, and treat the consequences of the poor response.

2.  Immediately call for full implementation of the Defense Production Act.

Call for surging the manufacturing of ventilators, medical supply, testing equipment, personal protective equipment, and sanitization technologies.

Although President Trump has invoked the act in limited ways – to require meat processing employees to work in violation of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, and for limited amounts of masks and testing equipment, he has not surged supply.

In July, the soon-to-retire head of the Defense Production Act program at the Federal Emergency Management Agency lamented that there was no national strategy: “Why isn’t this administration using the act to prevent shortages?”

A former legal advisor to the National Security Council concluded that, “What the federal government — the president or secretaries possessing delegated authority — have not done yet is use the D.P.A. to create a permanent, sustainable, redundant, domestic supply chain for all things pandemic.”

3.  Call on all governors, mayors, and other executive branch leaders to implement a national masking, social distancing, and contact tracing policy.

Masks save lives and slow the spread of the virus. Of the 105 counties in Kansas, only 21 have mask mandates. A study last month by the University of Kansas found that counties with mask mandates saw a plateau of new cases at 20 per 100,000 people. But counties without mask mandates saw a serious spike in new cases to 40 cases per 100,000 people.

Similarly, a Vanderbilt University study last week concluded that hospitals with fewer than 25 percent of patients from counties with mask mandates had a surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations; hospitals with more than 75 percent of patients from counties with mask mandates saw essentially no change in COVID-19 hospitalizations from July to late October. 

Vanderbilt University

Finally, a University of Washington Study published in Nature Medicine says that up to half a million Americans could die of the virus in the next four months, but that up to 130,000 of them could be saved if 95 percent of Americans wear masks consistently in public.

4. Call on Congress to provide financial relief to states, businesses, families, and healthcare institutions.

The economic crisis is a direct result of mishandling the public health crisis. Now it isn’t just families and small businesses at risk, but also states, which are required to balance their budgets. States may need to cut essential services at precisely the moment when they will be most needed to keep people safe. And health care institutions are stretched thin and need assistance.

The next round of stimulus relief has been stalled because of election-year dynamics. But a clear Biden win and changes in the House and Senate could provide an opportunity to accelerate support.

5. Offer free testing

Knowledge is power. The availability of testing is still spotty and its reliability not clear. Biden should call for an army of testers, contact tracers, and managers to coordinate universal access to testing, an infrastructure to process tests quickly and reliably, and a further infrastructure to provide timely notice, notification, and referral to medical care when needed.

6. Respect science.

Restore true independence to CDC, FDA, HHS, and other public health operations of the US government. Take the advice of the science/public health experts to guide policy choices.

Public health should not be political. But the COVID-19 response has been highly-politicized. In a post-election environment, there is an opportunity to reset expectations and to get and follow the best advice of the scientists and public health experts.

It is the nature of science that it is self-correcting. When scientists are grappling with new challenges, they adapt understanding to what the evidence and data show. That should not lessen support for science, but actually increase it. Science isn’t dogma.

One of the first challenges post-election is whether, when, and how to go to a national shelter-in-place order similar to what some states did in the Spring. Britain just established a month-long lockdown. The decision on whether, when, how, and for how long to do something here should be based on the science   and on the actual risks we face, not on political calculation.

7. Assure Americans’ access to healthcare.

One week after the election the U.S. Supreme Court will hear a case in which the U.S. government and state attorneys general will ask the court to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Despite Trump’s promises for months that a plan for better healthcare will be revealed “in two weeks,” there is no evidence of such a plan. Biden and his team must act quickly to create an alternative if the Court should nullify the healthcare that so many Americans rely upon.

In the meantime, the federal government should subsidize COVID-19 prevention, treatment, and recovery for the uninsured or underinsured.

These are not political recommendations: they’re crisis management recommendations based on the severity of the risks. The tragedy is that taking the risks seriously when Trump first knew about them could have prevented all of this suffering.

Leadership courage matters.

A version of this post appeared in CommPro.biz.

Last week Cornell University’s Alliance for Science published the first comprehensive study of coronavirus misinformation in the media, and concluded that President Trump is likely the largest driver of the such misinformation.

Lost in the News Cycle

In any other administration this would have led the news for at least a week.

But the report came five days after President Donald J. Trump nominated Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court. It came four days after publication of a massive New York Times investigation that revealed that President Trump paid no federal income taxes for years. It came just two days after the debate debacle in which the President refused to condemn white supremacy and seemed to endorse the Proud Boys. And it came just hours before the news that the President and First Lady had tested positive for COVID-19.

I wish the President and the First Lady a speedy and complete recovery.

But it is important that this news not be lost, and that the President be held accountable for the consequences of his words, actions, and inaction.

Language, Inaction, and Consequences

I am a professor of ethics, leadership, and communication at Columbia University and New York University. This summer my book about Trump’s language and how it inspires violence was published. I finished writing Words on Fire: The Power of Incendiary Language and How to Confront It in February. But since then the effect of Trump’s language has been even more dangerous.

In the book, I document how charismatic leaders use language in ways that set a powerful context that determines what makes sense to their followers. Such leaders can make their followers believe absurdities, which then can make atrocities possible. If COVID-19 is a hoax, if it will magically disappear, if it affects only the elderly with heart problems, then it makes sense for people to gather in large crowds without social distancing or masks.

There’s just one problem. None of that is true. But Trump said all those things. And his followers believed him. And the President and his political allies refused to implement policies to protect their citizens.

What The President Knew, and When The President Knew It

As I write this, 210,000 Americans have died of COVID-19 and the President is being treated for it at Walter Reed Military Medical Center.

But it didn’t have to happen. Three weeks ago Dr. Irwin Redlener, head of Columbia University’s Pandemic Resource and Response Initiative, estimated that if the nation had gone to national masking and lock-down one week earlier in March, and had maintained a constant masking and social distancing policy, 150,000 of fatalities could have been avoided.

Trump knew about the severity of the virus in February and March.

In taped discussions Trump told Washington Post Associate Editor Bob Woodward what he knew about how dangerous COVID-19 is:

  • It is spread in the air
  • You catch it by breathing it
  • Young people can get it
  • It is far deadlier than the flu
  • It’s easily transmissible
  • If you’re the wrong person and it gets you, your life is pretty much over. It rips you apart
  • It moves rapidly and viciously.
  • It is a plague

But he was telling the nation the opposite.

“Infodemic” of COVID-19

The Report Cover

President Trump likes to label anything he doesn’t agree with Fake News. But it turns out that he’s the largest disseminator of misinformation about Coronavirus.

Cornell University’s Alliance for Science analyzed 38 million pieces of content published in English worldwide between January 1 and May 26, 2020. It identified 1.1 million news articles that “disseminated, amplified or reported on misinformation related to the pandemic.”

On October 1, 2020 the Alliance published its report. It notes,

“These findings are of significant concern because if people are misled by unscientific and unsubstantiated claims about the disease, they may attempt harmful cures or be less likely to observe official guidance and thus risk spreading the virus.”

Its conclusion:

“One major finding is that media mentions of President Trump within the context of different misinformation topics made up 37% of the overall ‘misinformation conversation,’ much more than any other single topic.

The study concludes that Donald Trump was likely the largest driver of the COVID-19 misinformation ‘infodemic.’

In contrast only 16% of media mentions of misinformation were explicitly ‘fact-checking’ in nature, suggesting that a substantial quantity of misinformation reaches media consumers without being challenged or accompanied by factually accurate information.”

But Trump may be responsible for more than the 37% of the news stories that name him. The report says that

” a substantial proportion of other topics was also driven by the president’s comments [but did not explicitly name him], so some overlap can be expected.

Graphic from Cornell Alliance for Science Report

The most prevalent misinformation was about miracle cures. More than 295,000 stories mentioned some version of a miracle cure. (Note that the study looked only at stories that were published before the end of May, long before the president’s statements about a vaccine being ready by the end of October.)

The report notes that Trump prompted a surge of miracle cure stories when he spoke of using disinfectants internally and advocated taking hydroxychloroquine.

The second most prevalent topic, mentioned in nearly 50,000 stories, was that COVID had something to do with the “deep state.” The report notes,

“Mentions of conspiracies linked to alleged secret “new world orders” or ‘deep state’ government bodies existed throughout the time period and were referenced in passing in conversations that mentioned or listed widespread conspiracies. Indeed, President Trump joked about the US State Department being a ‘Deep State’ Department during a White House COVID press conference in March.”

The third most prevalent misinformation was about COVID-19 being a Democratic hoax, mentioned in more than 40,000 stories.

 

Human Consequences of Misinformation

The report closes with a warning: Misinformation has consequences:

“It is especially notable that while misinformation and conspiracy theories promulgated by ostensibly grassroots sources… do appear in our analysis in several of the topics, they contributed far less to the overall volume of misinformation than more powerful actors, in particular the US President.

In previous pandemics, such as the HIV/AIDS outbreak, misinformation and its effect on policy was estimated to have led to an additional 300,000 deaths in South Africa alone.

If similar or worse outcomes are to be avoided in the present COVID-19 pandemic, greater efforts will need to be made to combat the “infodemic” that is already substantially polluting the wider media discourse.”

In my book, I help engaged citizens, civic leaders, and public officials recognize dangerous language and then confront those who use it. I urge such citizens and leaders to hold those who use such language responsible for the consequences.

I wish President Trump a full and fast recovery. He and those closest to him have now been affected by their own denial of science. I hope that now he can start to model appropriate safe behavior.

But even as Trump is being treated in the hospital his campaign says it will stay the course, including an in-person rally for Vice President Mike Pence the day after the vice-presidential debate in several days. This is both irresponsible and dangerous.

I urge civic leaders, engaged citizens, and public officials, regardless of party, to stop having super-spreader events such as in-person rallies. And finally to begin modeling responsible behavior: Wear a mask, maintain social distancing. Masking and distancing are not political acts; they are a civic responsibility.