President Donald Trump is playing both sides on the issue of whether to lift stay-at-home restrictions. He is likely to cause untold damage to the effort to control the coronavirus as a result of his duplicity. It is unconscionable for the president of the United States to use his office in this way for raw political gain.
Two weeks ago, I wrote of Trump’s strategy to set up the nation’s governors to take the fall for his monumental mishandling of the coronavirus response. When the financial markets crashed on March 14, he finally woke up to the fact that he had a raging crisis on his hands, which could not be blown off by fast talk. He started claiming that it was a problem for the state governors to deal with. Since then, he has doubled down on the strategy, painting the federal government as a mere cheerleader, there to offer advice to the governors from the sidelines.
The federal government has the power, the funding capacity and the responsibility to organize and lead a national effort to combat this serious national threat. Trump has flat failed to do so. The states do not have the resources to get the testing supplies and protective equipment they need to fight the virus, let alone to safely reopen the country. The federal government has failed to do its job and is guilty of a dereliction of duty.
All of the medical experts say that the key to opening up the country, without risking a second wave of the virus, is to do testing and tracing. Yet, in the absence of a national strategy, the governors are each running their own recovery show. It is a recipe for disaster because the virus does not recognize state borders. Trump will not implement a national testing strategy because he does not want to acknowledge the federal government’s central role in fighting the pandemic.
At the same time that Trump is shirking his responsibility to protect the country, he has been giving aid and comfort to those who want to precipitously open up for business as usual without adequate testing and tracing safeguards in place. Since April 17, Trump’s campaign helpers and Fox News enablers have been railing against the official guidelines that Trump adopted on April 16 for opening up the country. The reasonable governors are in a box because, without the help they need from Trump, they are not in a position to fully relax social distancing restrictions.
Our president is working both sides of the fence and hoping nobody will notice. Many governors are desperate to safely open up their states, but they can’t do it because Trump claims it is not his responsibility to provide the supplies. Having stymied the governors’ efforts to open up, the president then panders for the votes of those who are desperate to open up at any cost. Either way, the responsible governors lose under Trump’s strategy.
Everyone wants to open up as soon as possible, but it must be done safely. If we try to get back to business too soon, it will only prolong the national agony. Trump significantly increased the economic and medical devastation of the pandemic by failing to act until it was too late. Now, he risks additional unnecessary damage to public health and safety by cheerleading the clamor to open up too soon and in contravention of his own guidelines. It is a dangerous double game.
Jim Jones served as an Army artillery officer in Vietnam from 1968 to 1969 and received an Army Commendation Medal for his work with an orphanage there. He served for eight years as Idaho Attorney General and was a justice on the Idaho Supreme Court for 12 years. He currently resides in Boise.