Stephen Gottlieb: What Is Mr. Trump Accomplishing? | WAMC

Stephen Gottlieb: What Is Mr. Trump Accomplishing?

Apr 7, 2020

President Trump insists on painting a rosy picture. He’s great. He’s solved every problem. We were the first to stop people coming from China. We have great tests. And medical professionals have all they need.  Things are so good that America will be going to church for Easter. And it would be a shame not to have sports to watch.

That’s a happy picture. The risk is that people will abandon fears and get together without worrying about social distance or washing their hands, avoiding groups or contact. Cabin fever isn’t fun. It takes character to stay at home and find ways of getting needed supplies without going into grocery and drug stores and other places that have what we might need.

When I have to leave my home in Albany, I see friends staying six feet apart, chatting, obviously enjoying each other, but without ever getting close. People give me a wide berth or I give them one. Yes, occasionally a friend or neighbor and I will talk across the lawn, hedge, or drive, but we stay much further apart than we ever would were it not for the virus. And by the way my neighbors are angels, offering to shop for us, given that the difference in our ages means they are probably less vulnerable to the virus than we are. For the most part, we’ve found ways of getting what we need without exposing ourselves to the virus. And I also want our neighbors to be able to do the same and avoid any place where they could pick it up.

We check with folks in New York City. They tell us that people there also give each other a wide berth when they need to leave the house. Some are lucky enough to have a yard, balcony or somewhere they and their families can get fresh air and stretch their legs without contact with others, risking their health or becoming carriers for anyone else. But otherwise, there too, they’re staying home. And yes, the kids can’t go to school and everyone’s working from home.

So thanks to Governor Cuomo for making clear what needs to happen and laying down rules to see that it does. We have our differences on some issues but he is doing his level best to take care of New Yorkers. It’s not about how great he is and how he’s thwarted the virus, but about what we all need to do.

Not Trump. At least until recently, he didn’t bother to keep a social distance in his daily prime-time campaign appearances. He boasted about his good health and how he didn’t need to follow the rules. And he doesn’t fret about the people who will follow his example.

So the question is whether it will make a difference? It could make a big one. His loyal followers could suffer the virus disproportionately. That will give the virus a second life wherever people ignored the rules, and then contact will bring it back all over the country. This time we won’t have the Chinese to blame. He’s turned the Governor down on respirators, refusing to accept the professionals’ understanding that the way to fight this disease is to kill it wherever it is, before it spreads and gets to the rest of us. Is he trying to play politics with who is vulnerable to the illness? Or is he leading his own supporters along with the rest of us into the hell of coronavirus pneumonia?

I realize that the president, and some representatives, do not want to recognize that where health is concerned, we are all in this together and no one is an island. But nature will make it clear. We have to help each other or perish together.

Steve Gottlieb’s latest book is Unfit for Democracy: The Roberts Court and The Breakdown of American Politics. He is the Jay and Ruth Caplan Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Albany Law School, served on the New York Civil Liberties Union board, on the New York Advisory Committee to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, and as a US Peace Corps Volunteer in Iran.

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