Last Sunday morning, a friend wise in the ways of things both political and economic offered a thought. The next big decision for the White House, he said, would be how and when to get the country back to work. Otherwise, the economic damage from the coronavirus outbreak would be too deep and painful to bear.
Fortunately, President Trump already was thinking along those lines. Late that night, he tweeted in all caps that “WE CANNOT LET THE CURE BE WORSE THAN THE PROBLEM ITSELF” and promised to reassess the federal guidelines at the end of the established 15-day period.
By Tuesday, the idea had evolved into a plan, with Trump suddenly announcing a goal of an Easter resurrection for the economy, meaning April 12.
“I would love to have the country opened up and raring to go by Easter,” the president said during a remarkable Fox News virtual town hall from the Rose Garden.
“We have to put the country to work,” he said, adding that otherwise, the nation might end up “in a massive recession.”
Goldilocks liked her porridge “neither too hot nor too cold” and Trump aims to strike a similar commonsense balance.
He is not letting up on the federal restrictions or the mobilization of manpower and equipment, but he is telling a fearful and stricken nation that the end of their economic nightmare is in sight.
This strikes me as both prudent and optimistic, as long as the president is flexible and doesn’t insist on a one-size-fits-all approach for the entire country.
In any event, the compromise he proposes implies a trade-off that is more accurately described as triage.
That much was clear from the president’s comments on his extraordinary choice to issue the federal guidelines in the first place.
“It was one of the most difficult decisions I’ve ever made,” Trump said. “You’re basically turning off the country, something that’s never been done before.”
“I had to do it,” he added, but described the consequences as “very painful, very destabilizing.”
The guidelines, which called for social distancing, better hygiene and avoiding crowds, including in restaurants and bars, were the catalyst for a near-total shutdown of sports, travel and entertainment and led many businesses to close or have employees work from home.
On top of that, some states, including New York, imposed even tighter restrictions, closed schools and ordered all but essential workers to stay home. At last count, 22 states had mobilized the National Guard as part of the emergency.
The shutdowns have sent the economy and stock markets into a tailspin, but there is no sign they have stopped the spread of the coronavirus. Indeed, the daily posting of the sick-and-dead totals, combined with crashing markets and stratospheric job losses, are striking fear into every American heart.
Trump’s latest answer to the dilemma is effectively twofold. First, Easter is a goal, not a hard commitment for a start-up, which means he expects to at least extend the federal restrictions now in place beyond the initial 15 days. There had been doubts about even that, but he said Tuesday for the first time, “We’ll stay a little bit longer than that.”
Also, Easter would be nearly a month from the start of the guidelines, making it a unique experiment in national sacrifice and offering sufficient time to judge if there is real progress against the disease. Remember, the goal of the guidelines was to “slow the spread” so the medical community could catch up with testing, treatments and eventually, a vaccine.
Then, too, going back to work doesn’t mean going back to bad habits. As Trump said, “People can go back to work and still practice good judgment,” meaning extra hand-washing and keeping their distance from others.
In addition, Vice President Mike Pence added that the feds would always “defer” to states and cities that want to impose tighter restrictions. “State managed, federally supported” is how Pence put it.
The second part of the answer, however, is more complicated, and involves a minefield of emotions. Trump broached it by comparing the current pandemic to the annual deaths in this country from the flu and traffic accidents.
He said several times that the flu kills an average of 36,000 Americans annually, most of them elderly or others with compromised immune systems.
Health officials, for example, say as many as 30,000 have died from the flu in the 2019-20 season, which would be lower than 2017-2018 season, when 61,000 deaths were attributed to the flu virus.
Similarly, auto accidents also routinely claim more than 30,000 American lives each year.
We tolerate those horrific fatalities, Trump said, without shutting down the economy. The obvious implication is that it is impossible to eliminate the coronavirus, but we can contain it and get on with our lives, as we must.
That, too, is both realistic and necessary.
Trump’s comments about an Easter rebirth, along with reports that Congress is finally moving close to a deal on a $2 trillion stimulus package, led the stock markets to their best single day since 1933. All in all, then, Tuesday was a much brighter day than most.
Yet it’s far too soon to be confident that the road ahead will be smooth and that the nation is on a direct path to recovery. Much about the deadly scourge still remains unknown, and it is worth remembering how recently it came from China and how much it has shaken nearly the entire planet in less than two months. Other nasty surprises cannot be ruled out.
Against the upheaval, the old nostrums sound wise. Steady as she goes, be patient and take it one day at a time.
And pray for each other, our nation and its leaders so that America, too, will rise again.
Crime calls in sick
Alas, there is some good news.
From The Post: “Even Gotham’s criminals appear to be self-isolating amid coronavirus fears — crime dropped precipitously over the last week since schools and businesses were ordered closed and residents were asked to minimize time in public, NYPD data shows.
“Major felonies plummeted 17 percent between March 16 … and March 22, compared to the same period last year.”
A “gag” for Blas
Reader Marc Nusbaum has some ideas on what to do with Mayor Bill de Blasio. He writes:
“Can Gov Cuomo mandate that Mayor Putz is not allowed to be seen or talk about Coronavirus?
“The man is totally negative and says nothing to help the situation.
“Maybe we take up a collection and buy him a one-way ticket to Cuba!”
A bit of cheer
Never say the American people aren’t creative. The Wall Street Journal reports that virtual happy-hour events are taking place on Zoom, Facebook Live and FaceTime.
And you don’t have to share the peanuts.