The lights are flashing and the gates are down, but there is no train coming.
President Trump and Coronavirus
By: George Noga – April 7, 2020
Readers have asked for my thoughts about the coronavirus pandemic and President Trump’s handling of it. I am happy to oblige as I have time on my hands these days. I have tried hard to be objective, but I call the balls and strikes as I see them. Note: In a few weeks we will have two postings about the financial effect of the pandemic.
America’s response to the coronavirus pandemic is inherently political; this is altogether fitting and proper. We make our life and death decisions, including war and peace, through politics. Our politics also narrowly circumscribes the range of choices available to our political leaders, especially with an election in six months.
Any president, regardless of his politics, must observe certain protocols. He must seek advice from, and appear solicitous of the advice of, the foremost authorities: generals in time of war, economists in time of financial crisis and epidemiologists in time of pandemic. Yet, politicians always make the final decisions – not unelected generals, economists or doctors, who often have their own agendas.
Initially, political leaders must err on the side of caution; it is always better to overreact until the dimensions of a crisis are understood. We expect our leaders to communicate effectively; we want them to be honest but also to offer hope. We expect them to have situational awareness and to demonstrate leadership. Above all, they must deliver the goods (medical supplies) even if shortages are the fault of others. Finally, leaders must appear above politics – even if all the while they behave politically.
Our venomous politics dictates how certain media questions must be answered, such as “How many deaths are you prepared to accept to save the economy?” Trump has learned not to take the bait and he gave the only answer he could “None“, knowing full well it was disingenuous. Judges and juries routinely place a value on life. Each year Americans accept 34,000 influenza deaths, 38,000 traffic deaths and many from military actions. All of these could be mitigated, but we accept them because we value our lifestyle more than the attendant risks. Same with coronavirus.
President Trump’s Handling of the Crisis
Trump has handled the above protocols reasonably well as reflected by the 60% approval rating for his management of the crisis. On the negative side, Trump was slow at the outset, too loose with data, overly optimistic and far too braggadocious. Americans should know by now to judge Trump on his actions, not his words. And his actions – two in particular – get high marks. His early decision to ban travel from China (for which he was called racist and xenophobe) and later Europe was inspired. His coup de maitre however was the early and effective involvement of the private sector, something completely alien to his political opponents and to other world leaders.
Heroes and Goats
Crises reveal heroes and goats. Despite some early missteps, Drs. Fauci and Birx likely are in the running for person-of-the-year honors. Mike Pence has performed at a high level. Governors Andrew Cuomo and Gavin Newsom have behaved admirably. The private sector companies that stepped up to help qualify as heroes. The American people have responded valiantly, particularly the pharmaceutical industry, the medical community and all those who keep the supply chain moving. Thank you!
There are many goats led by Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, who treat the pandemic like a gigantic political smorgasbord. Joe Biden, carping from his Delaware basement, is negative and incoherent; the lights are flashing and the gates are down but there is no train coming. Governors Inslee of Washington and Whitmer of Michigan are goats. The mainstream media have behaved shamefully and disgracefully but it is communist China that occupies the ninth circle of hell – for treachery.
Next on April 12th, we resume our series observing the 50th anniversary of Earth Day.
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