President Trump on Monday told the nation that the cure for the coronavirus epidemic will not be “worse than the disease” and that ours is not a country that was “built to be shut down.” This is a step in the right direction, but the president could go so much further. Here is what he might have said—and should say—to the American people…
My fellow Americans:
Today I want to share with you my thoughts on how we are going to get ourselves out of the mess that the COVID-19 pandemic has wrought on us all.
So far, we as a people have done pretty much all that has been right and proper to do. We have closed our borders from traffic from countries where the virus rages. We have adopted stricter habits of personal and business hygiene. We have self-quarantined ourselves at the first signs of illness, quarantined persons who were already ill, and protected the elderly and infirm who are most vulnerable. There is nothing remarkable about such measures. They are what wise people have done to protect themselves from epidemics for hundreds of years. And we have done it so thoroughly that we basically have shut down our country at great cost to all of us.
Obviously, this can’t go on very long.
We elect presidents to provide leadership in difficult times. Today, I want to tell you how I intend to carry out my responsibility to get this country on its feet again, soon.
During the past two months, we have learned a lot about this virus. The more we learn, the more we realize that this is nothing like the Plague. Here in America, as we test more and more people for the virus, the percentage of those who die of it continues to drop. It is now near the 1 percent mark, and we can be confident that this figure will drop, approaching those of other similar viruses. The reason why we can be confident is that we have been testing mostly people who show symptoms. But a high percentage of those infected never do show any symptoms.
What does this mean? It means that the COVID-19 virus is a special danger only to the elderly and otherwise infirm. Younger, healthier people may manage its risk as we manage the risk from other respiratory ailments. That, in turn, means that the most effective way of fighting this virus’s effects is to focus on protecting the most vulnerable among us as the rest of us get back to normal lives.
We have also learned that we are not without medicines against this virus. It just so happens that a drug that has been in use for a generation in this country as well as abroad to treat malaria also happens to block the COVID virus from penetrating human cells. And, when it is used in combination with a common antibiotic, it has had a significant benefit for those affected. Good!
The combination of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin is not a silver bullet. But its availability means that those who are affected by the virus don’t just have to bear it. It would be nice if the Food and Drug Administration could move fast enough to put these drugs through their operational validation tests. But the more time the virus rages without medicines to treat it, the more people will die. This being a free country, doctors don’t need my permission or anyone else’s to use all available means to treat their patients as seems best. I am going to make sure that they have the means to do so.
In short, this virus is no plague, and we are not without medicines against it.
Unfortunately, during the past few weeks, we have also begun to learn how awful are the effects of shutting down the country. Although most people have behaved in the wise, generous, patriotic manner that has always made Americans the envy of the globe, some have dishonored themselves. By panicking they have made themselves ridiculous. I even saw an article in a major newspaper titled “Don’t panic is rotten advice.” Panic mongering must stop.
Worse, we have seen the real specter of a deep recession, maybe even of depression. Fact is, shutting down an economy is all too easy. Just look around. But once people are laid off, supply chains are interrupted or broken; once people get used to government payments to make up for work or enterprise, nobody really knows how to get it all going again. And anybody who tells you that they know how is lying.
One thing I do know, from long experience in business, confirmed by my short experience in government: Government money is the most narcotic of drugs, the most habit-forming of drugs. We, the American people, know that in our bones.
That is why, over the next week, I will concentrate on a plan for winding down the shutdown as fast as possible. During that week, I will keep an eye on the figures about infection and mortality, on the availability of equipment and medicines, and on how people are faring under the restrictions. My staff and I will speak with businesses large and small—primarily the latter, and get advice on the best ways of undoing the restrictions that we have imposed. For a long time to come, we are going to maintain health monitoring of everyone entering the country. But the emphasis will be on the future, and on bringing it about, fast.
I have been told, and I’m sure I will be told again, that I should just let the experts make the decisions. But no. When we elect presidents, or anybody else, we don’t do it so these elected officials can sit back and watch the government run on autopilot. We elect leaders to take responsibility. I am responsible. Like you when you are facing hard choices, I talk with as many experts as I can. But, like you, I make the decisions that are mine to make, and I take responsibility.
Ours is a federal system of government. The governors of the several states are elected, just as I am, to fulfill their responsibilities as they think best within the law. Many of the restrictions that have been imposed have been by the authority of the several governors. I hope that all will follow my lead. But I know that each will make his or her own judgment and that they will be responsible to the voters, just as I am. Their voters will judge them as they will judge me.
Thank God, in this country, the people have the last word.
My administration has worked out a package of measures to help individuals and businesses affected by the shutdown. We have done so in cooperation with leaders of the Democratic Party in the House and Senate. For the sake of enacting this package fast, in a bipartisan manner, we had accepted a number of items that we believe are not so wise. But, on Sunday, the Democratic Party decided to hold this relief measure hostage to its familiar political agenda. By now you all know their litany by heart.
Again, as they have done now for four years, they are calling me bad names. You know them by heart, too. That’s what they do.
I am not going to call anybody names. Nor am I going to waste time negotiating. This matter is serious and urgent. It demands to be resolved in a serious manner. That means roll-call votes that hold every elected official responsible. What a novelty!
The relief package is going to be brought up for a vote in the Senate. A substantive vote, yea or nay. No hiding behind procedures or negotiations. Everybody, Democrat and Republican will be on record. The same should happen in the House, if the Democrats even let the members vote. These days they have not. The voters will judge them, as they will judge me
My fellow Americans: over the coming week, you and I will focus on plans for ending this mess.
May God clear our minds and hearts and may God bless America.