March 3, 2024

for a corona czar

Today’s Events in Historical Perspective
America’s Longest-Running Column Founded 1932
Time for a corona czar
By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift
          WASHINGTON – If the country is at war, the president doesn’t lead the army and navy. We have generals and admirals who do that. We’re fighting a different kind of war with the novel coronavirus, and we have experts who know what to do. President Trump isn’t one of them. Neither is Vice President Pence.          Pence is a figurehead, put in place by Trump to take the blame if the administration fails to restrain the virus. He and others on the coronavirus task force spend too much time praising Trump for his courageous leadership to inspire confidence among the rest of us.
          It needs to be said that Trump is not qualified to lead the effort against this virus which is 10 times as lethal as the flu, and which spreads with an ease that has whole communities virtually on lockdown, threatening everyday life as we know it.
          To be fair, no president would have had the medical and scientific expertise it would take, which is why one of Trump’s major stumbles early on was to deny the need for a coronavirus czar if you will, someone who could cut through the bureaucratic red tape of government and coordinate an effective administration-wide response.
          President Obama had such a person when there was an Ebola outbreak in 2014 and 2015. His name was Ron Klain. He wasn’t a doctor, he was a lawyer and a trusted political advisor, and he didn’t seek the limelight. He put the medical experts out front and he stayed behind the scenes.
          Obama took a lot of heat, mostly from Republicans, for failing to ban flights from countries in Africa, where the outbreak originated. In the end, Ebola did not spread within the United States, and the administration helped African governments with containment. Klain was right and Obama listened.
          Trump likes to do everything the opposite of Obama. If Obama had a czar, he wouldn’t have one. If Obama put in place a whole global health apparatus within the National Security Council and at the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), then Trump would disband that apparatus, explaining he didn’t want thousands of government workers hanging around with nothing to do.
          When Trump was questioned about that obviously foolish decision, he said if those people were needed, he could get them back any time. That was when he was still pushing the idea that the original number – 15 people identified in the United States with the illness – would soon be zero.
          Trump’s focus is the stock market and its gyrations. But you can’t solve the financial crisis without fully addressing the health crisis that is at the core of the market jitters.
          Trump bought one day of calm on Wall Street when he floated the idea of a payroll tax cut. Investors liked the idea but Democrats and even some Republicans dismissed it as a stunt. It would increase an already huge deficit by 40 percent, and it wouldn’t address the economic needs of people most affected by coronavirus. Besides, since employers pay half of the Social Security tax for employees, corporations would have received another handout from Trump. However, this is not to say that the payroll tax – the largest and most regressive tax most Americans pay – should not disappear, but it should do so in a panned, financed, and equitable manner.
          Next Trump tried an expanded travel ban against countries in Europe sans the United Kingdom, where his buddy, Boris Johnson, is prime minister. That went over like a lead balloon, and by Thursday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi was driving the conversation about what Congress might be capable of passing.
          Without the payroll tax cut Trump wanted, he threated to veto the Democrats’ package of enhanced unemployment benefits, paid sick leave and more available food stamps if it came to his desk. Someone should tell the president that politics is the art of the possible, and that in a time of crisis, holding out for what he wants when he doesn’t have the votes is not a winning strategy. He is paid to delegate and supervise, not micromanage. It’s time for a corona czar.
          Douglas Cohn’s latest books are World War 4: Nine Scenarios (endorsed by seven flag officers) and The President’s First Year: The Only School for Presidents Is the Presidency.
          Twitter:  @douglas_cohn
          © 2020 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.
          Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

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