The President has just demonstrated strategic command of two ideas, combating the virus and preventing economic disaster, and is pursuing them in parallel.
His background as a successful leader of a large business gives him understanding of the complexity, interdependence and fragility of the economy. He knows that already some businesses will remain shuttered forever. More the longer we wait. Those businesses provide livelihoods not only to their owners, but also to their employees. Not all of them we see. While some are consumer-facing, others supply goods and services without which downstream production and retail can be brought to a halt and the food supply can suffer.
He described wide swaths of the country — the farm belt and many western states — far less impacted by the virus than the great international cities, media centers all, on the coasts.
The President wants the governors, including Virginia’s, to begin to open the economy in their states or parts of their states as soon medical data suggest it is relatively safe to do so. To wait for a declaration of absolute safety by scientists is to misunderstand the standards of scientists.
Fortunately, epidemiologists, while crucial and at his side, are not his only advisors. He spoke of not wanting the cure to be worse than the disease. He spoke of deep recession or perhaps depression as enemies that will kill Americans just as certainly and likely in greater numbers and over a longer period of time than the virus.
In the near term we will have treatments for the virus and then later a vaccine. The President, the Federal Reserve and Congress are working to treat the economy before it dies.
He knows he cannot order the loosening of the restrictions on business. He knows that in our federal system governors like Governor Ralph Northam have that power, not the president. The utility of federalism and state sovereignty, newly discovered or rediscovered by many Americans, will serve us well going forward. But he gave them cover, especially with his base, to move forward to restore the economy in their states or parts of their states when the time is right in those places.
In doing so he knows he will get criticism from those whose default position is disdain for his every action. He properly does not let it affect his decisions. Governor Northam must adopt the same philosophy. The Governor, a physician, has particular need to listen to advice from business and social-services experts about actions that strangle the economy.
Some of that criticism suggests he doesn’t care about the old and vulnerable. Some will levy the same charge against the Governor should he let, say, Southwest Virginia get back to normal before Northern Virginia.
I am writing this in my 75th year with a compromised respiratory system. All of my older friends and loved ones were born during or before WW II.
We know death, and we know that for us it is closer than it used to be. The combat veterans among us have had days and nights during which we did not think that a virus was the thing most likely to kill us. The least fortunate have buried one of their own children. Nearly all of us have buried our parents. We attend the funerals of our friends and loved ones more than happier celebrations.
We have reasonably well-tuned survival instincts or we would not be here. We will continue to take all of the precautions we can.
Most of all we love our families, most especially our children and theirs. We ask our leaders not to destroy their future in our name. None of us wants that to be our legacy.