It’s always something. The latest controversy surrounding President Trump’s handling of our health and economic crises was touched off when he speculated on whether restrictions on economic activity could be lifted by Easter, April 12. He said America “wasn’t built to be shut down,” and he wanted it “opened up and raring to go” by Easter, and “church pews full for the holiday.” His critics are saying he wants to lift restrictions on social and economic activity too soon. How justified are the current criticisms? What does the President really want to do? And what else should the President be doing?
Following the President’s initial remarks, his critics among public health officials and the media began charging President Trump with incomprehensibly gross irresponsibility. They have said that lifting current shelter-in-place restrictions as well as other restrictions which have sharply reduced economic activity would be premature, with possibly disastrous implications for both public health and the economy. The crisis has not peaked. The curve has not yet flattened. There remains a real danger that that our healthcare facilities and personnel may yet be overwhelmed. To remove restrictions now could well make even more people sick, steepen the curve, and collapse both the health care system and the economy as more and more people are driven into disease, unemployment, and debt. And while the President, under our system of federalism, may lack legal authority to compel the easing of restrictions, he can nonetheless try to bully state and local executives into doing his bidding, to disastrous results.
President Trump deserves partial blame for this latest controversy. His remarks seem to have been made with no discernable forethought or planning. He has not yet grasped the importance of words in general, or his in particular, in shaping public discourse.
Also deserving partial blame are some of the President’s more looney followers and cronies, including Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick and TV/radio commentator Glenn Beck, who’ve been saying that we should be willing to risk the lives of the elderly as the cost of reviving the economy as soon as possible.
Personally, I think that if Dan Patrick and Glenn Beck want to risk their own lives for the sake of the economy, they should be free to do so. If the worst happens, at least the average IQ of American conservatives will go up. But the fact that some of President Trump’s supporters are looneys doesn’t mean he believes their twaddle. Nor does the fact that he wants something to happen necessarily mean he’ll make it happen.
Lost in the uproar is the fact that President Trump, when asked how many people should be sacrificed for the sake of a revived economy, explicitly said “none.” And when asked whether he will actually push to reopen the economy before Easter, he said, “Our decision will be based on hard facts and data.” The media have not widely reported this, probably because to do so would undermine their narrative that the President is clueless and uncaring about anything other than his own re-election. One can find an article discussing his thinking in greater detail here: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/03/26/trump-understands-what-his-critics-dont-current-lockdown-is-unsustainable/?fbclid=IwAR1zfOjoNYyzZpv8SP5zMGaCXTdaJAjU3VL8HvHb1ULlOSfJo_kWTJ5WnEY.
Also lost in uproar reported are the ideas of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on reopening the economy, possibly because he’s showing more agreement with President Trump than either the Governor or the media care to admit. But Governor Cuomo, hailed for his leadership and touted as a possible replacement for Joe Biden at the head of the Democratic ticket this fall, has questioned his own decision about imposing quarantines or otherwise restricting everyone, citing the possibility that his actions may have made it easier for the young to infect the old. He’s suggested that the least vulnerable, as well as those who have already contracted and recovered from the virus, be encouraged to reenter the labor force. His comments can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dj0swS6faw4&feature=youtu.be&fbclid=IwAR25BglBqmNMIIrxCsGmXgCUVmpytEV1Uwr5-ZIOYOxbrzEEfgtfAzxb2mA
So what should President Trump really be doing, assuming that he plans to make decisions “based on hard facts and data,” without sacrificing anyone for the sake of the economy. Adopting Governor Cuomo’s strategy for getting New Yorkers back to work and the New York economy back on its feet is a good first step. But he should do more.
For example, the President should realize the truth and wisdom of the remarks of CNN and Washington Post commentator Fareed Zakaria, who’s argued that the economic crisis is the result of the healthcare crisis, and therefore the first priority—and the best way to handle the economic crisis—is to solve the healthcare crisis.
To that end, President Trump should use the Defense Procurement Act to commandeer all resources necessary to the recruitment of more health care personnel, and the procurement of more masks, ventilators, hospital beds, medicines, etc. with which to fight the pandemic. And he should authorize a Manhattan Project to find both a cure for those currently ill, and a vaccine to prevent future cases.
Moreover, the President, and basically everyone else, should study the policies of South Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore, which are apparently containing the pandemic with less loss of life and less economic disruption, and adapt, to the extent practicable, those policies to the American case.
And of course, we must keep in mind the millions of people being thrown out of work, once living paycheck to paycheck but with no more paychecks, as well as the small businesses and other employers hurt by the pandemic. How adequate will government aid be in tiding them over? More may well be needed. Perhaps if additional funding is needed, it might be redirected from some of the projects squirreled away in the two trillion dollar stimulus bill just passed by the Congress and soon to be signed by the President. In fact, taking a longer look at that bill—seeing what will generally be helpful to the American people and what is basically pork to win votes for the politicians who passed it– might make for a new column soon.
It’s asking too much for either the President or his critics to tone down their rhetoric or try to understand each other better. But if positive steps can be taken to alleviate both the health and the economic crises, these ongoing spats may, one hopes, fade into obscurity as we celebrate real progress, for a change, in fighting our afflictions.
Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present). He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014. He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club, and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.