When you have lived as long as I have, you have seen many crises come and go, including the Great Depression, World War II, the threat of nuclear war, urban riots, polio, flu and other epidemics, 9/11 and many more. The good news is that they do eventually pass. During President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first inaugural address, with the nation wrapped in the gloom and despair of the Great Depression and millions out of work, he famously said that the only thing we had to fear was fear itself.
He was right. We survived the Great Depression and grew stronger. We led the allies to victory in World War II and emerged as the world’s mightiest superpower and top economy. In every major crisis, we rallied around our elected leaders, put politics on the back burner and worked together, demonstrating that as a united people and nation, we could accomplish almost anything. We’ve always believed that the American spirit could overcome any adversity. That belief may soon be tested again.
We don’t know how serious the novel corona virus epidemic may finally turn out to be for us and as yet there is no vaccine. As I write this, the state of Washington has reported a death from the Covid-19 disease and has declared a state of emergency. The pharmaceutical industry is working against time to develop a vaccine. We are so often quick to criticize that industry for high drug prices but now we’re praying that they have the resources and the ability to find one soon. We can’t help but wonder what might become of that industry if, say, a President Bernie Sanders nationalized it as part of his health care reform.
Whether or not the corona virus causes an extensive major health crisis here, it has already created a major economic one. Hard-hit countries like China, South Korea and Japan have experienced serious economic damage affecting worldwide supply chains including ours. Tourism and business travel has slowed to a crawl. Business and the stock market hate uncertainty, so stocks took a beating, wiping out this year’s gains and some of last year’s, taking a toll on retirement accounts.
Uncertainty promotes fear and fear promotes overreaction, especially by politicians and the media. In this environment, governments at every level need to act responsibly and calmly to prepare for the worst, keep the public informed honestly but without drama and displays of self-importance. The media needs to focus on objective reporting of verified news on the epidemic, avoiding sensational, speculative predictions of disaster or politically-inspired accusations of incompetence that unnecessarily alarm the public. This is not one of those crises that you should never allow to go to waste, to paraphrase the words of Rahm Emanuel.
Politicians who seek to weaponize a health crisis like this for political purposes are despicable and become part of the problem. This is not a debatable issue like impeachment or trade policies that ordinary Americans are too busy to pay more than passing attention to. This is a threat to their health and that of their loved ones and perhaps their very lives, which they care very much about and are paying close attention to. They will have little patience for political squabbling and finger –pointing by their political leaders.
People will demand that their political leaders put politics aside and work together to find solutions. If they cannot offer constructive suggestions on the subject, at least they should support those who can or else keep quiet about something they probably know little or nothing about. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer need to lay off the reflexive criticism of the president and focus more on what resources Congress needs to provide to deal effectively with this crisis. This applies, as well, to those members of Congress who are campaigning for the Democrat presidential nomination and are so focused on beating and blaming Donald Trump that they are neglecting their congressional duties.