Winston Churchill once quipped, “never waste a good crisis”, it wasn’t Dick Cheney which somehow I got in my head. There’s no American alive who has lived through a crisis on as big a scale as the Covid-19 pandemic and unfortunately for American citizens, our leadership on both sides of the partisan divide have been unable to rise to meet the challenges and opportunities of the moment. President Trump had the chance to prove he was a worthy leader, at least in terms of dealing with an unprecedented threat. Democrats had the chance to show a killer instinct by negotiating a deal that put the middle class and poor first at a time they needed it most. Both utterly failed.
Trump likes to say we are at war and in a lot of ways, it’s apt. Citizens are forced to make enormous sacrifices for the greater good, an enemy is trying to kill us, and there’s a lot of confusion. The fog of war is when there’s so much fear and chaos, no one can see the big picture clearly and poor decisions are made. This fog contributed to the Democratic leadership squandering an unprecedented amount of leverage in an unprecedented time of need.
If you’ve ever seen House of Cards, you know getting your agenda passed is all about leverage. Senator Underwood would send his goon, Doug, to dig up whatever dirt (or kompromat if you will) that was out there on a politician who needed a little extra motivation to do what Frank wanted. Who knows how much of this happens in the real world. Many think Vladimir Putin has dirt on Trump and Trump dirt on Lindsey Graham just by observing oddities in the way they act. The Democrats had Republicans by the short hairs in negotiations over the Covid Relief Bill and didn’t even realize it. Let me paint the picture.
The sitting president, who days earlier said the pandemic was a hoax had just admitted in an address from the Oval Office that things were indeed very, very serious. In fact, things were so out of control that the states were falling like dominoes, closing all non essential businesses and ordering citizens to shelter in place. The stock market had its worst week since 1929, diving thousands of points each day, and it was crystal clear who was to blame. This was President Trump and ultimately the Republican’s mess. They had broken the country.
We had a rather large window of time to prepare for “the invisible enemy” as Trump weirdly tells everyone he calls it. The Chinese dealt with the staggeringly contagious virus in December as we watched with morbid curiosity from the other side of the world. Trump likes to brag he banned travel from China early on, but as the virus marched its way across Europe and brought Italy to it’s knees, Trump was on his re-election rally tour, ridiculing Democrats and the media for being alarmists. It hit my home state of Washington, killing what was thought at the time to be the first U.S. citizen. Several days later Trump would famously say there were only 15 cases in the United States and it would soon be zero. This as American’s watched in horror as Italian doctors were forced to choose who would get a respirator and who would inevitably die drowning in their own body fluids. Instead of heeding the giant neon warnings from around the world and using the month of February to order respirators, stock pile PPE and more importantly, develop an effective testing and tracing protocol which could have prevented the hell the country is now going through, Trump utterly failed the ultimate test of his presidency and actually called pandemic fears a hoax. He can brag all he wants about a travel ban but if the pilot puts the landing gear down and just expects to land without doing anything else, he’s the reason that plane crashed. And now, without immediate help from the federal government, Wall Street was in big trouble.
Like Luke Skywalker, firing on the Death Star, this was the moment for the Democrats to strike and demand the moon. It was a perfect storm. Wall Street needed help now with the DOW losing thousands of points a day. There was no way Republicans could have grandstanded against any reasonable or even perhaps greedy social relief with the economy rapidly burning to the ground and the can of gasoline in their hands. The negotiations were a game of chicken and all the Dems had to do was ask for what was moral and drive fast and straight.
Instead of an easy win, a two trillion dollar bill was quickly passed with bipartisan support in which huge companies took the lions share of the money, leaving nothing for many, many small businesses. People making under 75K a year got a whopping one time check of $1200 (with Donald Trump’s autograph on it). Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin later said he expects that $1200 to last 10 weeks, and there’s no word on any further relief for people out of work. There was no protection for the governments of the states most effected, and now Trump is threatening to withhold relief unless states turn all residents here illegally into I.C.E.. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell suggested the federal government should just let the states go bankrupt.
At the very least, the Democrats should have gotten a monthly payment for the poor and middle class that lasted at least until the end of the pandemic. They should have demanded guarantees mandating which businesses were eligible to receive relief, and they should have gotten guarantees that struggling states would be bailed out. Once again they were bluffed by the ruthless party of big business not realizing they were holding a royal flush. We don’t need the party of the people to be a sparring partner, we need them to be Mike Tyson.