President Donald Trump exits Air Force One as he arrives at Tulsa International Airport on Saturday, June 20, 2020, in Tulsa, Okla. Despite COVID concerns, Trump rallied again in Arizona Wednesday. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) Donald Trump
President Donald Trump exits Air Force One as he arrives at Tulsa International Airport on Saturday, June 20, 2020, in Tulsa, Okla. Despite COVID concerns, Trump rallied again in Arizona Wednesday. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

How electioneering Trumped leadership in the age of coronavirus.

When coronavirus is a memory, we won’t applaud our state and federal lawmakers for their crisis management. 

At a time when hospitalizations surged and the country and state began what appears to be a grueling descent into COVID-19’s second wave, it’s more likely we’ll remember the way so many dithered away the hours running for re-election.

They plotted ill-advised campaign rallies, as President Trump did in Arizona this week, drawing thousands to a mass gathering against medical experts’ best advice. Trump drew his followers to a state that, like North Carolina, burns anew with the coronavirus. 

(Hospitalizations are up 100% in Arizona since June 8. And new cases surpassed 3,000 four times this week while the state’s Republican governor, Doug Ducey, dismissed renewed calls for stay-at-home orders.)

They lobbed dimly-conceived new laws, as the NC General Assembly has, debating “religious freedom” bills and Fourth of July bills and gym reopening bills and bowling alley and skating rink bills, cynically conceived by some legislators to provoke the Democratic governor’s veto. 

What governor wants to be seen vetoing a Fourth of July celebration? The campaign ads write themselves. 

“Years from now,” the North Carolina journalist Kirk Ross wrote Wednesday morning, “people will look back and note that instead of looking for ways to weather (coronavirus), like providing more relief directly to people out of work and faltering businesses, the legislature tried to force a premature reopening and got into fights with the governor over bingo parlors and the 4th of July.”

Ross is right. 

Some government officials worried over how many constituents would vote for them in November when they should have worried how many of their constituents would be around to vote.

At least Gov. Roy Cooper, under enormous pressure from conservatives and progressives alike to energize a foundering economy and pacify a wounded business community, has put prudence over politics, ordering a mandatory mask rule Wednesday and delaying plans to ease social distancing orders in North Carolina.

‘The Blink of an Eye’

Gov. Roy Cooper
Gov. Roy Cooper ordered a mandatory mask rule this week. (Image via NC DPS)

Since late May, NC’s COVID case count, like a climbing roller coaster clacking out time, sets new highs on a near-daily basis. Less than a quarter of inpatient and intensive care beds are unoccupied in NC today. 

“Doctors and healthcare experts have warned that hospital capacity can be overwhelmed in the blink of an eye,” Cooper said Wednesday. “And once we see that capacity is gone. It can be too late to reverse the tide.” 

Gov. Ducey in Arizona, are you watching? 

“Wearing face coverings will save lives, it would have already saved lives had there been a mandate,” Braxton Winston, a council member in NC’s largest city, Charlotte, told reporters this week.

Cooper also all but quashed a potentially lucrative Republican National Convention in Charlotte because our mask-shunning president and the RNC bristled at Cooper’s demands for heightened safety measures.

The governor prioritized the health of North Carolinians. The blustery bunch planning Trump’s party did not.

Cooper’s order marked a refreshing change, if only because government leaders in states like North Carolina have talked an awful lot, as Secretary of Health and Human Services Mandy Cohen did Monday, about personal responsibility in the age of coronavirus. 

But lost during the interminable listing of our disturbing coronavirus metrics, as hospitalizations and deaths rise inexorably, is government responsibility. And perhaps it is because the conventional wisdom goes that a harsh new government regulation cannot possibly play well in an election year.

Especially in a year this vitriolic, even if recent polls find most North Carolinians, a decidedly conservative bunch, more welcoming than ever to government reach as far as the coronavirus is concerned.

It’s too soon to say how those North Carolinians are reacting to Cooper’s mask order, but NC’s mask requirements were relatively feeble until Cooper’s move. Weak-kneed recommendations can come across like a cheesy PSA sandwiched between Saturday morning cartoons in these troubled times. 

It’s difficult to imagine a mask order from Cooper’s adversaries in the Trump administration and in the NC General Assembly, officials like House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate President Phil Berger with nothing better to offer than election-minded bills, while the state’s schools and businesses faced unprecedented reopening challenges.

‘Our government should realign its priorities or we must realign those priorities for them.’

North Carolina is not alone in its troubles. In states like Texas, California, Arizona, Mississippi and Nevada, COVID-19 cases soar while a distractible President Trump settles scores with Carly Fiorina, feuds with a Fox News commentator, and hurls dog whistles at Black Lives Matter leaders

“It’s worth stressing just how appalling this is: The United States has no national coronavirus testing strategy,” the Washington Post’s Paul Waldman wrote last week, noting the only occasional meetings of Vice President Mike Pence’s COVID council, the fleeting federal guidance on testing, the patchwork of extraordinarily politicized state guidelines

And President Trump, like an untethered parade float crashing about shattering streetlights and windows, insists that the country should slash testing. 

With fewer tests, Trump says, there will be fewer confirmed coronavirus cases.

The president is often mocked for his confusing statements. But this statement is as coherent as Trump will ever be, coherent in its ill intent, coherent in its dim view of campaign above country.

The lower the COVID-19 numbers, the better it is for Trump 2020, something the president understands keenly.

It is this way in the presidential election, in the US Senate races (where Sen. Thom Tillis is virtually a ghost, a non-existent player in these grim proceedings), and in the NC General Assembly races. But our health is not less important than Donald Trump’s re-election, or Thom Tillis,’ or Roy Cooper’s or Phil Berger’s or Tim Moore’s.

Our government should realign its priorities or we must realign those priorities for them. 

The president should ditch the rallies. He should take the coronavirus as an existential threat to the American people, and not to his campaign.

And the NC General Assembly should ditch the political stunts masquerading as legislation. It should, as Gov. Cooper has asserted multiple times, “rely on the science.”

The United States needs an honest, comprehensive effort to combat the virus that has killed so many of us, 121,279 so far to be exact.

If our government continues to fail us in that responsibility, we must change the government.