Liz Peek: Coronavirus tipping point – Trump must balance these concerns to safely reopen the country

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With the NBA, Major League Baseball and even table tennis shut down, Monday Morning Quarterbacking is the sport du jour. Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren and so many others think they could manage the coronavirus pandemic better than President Trump, and they all have a plan to get us out of this mess.

Presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden (or someone) penned an editorial for the New York Times entitled “Joe Biden: My Plan to Safely Reopen America.” In it he offers novel advice such as “we have to get the number of new cases of the disease down significantly.” Also: “If I were president, I would convene top experts from the private sector, industry by industry, to come up with new ideas on how to operate more safely.”

If nothing else, it is conceivable that four years of a Joe Biden presidency could put the country into a stupor.

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As a candidate, Sen. Elizabeth Warren famously had a plan for everything, and she naturally has one, also outlined in the Times, on how “Congress Needs a Plan to Confront the Coronavirus.” Unlike Biden, Warren goes beyond pablum, pressing to expand the reach of government into every nook and cranny of private enterprise.

Warren wants the government to manufacture scarce goods (not just press private companies to do so), to prohibit debt collections from numerous types of borrowers, to increase Social Security benefits, to adopt an Essential Workers Bill of Rights, to police private sector pricing and on and on. Warren does not want to let this crisis go to waste.

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This is but one of many reasons that President Trump must quickly lay out a plan for reopening our economy. The longer we dither, the greater the impulse to adopt measures that will crimp our eventual recovery, and long-term growth.

That is not the only impetus to begin relaxing the social distancing rules now in place. As Trump has said, “We cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself.”

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Too many businesses are failing and too many workers are unemployed. Churches, museums and all kinds of other enterprises are suffering enormously. More importantly, our people are suffering, and not only from the disease.

Much has been written about how rising unemployment can lead to higher levels of depression, suicide and drug use. Though such outcomes are just becoming evident, with one expert confirming a rise in drug and alcohol relapses, polls show Americans increasingly feeling the strain.

Also, despite the excitement over the free-wheeling handouts coming from Congress, we know the country cannot be propped up indefinitely by the federal government. We have, as a nation, put our concerns about our debts and deficits on hold, but the trillions being spent to bolster businesses and workers will ultimately darken our already perilous fiscal future.

Finally, Americans will eventually rebel. In parts of the country not hard hit by the disease, many may decide they’re willing to take a chance, even if it means disobeying local rules.

President Trump carries an immense burden, keeping the country healthy and safe but also allowing some return to normalcy. 

That may be why Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has announced he will soon issue an executive order releasing businesses from the most severe restrictions, along “with strategies on how we can do this safely.”  Abbott knows Texans.

We are at a tipping point; Americans want to get back to their prior lives, and back to work. At the same time, the doctors advising President Trump caution that relaxing the safety measures in place could cause the disease to surge again. There is extraordinary tension between these two voices.

Skeptics, including many Trump supporters, have begun to question whether the White House medical advisers like Dr. Anthony Fauci have the president’s best interests at heart.

That is not helpful. Clearly, the social distancing recommended by Dr. Fauci, Dr. Deborah Birx and others is working; the curve is bending.

Fauci and Birx are like corporate lawyers; their job is to say no. They are not paid to advise on the economy. They are paid to squash this bug, and they can best do that by putting the entire nation in a deep freeze for the next 18 months.

President Trump has announced he will shortly form a panel to orchestrate bringing the economy back to life. That group will produce guidelines about how and when businesses can reopen and how to keep workers safe.

They will have to find a way not only to protect employees but also business owners; if a store invites customers in and three weeks later one of those shoppers gets sick, the owner cannot be held liable. If a production line starts up and a worker falls ill, he cannot hold that company responsible. Otherwise, no business will consider it safe to reopen.

Next week the White House will lay out a plan. There will be no rock concerts or SRO baseball stadiums anytime soon. But there can and will be restaurants that serve customers with strict limits on density, and shops that welcome a few buyers at a time.

Ideally, this gradual opening will be accompanied by more widespread testing or, better yet, a cure. Eventually, there will be a vaccine, though probably not before this time next year.

But we can’t wait until all those things are in place.

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President Trump carries an immense burden, keeping the country healthy and safe but also allowing some return to normalcy. No matter what, his critics will pounce. It is so much easier to Monday Morning Quarterback than to actually guide the ponderous and gigantic ship of state.

I do not envy him. The other day Trump said about the decision that may determine his political future: “I only hope to God that it’s the right decision.” So should we all.

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