What President Trump says should not be taken seriously. Period. He long ago lost that right, but his suggestion on Thursday that taking a “disinfectant . . . by injection” might be a way to fight the coronavirus virus should be the last straw for everyone.
Underscoring the reality that Trump is a clear and present danger to public health, the Food and Drug Administration issued a warning on Friday that taking chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine — the drugs Trump and his Fox News friends promoted relentlessly for weeks as a magical cure for covid-19 — could cause “serious poisoning and death” taken outside a hospital or formal clinical trial. The only reason an agency of the government that Trump theoretically leads had to do this was Trump’s demented recklessness.
Let’s turn the corner this week.
First, as hard as it might be, the media needs to put the equivalent of a consumer warning on all coverage of Trump, who spent part of his Sunday afternoon rage-tweeting against the press. He has squandered the privilege of being covered as a normal president would, and both the tone and the content of mainstream reporting must change to reflect this. It would make this easier if Republicans decided they do not want to be the party of Clorox chewables. Will they finally disown Trump in large numbers? Don’t bet your next load of laundry.
Second, let’s have a bipartisan coalition of responsible governors pick one of their own to lead a daily briefing aimed at the whole country. Many governors already make regular reports to their respective states, of course, and New York’s Gov. Andrew Cuomo has played a de facto role as a spokesman with effective news conferences well-timed for East Coast media.
But individual governors often and understandably hedge what they say for fear of retaliation by Trump, who treats them the same way he treated Ukraine’s president. He is, once again, holding Washington’s assistance hostage to his own selfish interests.
Workers realized long ago that speaking and bargaining collectively gave them power they didn’t have as individuals. Governors trying to act sensibly should learn the same lesson. Acting together, they could be far more fearless in calling out Trump’s failures, and more demanding when it comes to what their citizens need from Washington.
With his hands full in New York, Cuomo will continue his own briefings. But other governors could rotate the job of being the daily embodiment of practical ideas and thoughtful leadership.
Americans across the country need to hear more from Republican governors such as Maryland’s Larry Hogan, Ohio’s Mike DeWine and Massachusetts’s Charlie Baker. And let Western and Midwestern Democratic governors become larger national voices, among them California’s Gavin Newsom, Oregon’s Kate Brown, Washington’s Jay Inslee, Colorado’s Jared Polis, Michigan’s Gretchen Whitmer and Illinois’s J.B. Pritzker. Others could join. Each day, one of them should be empowered by their colleagues to speak for the group. They should do this even if Trump — no doubt influenced by the backlash against his Disinfectant Delirium — follows through on his Saturday evening tweet suggesting he might end his daily follies.
Third, Congress should face the fact that it may get only one more shot at a big relief bill. This one needs to include the essentials but is also the opportunity to consider a more far-reaching approach to mitigation and recovery.
These essentials include large-scale assistance to state and local governments, food stamp increases, a U.S. Postal Service rescue and a plan to get health coverage to everyone for at least the duration of the pandemic. Other must-haves: Whatever additional money is needed for an effective national testing program and to give every American the option to vote by mail in November.
But rapidly mounting unemployment makes proposals for direct federal funding of company payrolls, up to certain limits, more attractive than ever. Paycheck guarantees of this sort have been put into effect in Denmark, Germany and Britain. Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, about as moderate and pro-capitalist a Democrat as you’ll find, has offered a bill along these lines with the unlikely trio of Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Doug Jones (D-Ala.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.). Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) has been pushing his own version of the idea, as has Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.). It’s a big concept, and it wouldn’t be cheap. But it may well be simpler to administer and execute than the helter-skelter business rescue programs now in place.
A reader might point out that all three of these ideas would shift as much influence and responsibility away from Trump as possible. Such a reader would be very perceptive.