This leads to big achievements and to frightening problems. When President Trump, based on absolutely no data or analysis, explained on Tuesday that he wanted coronavirus health restrictions lifted by Easter because “I just thought it was a beautiful time” and because “Easter is a very special day,” he told us exactly what we needed to know: Even in the face of death and economic turmoil, there will never be anything serious about his presidency — except for the serious threat it poses to our collective well-being.
The real work in Washington was being done, first, on Capitol Hill. In the early-morning hours on Wednesday, senators across party lines agreed on a $2 trillion stimulus bill. It’s imperfect, and we’ll likely need more. But it’s far better than the original proposal by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
The opportunity for this authentic give-and-take was brought to life not by sermons about civility but by fear and sheer political power. All sides are petrified about the possibility of economic collapse. Democrats made good use of their control of the House of Representatives and McConnell’s need for Democratic Senate votes.
Thus, the final bill is more generous than the original draft to those in real need — in its unemployment insurance provisions and in providing the poorest Americans with the lump-sum payment from which they were originally excluded. The corporate bailout section has at least some accountability features, and significant sums will be spent to help our threatened hospital systems and state and local governments.
Of course, the proposal could have done more for the least advantaged — guarantee health insurance to everyone (isn’t that a logical policy goal in a pandemic?) and expand other forms of help to those most in need. And, yes, many progressives and libertarians will always have a healthy skepticism about government largesse toward big corporations. But the economy badly needs this record-breaking relief, and — while nothing is certain in life or in Congress — it looks likely to happen.
At the state level, New York’s Democratic Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is winning praise for his thoughtful, passionate and fact-based daily briefings and for trying to push Trump toward policies he should be pursuing anyway. Cuomo is the most public face of all the governors and mayors who have risen to the occasion, even if some “What? Me Worry?” state leaders — in Mississippi and Florida, for example — have been in denial over the virus’s threat.
And let’s note how right Cuomo was to praise doctors, health-care workers, police officers and firefighters, among others, who are “overcoming their fear . . . not for their family, they’re doing it for your family.” Yes, they are.
Which only sets Trump’s failures into sharper relief — his failure to take the crisis seriously at the outset, his failure to set up a comprehensive testing system, his failure to deploy the Defense Production Act to direct the private sector to produce the medical supplies and equipment we need and, above all, his failure to abandon his pettiness and self-involvement.
This is why Trump’s impulsive effort to start what amounts to a culture war over whether to lift health restrictions is so terrifying. As former treasury secretary Lawrence H. Summers argued in The Post, prematurely lifting restrictions could mean we “have to start the whole process over — and from a worse starting point.”
Trump doesn’t care, because he’s seeking an alibi for his own shortcomings. He’d love to say that our economic troubles are all the fault of public health experts. Arbitrarily calling for an end to social distancing policies (which he doesn’t control anyway) at “a beautiful time” on “a special day” got him exactly the headlines he wanted.
We do need a debate about how and when to transition back to a functioning economy — from “a big pause” to “a big restart,” as conservative economist James Pethokoukis put it. But that discussion needs to be informed by far more testing and by a genuine concern for our fellow Americans who are most vulnerable to the virus. We can pray that these deliberations will be led by the rational people in the functioning parts of government. They need to protect us from the reckless blame-shifter and excuse-maker in the White House.