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Assault on America, Day 469: Trump’s resolve to reopen the country comes with (some) risk

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Among the many memorable scenes from the 1997 movie hit “Titanic” was near the end of the story when the film’s two stars, Rose (played by Kate Winslet) and Jack (memorably portrayed by a very young-looking Leonardo DiCaprio) clung to the metal barrier at the stern of the ship, their perch being the very last part of the doomed ocean liner to submerge in the dramatic sinking sequence.

As though he possessed some special knowledge that couldn’t otherwise be ascertained simply by watching the steady progress of the rising (to those still afloat) water, Jack tells Rose to wait until just the right moment to let go of the railing. “The ship is going to suck us down! Take a deep breath when I say! Kick to the surface and keep kicking! Do not let go of my hand! We’re going to make it, Rose! Trust me! (She says, ‘I trust you.’) Ready? Right! Now!”

The descending Titanic does indeed suck them under as the camera shows the ship slowly disappearing from view forever. After a moment or two of watery confusion (and frantic kicking!) the two lovers breach the surface separated amid the absolute pandemonium of passengers hopelessly and aimlessly flailing in freezing water, but they locate each other. Jack secures a floating door (by punching another would-be claimant) that would hold only one person and gives it up to save Rose’s life. What chivalry!

Everyone knows what happens from that point on. The cinematic depiction of one of history’s most vivid and documented tragedies is still a favorite of movie buffs today. At the crucial snapshot in time, Jack knew just the right instant to abandon ship and also found a way to ensure one of them would survive and go on.

Many Americans are experiencing a similar “sinking” feeling these days, a helpless sensation caused by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) coronavirus. Experts predict tens of thousands will eventually succumb from infection and statistics show tens of millions more will suffer from the catastrophic damage done to the domestic economy as we watch the disaster unfold from the comfort of our own homes.

For now the question is when is the “right” time to declare victory over the contagion and send people back out into society to socially mix, buy stuff and perhaps take in a ballgame or movie or two? President Donald Trump plays the part of potential hero in this scenario, the equivalent of Jack Dawson protecting Rose from the throes of death. Like with our contemporary victims, the Titanic sank through no fault of its passengers. It just happened (or you could say it was the captain’s fault… an iceberg?).

Trump’s presidency will largely rest on making the right verdict as to when to allow Americans to try and resume “normal” lives. It won’t be an easy one. And if it turns out to be the wrong call -- and the virus returns with a vengeance to kill tens of thousands more -- then Trump’s tenure might conclude as a tragic political story. He could be tossed onto the pile of failed presidents most notably anchored by James Buchanan and Herbert Hoover and Jimmy Carter. The wrong moment could mean everything.

Patrick J. Buchanan wrote at The American Conservative, “Trump’s true adversary in this election is not Joe Biden, the hermit candidate sheltering in place. Biden is but a name on the November ballot you mark if you want to remove and replace Donald Trump.

“Trump’s real antagonists are the media who detest him and are determined, having failed to impeach and remove him, to drive him from office by portraying him as a foolish, failed president in the worst crisis to hit the country since Pearl Harbor. The crucial decision Trump will make is to choose the exact moment to reopen the country and the economy, without igniting a new spike in the pandemic that induces despair and causes a panic...

“Six weeks ago, Trump was boasting, and justifiably so, of having the greatest economy of any president in recent memory. Now, the possibility exists that he could go into the fall election with the worst economy since Hoover and the Great Depression of 1932. Trump’s decision, which will determine the fate of his presidency, is likely close at hand.”

It is indeed close at hand because something’s got to give. Comparisons between now and the Great Depression aren’t perfectly on point, however, since there was no common rallying purpose to combat the fragile economic conditions the populace experienced back then. It’s far too simple to state, but the world is different now than it was ninety years ago.

Unlike the late 1920’s and 30’s, the enemy now has a “face” to help people focus their negative energy. The COVID-19 virus is an equal opportunity antagonist. It affects the young and the old, though statistically speaking, those at gravest risk are the elderly and persons with preexisting health conditions. Younger Americans recognize they have a duty not to spread the deadly illness to the most susceptible. In an odd sort of way, it’s unifying.

Don’t believe it? Go for a walk outside and you’ll note a remarkable transformation from just two months ago. Strangers greet each other. Smiles are exchanged. Empathy is advanced. Neighbors volunteer to help neighbors again. Like with the shortages in World War II, people bond together in mass deprivation (of freedom). Whatever the government does is separate from what’s taking place closest to home. While many of us are sequestered in a strange type of home confinement, we all look forward to the moment when it’s “safe” to be ourselves again.

The other “enemy” is China’s communist leaders (again, not the people themselves who are abused under the totalitarian system). This isn’t a hard one. China lied to the world, hoarded supplies, cheated competitors into capitulation and now there’s a huge target on the country that won’t be removed with any vaccine or antidote. Industries that were already on the road to being repatriated will step up their efforts to do so. More importantly, the American citizenry has “got woke” to the dire urgency of doing whatever it takes to sustain ourselves in times of crisis.

The Great Depression offered none of these same types of commonality. Recognizable adversaries arose in the thirties and worldwide war broke out towards the end of the decade. FDR’s New Deal didn’t bring the United States out of its economic coma. World War II did. Millions of Americans volunteered to fight the foes on several continents, and the ones left at home made their own sacrifices.

And yes, much will depend on what date Trump chooses to lift the federal guidelines. But he alone isn’t solely responsible for the potential ill side-effects. The president has repeatedly defended his position of allowing governors and local officials to make their own determinations as to when the proper moment should be. As any good president should, Trump adheres to limits on his own power. As has been revealed by the sheer number of inaccurate predictions (on deaths, hospitalizations, etc.) the scientific experts don’t have all the answers either.

Should something go miraculously wrong, “blame” would be distributed accordingly. People aren’t dumb; they realize the magnitude of the challenge involved with battling a health pandemic. The problem is everywhere and nowhere at the same time. The coronavirus doesn’t have a capitol and there isn’t a flag to capture or a general to imprison. We can’t muster the military to mount an offensive and retake territory.

The ultimate consequences from decisions made today won’t show up for months or years. Congress and the president are tossing out dollar figures heretofore believed unfathomable in “normal” times. At the same token, Americans are more worried about temporal matters -- like staying healthy -- than they are about appropriating more billions and trillions.

Besides, are Americans ready to return to the practices of the past? Last week ESPN featured a poll that found 72 percent of those surveyed (762 respondents by Seton Hall University’s Stillman School of Business) would not attend if sporting events resumed without a vaccine for coronavirus (60 percent said they wouldn’t go at all, 12 percent said they’d go if there was proper social distancing). It’s an amazing statistic. It’s going to take time for citizens to get used to the idea of going out in public and mingling with strangers again.

The great political debates stemming from today’s spending and overspending are coming -- someday. Trump may or may not be part of those conversations. But from a 2020 election perspective, these considerations seem light years away. It’s tempting to get wrapped up in the negativity emanating from the establishment media, but the talkers and journalists in New York and Washington aren’t representative of the feelings of the people.

I agree with Buchanan’s point that Joe Biden is irrelevant in the upcoming election and that Americans will either be voting to retain or remove the current president. Trump will most certainly be evaluated on his success or failure as a “wartime” leader. But he’s got one (or many) tremendous advantage: the power of our country’s private industry to fashion solutions that wouldn’t otherwise be possible.

When is the right moment? It’s not clear anyone knows for sure. But Trump will choose it -- and circumstances strongly imply it will be correct. He also will have assistance in selecting the proper date. Brett Samuels reported at The Hill, “President Trump … confirmed he plans to convene a new council of business and medical leaders intended to guide his administration toward reopening the U.S. economy.

“Trump teased the new group at a White House news briefing, saying he would dub it the ‘Opening Our Country Council.’ The members would be announced [this week], he said, saying the group's focus would be ‘beyond economic.’…

“Trump suggested the group would be bipartisan and be diverse in terms of geography because of the way the coronavirus has impacted certain parts of the country differently.”

It goes without saying that this crisis is unique in history simply from the standpoint that much of the decision-making is occurring right before our captivated eyes. Trump has taken a lot of heat for conducting lengthy daily briefings with multiple speakers and no discernible time limit, but people still watch.

Whereas Trump’s critics have often accused him of keeping a council of one, the coronavirus spectacle demonstrated that if anything, he listens to too many opinions. The president has kept the process very open and even takes regular questions from the likes of CNN’s Jim Acosta. And while he answers the majority of the queries himself, the “experts” speak more than their share.

In essence, there are many folks contributing to the “when to reopen?” conundrum. No one person has all the answers. The experts have data and charts. Political consultants talk about the possible outcomes for this year’s elections. Financial numbers crunchers add their input. And the American people themselves vote with their personal behaviors.

“Titanic’s” Jack Dawson relied on instinct when the moment (the ship sinking) arrived. He had no choice. Does Trump feel similar anxiety to act?

The coronavirus panic has presented a wealth of challenges no one could’ve anticipated just two months ago. With much of the United States (and the world) shut down to try and contain the spread, the largest issue remaining is the proper time to return society to normal. President Trump will decide. Is there an incorrect answer?

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