This holiday season, my family faces some hard questions: Should we visit siblings, parents, in-laws? Should we go to church on Christmas morning? Should I allow my children to spend time with their cousins? These are difficult times, and we are all presented with difficult choices between spending time with loved ones and doing what is safe and responsible.
I am a former U.S. Air Force officer. In one sense, this type of sacrifice is nothing new. I once had Thanksgiving dinner at a casino, and once spent Christmas morning on a far-flung island in the Pacific. My friends went to both nights of game 5 of the 2008 World Series, and the Phillies championship parade; I watched on television from officers’ quarters at Randolph Air Force Base. My country both gave and asked a lot of me, and missing special occasions with friends and family was part of the deal.
In another sense, however, this is new territory for me. When I was in the Air Force, my leaders never asked me to make a sacrifice that they weren’t making themselves. When I spent Christmas on Guam, thousands of miles away from my young family, my squadron commander was on Guam with me, also missing his family’s Christmas. The differences between those circumstances and this year are striking.
On the day before Thanksgiving, the mayor of Denver tweeted that people should refrain from seeing family because of the coronavirus. He did so from the airport, while waiting to board a flight to see family in Houston. Before that, the governor of California put extensive restrictions on restaurants and then took his wife on a date to an exclusive, dine-in event, in violation of his own rules. It recently came to light that in November, the mayor of Austin urged people not to travel over the holidays, from a timeshare in Mexico. Closer to home, Pennsylvania’s health director mandated that COVID-19 patients be sent to nursing homes — but only after she took her own mother out of a nursing home. The mayor of our fair city banned indoor seating at restaurants and then took his girlfriend to dinner in Maryland.
What we have in this country today is a systemic failure of leadership. Leaders at all levels demand sacrifices of the citizenry that they refuse to make themselves. One of the first lessons I learned as an Air Force officer was never to order my troops to do something that I was myself unwilling or afraid to do. In retrospect, this seems like a basic lesson. Yet somehow, at every level, our leaders have either forgotten this vital knowledge, or never learned it at all.
This holiday season, I and my family have much to be thankful for. This pandemic has been very hard on our country, our commonwealth, and our city. Despite the hardships that so many are suffering, I have not lost my job or my home, and I am fortunate enough to be able to provide a bountiful Christmas to my wife and children. Most importantly, none of my loved ones have been stricken by this terrible disease. The small sacrifice of missing out on spending time with extended family seems minuscule by comparison to the very real hardships that so many in our community are suffering. Nonetheless, it is evident that the sacrifices that our leaders have required of us have not been reciprocated.
The election is behind us, and this is not a political message. Given my experience as a military officer, I feel I truly understand that patriotism doesn’t depend on who sits in the seat of power. Politicians and political parties come and go, but deeper understandings abide. Whether you are a Democrat, Republican, Independent, Libertarian, Socialist, or none of the above, you are an American. And as such, you deserve leaders who are willing to lead. Leaders willing to stand in the trenches with you and to endure personally every privation that they ask of you.
This is neither a call to vote nor a call to action. This is merely a reminder: we — as Americans, as Pennsylvanians, and as Philadelphians — deserve better.
Micah Brown is a lawyer for an international law firm in Philadelphia, following seven years in the U.S. Air Force. He lives in South Philadelphia.