The politics of COVID-19: Fact and fiction - Part 1 - The realtor's staging disaster

by Ester Horowitz - 4 min. read - (reviewed 2020-08-13: 1840 PDT)

EDITOR NOTE: This is the first of a 4-part series that looks at politics and the COVID-19 pandemic. The importance of this topic is difficult to over-emphasize, as the pandemic has completely altered the manner and focus of the current presidential campaign in the USA, while at the same time revealing grave incompetence at the highest levels of our government.

“I have made the tough decisions, always with an eye toward the bottom line. Perhaps it’s time America was run like a business”. ~ Donald Trump1

Donald Trump - stable genius business man

Photo art - Tom Cloyd, 2020

Not long ago my boss introduced me to the concept called “The Lean Startup”.2 As someone with a business background who has over 30 years experience in the delivery of care or the insurance of it, I found this concept not only refreshing in its simplicity, but also an excellent tool to evaluate the current state of COVID-19 politics – The President vs The Experts.

First let me state from the outset that medicine is as much an art as it is based on scientific knowledge. It’s an ongoing process emerging from clinical experience and research. Its knowledge base continues to be upgraded and tested. Nothing is static or absolute about medicine.

Enter COVID-19 - an unknown entity with no history in which to understand how it will act, what it will do, or how it could morph. It intrigues me that the same can be said for a new startup idea or product whether introduced by a well-established company or an entrepreneur.

Testing assumptions under Lean Startup methods generally involves putting products and services into the market that have a viable usefulness. These are referred to as a “minimal viable product”. The market, rather than our prior assumptions, determines needs and wants. This method removes emotions as a driver of product features, relying instead on facts derived from experience.

The test time can be as little as a few weeks or months depending upon how product viability is measured. When COVID-19 spontaneously introduced itself, it became a natural product whose sustained viability had yet to be determined. To respond to this virus required empirical knowledge.

What Trump showed us he understood is documented by the following statements, before he declared COVID-19 a national emergency:

list of Trump statements about COVID-19

These statements represent the President’s assumptions and position on COVID-19.3

The Trump administration was notified of the warning signs about the US’s inability to respond to the pandemic’s threats as early as 2017. During the month of January 2020 several prominent experts expressed concern about the COVID-19 breakout hoping Trump would act. They include former Trump Homeland Security Advisor Tom Bossert, HHS Secretary Alex Azar, and Republican Senator Tom Cotton among them. According to Senator Chris Murphy in a February 5 Tweet, the administration was not taking it seriously - a sentiment echoed by many inside the administration and around the country.

The first reported case in China was 1 December 2019 in animals. The virus jumped to humans on or about December 31. The World Health Organization (WHO) officially named this infectious disease coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) on 12 February 2020. On 11 March 2020, the WHO characterized COVID-19 as a pandemic.

The first reported human case in China was January 7 with the first fatality on January 9. On January 21 cases were reported in Japan, Taiwan, Thailand, and the US. On January 22 cases were reported in Macau and South Korea. On January 23 cases were reported in Singapore, Hong Kong, and Vietnam. The first reported case in Europe was in France on January 24. By February 4 every continent in the world had reported cases.

On January 22 Trump noted that the US had everything under control and that the virus was limited to one person who came from China. However, Trump never considered the fact that travelers were coming in through international airports in other parts of the country from other parts of the world - most specifically to New York, after he banned travel from China to the US on February 2.

On March 11 President Trump banned all travel from 26 European Countries4 and on March 13, President Trump declared a national emergency.5 But it was too late.

COVID-19 was the minimal viable product that took on a life of its own making in that it was a complete unknown that morphed rapidly in three months. What would be deemed a successful product launch in business circles, due to an exponential growth, became, in this case, a disaster.

From the Lean Startup perspective, none of Trump’s assumptions were reality-based, which is to say there was no supporting evidence to suggest his approach was an effective course of action. He discounted expert recommendations made as far back as 2017, and he accompanied this with the defunding of many of the departments that would have been responsible for disaster preparedness.

The rapid spread of the disease warranted abandoning the course of action his assumptions required. With COVID-19 infections emerging worldwide, the assumptions made by WHO, the CDC, and experts prior to and during Trump’s administration were shown to be correct. The US medical and response system was caught flatfooted and unprepared affecting every corner of society.

In the business world, a CEO’s not taking heed of previously known historical facts, nor of active world events that directly impact the business, and then acting instead on assumptions as if they were fact, generally results in the catastrophic failure not just of an idea but of the entire business.

The US Economy responded with a stock market free fall. The foundation of Trump’s claim to a successful presidency and to creating the most robust economy with the lowest unemployment is now refuted by the worst economy in US history. Accompanying this is the largest number of deaths on home soil in the shortest period, coupled with a staggering number of people unemployed.

NEXT: Part 2 - A tale of we do not know what we do not know

  1. Brainy Quote. Retrieved 2020-08-01 from^

  2. Reis, E. (2011). The lean startup: How today’s entrepreneurs use continuous innovation to create radically successful businesses. New York: Random House. ^

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