All of the nationalist priorities that carried Trump to victory would have made the country better prepared for the virus.
It’s March 2020. The coronavirus has started to arrive on American shores, but the country is as prepared as we could ever be.
State and municipal budgets have started to feel the strain of lockdowns and stepped-up services, but fortunately, a trillion-dollar infrastructure bill passed in Trump’s first year has alleviated the burden of crumbling public works, leaving them with more money to spare. Many projects, which are months or even years from completion, are keeping thousands of workers on the job (construction being considered essential work).
Instead of approving the importation of foreign-made prescription drugs from Canada, over the past two years the administration has made a deliberate effort to cultivate domestic drug manufacturing as part of a broader industrial strategy. Production will still take weeks to ramp up, but domestic producers finally have the capacity to respond to a crisis like this.
Millions of workers are facing layoffs, but three years of dramatic cutbacks to the H1-B visa program have meant the vast numbers of college-educated young people working in low-skilled service jobs have shifted to work that can be done remotely. A tighter labor market generally has resulted in higher wages and more money in Americans’ pockets, leaving them better able to handle lockdown-related hardship.
A full exit from Iraq and Afghanistan has also taken some of the pressure off the federal budget, with plenty to spend on activating reservists to help with the crisis at home, in the event that becomes necessary.
Trump’s young supporters have stepped in to help their neighbors with a coordinated effort led by Turning Point USA to deliver groceries and other necessities to the elderly and at-risk. “This country that has given us so much needs our help now. We’re young, and have less to fear from the virus, and today our fellow citizens need us. It’s time to step up,” Charlie Kirk told his network via Periscope.
Dare to dream, right?
Much has already been said about how the coronavirus is a crisis that seems tailor-made for the critics of globalization and free trade. But a similar point is also worth making: almost any policy priority that nationalists had hopes of seeing realized in a Trump administration, from infrastructure to returning manufacturing to immigration restriction, would have left our country better prepared for the unprecedented situation we now find ourselves in.
It’s true that Trump is being unfairly blamed for a lot of things related to the pandemic. His administration is accused of disbanding the NSC’s pandemic response team, but in fact only one person with no pandemic experience was fired. And to be sure most of his current critics have no interest in these kinds of nationalist policies. But it’s also true that the Trump administration’s focus on more conventional Republican priorities like corporate tax cuts and endless war in the Middle East seem even more mistaken in light of the current pandemic. Ordinary Americans are now paying the price for those compromises.
What’s past is past. Nobody saw this coming, and the important thing now is how we move forward. One hopes that Trump himself will continue to ignore the people in his White House who are leaking nastygrams about Peter Navarro to the Daily Beast. If ever there was a moment for Trump to double down on the set of issues that got him elected, this is it. Much depends on Steve Mnuchin, with the enormous discretionary power at his disposal for the corporate bailout portion of the coronavirus relief package. That funding should be granted in ways that make the country less vulnerable to global disruptions like this.
The political benefit is obvious: throughout the debates over pandemic relief it was generally Republicans, not Democrats, who were offering more generous support to working people, which is as it should be if Republican voters are trending downscale. As for support to corporations, right now Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer are sounding more like Chamber of Commerce press agents, begging Mnuchin not to attach too many strings to the airline bailout. Leaning into this dynamic will further split the Democratic Party, which is already struggling to accommodate its progressive wing. As they used to say about another Republican president, let Trump be Trump.
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