Let’s begin with the horrifying picture we’re seeing across the country. The pandemic is positively exploding; Thursday saw more than 153,000 new cases identified, the highest total since the pandemic began. More than 66,000 people are currently hospitalized with the disease, and more than 1,000 daily deaths were recorded on eight of the first 12 days of November.
Across large areas of the country, hospitals are at full capacity and health-care workers are strained to their limits. In North Dakota, one of the hardest-hit states, things have gotten so bad that the state is allowing nurses who have the coronavirus to keep working if they’re asymptomatic.
And what is the federal government doing about it? Pretty much nothing.
Trump spent the last months of the campaign claiming that the virus was disappearing and members of the media were only talking about it to hurt his reelection chances. Now he sulks in the White House, watching TV and tweeting voter-fraud conspiracy theories.
“Aides say the president has shown little interest in the growing crisis even as new confirmed cases are skyrocketing,” reports the Associated Press. No one expects him to lift a finger to do anything about the pandemic in his remaining time in office, the appalling coda to what may be the most catastrophic failure of any president in American history.
President-elect Joe Biden has a plan to do the things the Trump administration has refused to do, but he won’t be president until more than two months from now. In the interim, there will be no federal response. The virus may ravage the White House itself, where mask-wearing is considered a sign of weakness, but the government follows the lead of the president, which means pretending that nothing is wrong.
Meanwhile, Senate Republicans can’t be bothered to pass a stimulus bill. After all, why at this point would they try to solve the country’s problems, if Biden might benefit from it politically?
Republicans are especially opposed to helping state and local governments, which are currently being hammered by the pandemic but have legal requirements to balance their budgets. That means brutal cutbacks just at the moment they need more money to get through this time.
If Republicans win one or both runoff elections in Georgia and keep the Senate, Biden will come asking them for a stimulus bill to address the pandemic. When he does, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) will give his trademark smirk, then slam the door. It will be the first step in a long march of determined opposition to anything and everything Biden wants to do.
Would McConnell do that even if he knew that people will suffer and die because of it? You bet he would. If there’s a fundamental principle guiding McConnell’s strategy of opposition, it’s that the president pays the price when things go wrong, so the better it is for congressional Republicans.
Yes, there are some things Biden will be able to do with the powers of the president as soon as he takes office. But his biggest challenge will be to get the entire country to come together in a common effort to do what’s necessary to arrest the spread of the virus.
If you think he’s going to get the cooperation of Republicans on that, guess what:
President-elect Joe Biden says he'll personally call red state governors and persuade them to impose mask mandates to slow down the coronavirus pandemic. Their early response: Don’t waste your time.Almost all of the 16 Republican governors who oppose statewide mask mandates are ready to reject Biden’s plea, they told POLITICO or declared in public statements — even as they impose new restrictions on businesses and limit the size of public gatherings to keep their health systems from getting swamped.
It isn’t just that they won’t go along; in these Republican states, standing up to Biden will become a badge of honor. I’m not going to knuckle under to Washington, trying to take away our freedom! And besides, he stole the election, so he isn’t even the legitimate president anyway!
So while some of these governors are gingerly trying to impose some new restrictions and convince their citizens to use common sense, once Biden takes office, measures to contain the pandemic could become even more politicized than they are now.
Republicans everywhere will be looking to show their anti-Biden bona fides, and the best way will be to reject whatever he asks us to do to stop the spread of the virus. Meanwhile, Fox News and conservative talk radio will shout that Biden is a usurper and a tyrant: Let’s show him the true spirit of America by having a party, packing the pews, going to a bar and telling anyone wearing a mask to just take it off.
The countries that have successfully contained the coronavirus managed it through a combination of swift and strong government action and a spirit of shared purpose. Up until now, we’ve had neither. We may, after a hellish next couple of months, get the former. But it looks like shared purpose will continue to evade us.