Every morning around 11 a.m., I feel momentarily better. That man who appears on my television screen is calm; measured; blunt where he needs to be; full of factual updates.
Not that it’s good news he’s peddling. Tuesday morning, as I write these words, he announced that “we have some new facts… changes in circumstances that are not encouraging.” The rate of increase has sped up. That means, he explained clearly, more seriously sick people, which means more hospital beds are needed, and medical staff and equipment and protective gear, and that the apex is coming sooner than we thought—in 14 days, “so if the ventilators aren’t there when needed, it’s no good.” Only the federal government can provide those, from an existing stockpile.
That’s all horrible news, but all delivered in a way we would expect a leader to speak—it’s just a shame that that man is not the president. It’s Andrew Cuomo. However you feel about the pre-virus Andrew, he’s been what we’ve needed during this crisis. He has behaved the way a president ought to behave. And hardly a syllable of his presentations is about himself.
Remember his father's famous phrase, that one campaigned in poetry and governed in prose? At his best in these briefings, Andrew does both. The prose is in the statistics and information. The poetry came toward the end, in his powerful soliloquy in which he asked people to imagine the lives of his state's nurses, kissing their children goodbye in the morning, heading off to their dangerous work, coming home to those children. It was beautiful, with a civic and moral weight that we all need right now.
Meanwhile, the president we have is a weak and tragic bundle of childish impulses. He’s jealous of Anthony Fauci. He’s mad at medical experts, and he has made them afraid to offer in his presence information that is factually true and that Americans need to know (think about that). He feels cooped up, poor thing; can’t golf, which really means he is denied one of his regular opportunities to lie and cheat and get away with it (“great round, sir!”). His own golf resorts are closed, which no doubt is of greater import to him than the public health stats. No Mar-a-Lago means no bootlickers fawning over his very stable genius while he ketchups his well-done steak. And he misses his racist and demagogic rallies, misses the adulation. He’s bored.
Most of all, he thinks an economic collapse is going to hurt his reelection chances. So, while the cases in this country are still growing exponentially and New York races toward an apex, the first in a series of waves that will crash over different American regions; while several thousand Americans are contracting this disease every day; while nearly every medical expert and epidemiologist is warning that the worst is still ahead, and while his administration still hasn’t done anything concrete that we can see to speed the manufacture and delivery of test kits and masks and ventilators, he’s going to send Americans back to work.
It’s a recipe for catastrophe. As Joe Scarborough was saying Tuesday morning, it’s not even in Trump’s political self-interest, if he could see beyond the next 15 minutes. His own political fortunes will stabilize and improve when a) the virus is contained, b) the economy rebounds, and c) he gets the credit for having led the nation to do this right. But all that happens over months. Trump can’t think in months. He can’t even hold a thought for the 15 days he said we need to stop the spread.
Cuomo right now is the closest thing we have to a leader talking and acting like a president, so it’s up to Cuomo to save us from Gauleiter Trump. Is “Gauleiter” too loaded a word? It’s associated with the Nazis. But it also has a more generic meaning—an overbearing and officious administrator, and one who is usually wrong. It’s a term of general contempt, in this case quite richly deserved.
Assuming Trump ends his guidelines on social distancing next Monday, America needs Cuomo, and our other more sensible governors, to defy the president of the United States. To say, “No, Mr. President; we’re just now getting a handle on this. We have not flattened the curve. But we now are just beginning to see the possibility that we might. We’ve just closed nonessential businesses. Some of us have issued stay-at-home orders. The healthcare and hospital systems in our states are our responsibility, and we see disaster ahead if we overwhelm them. So we say to the residents of our state, don’t listen to the president of the United States. Our orders are still in effect and will stay in effect.”
It’s clearly the right thing to do. It will save lives. And it would be just great if they did it in a dramatic and theatrical fashion. En masse. Cuomo and Gavin Newsom and Ned Lamont and J.B. Pritzker and other governors saying the same thing at the same time.
And it’d be even better if some Republican governors join them. According to this Wall Street Journal list, only a few GOP governors have issued directives: Mike DeWine of Ohio most notably, along with Larry Hogan of Maryland, Charlie Baker of Massachusetts, Jim Justice of West Virginia, and Eric Holcomb of Indiana. Texas’ Greg Abbott and Florida’s Ron DeSantis have issued more limited orders about social gatherings.
DeWine could have a particular impact here. He runs an important state (and a state where, incidentally, the last poll before all this madness hit had it Biden 49, Trump 45). He’s made responsible decisions. And he has to know that this is so much more important than politics.
Trump and the Republicans, as my colleague Matt Lewis posted here, are “willing to sacrifice lives” to save the economy and his reelection chances. If Trump rescinds his order, and people (including those in red states where lots of people still think this whole thing is a Democrat hoax) start going back to work and mixing again, and the rate of contraction explodes and our hospital systems are overwhelmed, what will he say then?
We know what he’ll say. It’s not his responsibility. People made their own choices. Old people, well, they die. It’s under control. Very under control. I’ve handled this great. I think I listen to the experts, but it’s interesting, everyone is saying that the experts are listening to me, too. And it’s working out very well. Very well. The fake news just won’t report the truth.
Just while I was writing these words, The Washington Post reported that the World Health Organization now says the United States is on its way to becoming the new global epicenter of the crisis. That’s the United States of America, where once science was venerated and presidents did things like John Kennedy did in 1962, when he signed the Vaccination Assistance Act, creating and funding our country’s first-ever nationwide immunization program, which produced amazing results over the course of that decade and beyond.
But of course, that was done by the evil government. And it required tax money. And it depended on evidence. Three things Trump and the Republican Party despise. They used to be just a joke. Now they are killing people.