From the beginning, President Trump has seen the coronavirus crisis primarily as a threat to the stock market and his polling numbers, not to our nation. That's why he initially played down fears, assured us that only a few people would be affected, and said that everyone who wanted a test could get one.
He changed his tune when the markets tanked in response to his rainbow promises, but still does only enough to try to secure the fortunes he tracks on the New York Stock Exchange.
He has tragically refused to take the medical supply shortages seriously, telling states they are on their own, refusing to use his authority to produce the masks and ventilators necessary to protect health professionals and save lives, only because the U.S. Chamber of Commerce suspects there isn't enough profit in short term manufacturing and production. It's shameful.
Now he wants to reopen Disneyland, megachurches for Easter, and crowded airports in order to convince us that it's time to get back to normal, hoping with delusions that the stock market will fall for that fool's gold, too.
Let me be very clear about one thing: We are only at the beginning of this crisis. Hundreds of thousands more Americans will be infected by the coronavirus, and many of us will likely lose a friend, neighbor or family member in the coming weeks. We are, to borrow the words I heard somewhere recently, still between the lightning and the thunder.
As we pause to consider what is happening, real pain and dislocation spreads across our economy. We are now tumbling headfirst into a recession. Recessions have real economic measurements, but they also destroy dreams and livelihoods. The pernicious idea that this can be avoided by exposing more people to the virus and losing an incredible number of lives is false and extremely dangerous. The result of abandoning our commitment to keep our communities safe will be measured in the millions (millions of people, and the immeasurable potential they represent). It's a monumental scale of death that would leave a lasting scar on our nation's soul.
Those who suggest we "choose the economy" are not being honest or serious about the consequences of that position. There's no difference between the economy and people. People make up our economy and if we don't protect everyday people and their livelihood, there will be irreparable damage to our economy. It's not the people who hold stock options who are essential — the people who matter are hospital workers, grocery workers, postal workers, and child care workers. They are who keep our economy running.
When we are healthy, the economy is strong. Reopening our businesses and social institutions when we haven't contained COVID-19 will have a long-term impact on our economy that will be devastating because we cannot keep an economy going when hundreds of thousands of people are only getting sicker daily. And not only will abandoning our social distancing efforts fail to heal our immediate economic woes, it will most likely prolong our suffering and postpone our economic recovery.
Once we have faced down the immediate threat to Oregonians' lives, then we can assess how we get our economy stabilized and then back into growth territory. We are looking at a sustained impact to the economy, but the important question is what kind of society we'll have once we make it through this crisis. We went through the Great Depression and came out with the New Deal. We can come out of this with better sick leave, available paid leave and access to health care. We can expand our protections against losing housing, losing income and losing health care. Most of all, we can show each other and the world the strength of our democracy, our values and our indomitable spirit.
This is not the time to worry about stock market numbers (pro-tip: they will go back up), it's time to worry about our families and our community. America's greatest asset is not on any corporate ledger or in anyone's stock portfolio. Our greatest asset is our people and the strength of our values.
President Trump's willingness to trade our values for a temporary and ill-advised ploy to prop up the market will bring us all down to a bottom line that benefits no one. We can and we must put our long run future ahead of cynical, short term aims. That's how we can be our best.
Tobias Read of Beaverton is Oregon State Treasurer and a former legislator.
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