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Watching President Donald Trump in the White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing go through company after company and government project after government project fighting the pandemic, it hit me that we were seeing something America has done before. We are mobilizing as a people to win a war.
Vice President Mike Pence has been talking about an “all of America” effort to defeat COVID-19. Now we were beginning to see what all of America can do when it is mobilized.
Some of the mobilization leadership was government.
The U.S. Navy prepared its hospital ship for New York in three days instead of four weeks. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers helped set up a 1,200-bed hospital in the Javits Center in three days (it will soon be able to house nearly 3,000 beds). Four hospitals and four medical centers have been built in New York alone (at a speed that rivals or surpasses the Chinese effort in Wuhan). This required waiving a lot of normal regulatory inhibitions – which is not easy to do. The U.S. Air Force was flying in testing material from Italy and collaborating with FedEx and UPS to build an air bridge across the country to get medical supplies where they needed to be.
In the private sector, companies big and small have been joining the fight against COVID-19. My favorite may be Mike Lindell, the founder of MyPillow. His company had shifted three-fourths of its manufacturing capacity to producing cotton face masks for health care providers.
At the other end of scale, Abbott Laboratories, one of the great pharmaceutical companies, has come up with a five-minute, locally administered test for COVID-19. As Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn explained, this kind of device would normally take a year to approve. In the current war against the virus, it has been approved in a matter of weeks and would start testing on a grand scale (far more than in any other nation).
Faced with a crisis in testing, many companies have now joined the fray. In a month or so, the United States will be producing so many testing systems we will be able to share with troubled countries around the world.
As Americans watch the power of entrepreneurs and the private sector in meeting the production challenges, the faith in the classic American model of public-private collaboration will be driven.
The American mobilization in the war against COVID-19 is just like all the other great American mobilizations. It took two years for the Union Army to grow from a tiny group of soldiers to the multimillion-man force that would win the Civil War. It took two years to grow from the small army that could barely mount an expedition into northern Mexico into a three-million-man army, with over a million American troops in France, to help win the first World War. It took three years to grow from a small, underfunded and under-equipped military to the massive force that would win campaigns across the globe in World War II.
This ability to mobilize “all of America” came into play when the Soviets briefly won a propaganda victory by launching Sputnik, a 184-pound satellite that circled the earth for three weeks. The mobilized American response was putting Americans on the moon. There was no question which system was more successful.
The mobilization process includes cutting through an enormous amount of red tape. Building four hospitals and four medical centers, creating a 3,000-bed hospital at the Javits Center, finding a place to park a U.S. Navy hospital ship, all of these involved cutting through regulations and red tape.
One positive outcome of the fight against the virus could be the identification of hundreds of regulations that had to be waived in the crisis – and which probably should be repealed after the crisis. America could come out of this effort with a leaner, more effective and dynamic government (and a rejuvenated and recommitted private sector).
Furthermore, as Americans watch the power of entrepreneurs and the private sector in meeting the production challenges, the faith in the classic American model of public-private collaboration will be driven. The anti-business, anti-entrepreneur, anti-work bias of the radical democratic left will seem even more out of touch with reality.
Americans will realize that if the left had managed to cripple the pharmaceutical industry, tax into bankruptcy major American companies, and – through regulation and taxation – discouraged people from becoming entrepreneurs, America would have lost far more lives to the virus.
Finally, as the American mobilization gains momentum, our ability to help much of the world cope with the pandemic will grow, and our traditional role as the leader of a coalition of mutually concerned countries will re-emerge.
The Trump model of strengthening America so we can then help the world will once again have proven its worth.