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SIEGEL: Public health is more important than the economy

With an international crisis and tragedy on our hands, the economy should be the least of our worries

<p>Trump suggested interest in reopening the economy as early as April 4.&nbsp;</p>

Trump suggested interest in reopening the economy as early as April 4. 

When the novel coronavirus began to gain attention in China, there was little concern in the United States. For many, it seemed like a distant threat we would never have to truly worry about. In another corner of the country, intelligence, public health and military officials drafted reports that a disease like this could ravage the country. The first case in the United States was reported at the end of January — and President Donald Trump ignored the threat. “We’ve pretty much shut it down coming from China,” he said Feb. 3. But we didn’t.

The United States had its first death resulting from COVID-19 Feb. 6, three days after Trump said this. President Trump finally declared a national emergency March 13 — almost two months after the first US outbreak and a month after the first death. At that point, there were no official guidelines on isolation beyond travel restrictions. During all this time, there was a national shortage for COVID-19 testing kits, which the Trump Administration did little to address. By March 26, the United States led the world in infections. It is clear that the early response to preventing the virus as a crisis in the United States utterly failed. We must ensure that the response moving forward is adequate in fighting this pandemic. 

Trump suggested interest in reopening the economy as early as April 4. He repeated it once more April 5, and then multiple times in the days following. This is a naive outlook that comes from the idea that GDP and corporate profits are more important than saving lives. Trump isn’t the only one. 

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, R-Ga., recently mandated that all beaches in the state reopen. Senator Ron Johnson, R-Wis., wrote a column in USA Today, writing “Every premature death is a tragedy, but death is an unavoidable part of life.” Johnson further encouraged that the United States should reopen much of the economy. Members of President Trump’s cabinet — notably economic advisor Larry Kudlow, Attorney General William Barr and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin — have all encouraged the president to reopen the economy as soon as possible. 

But as we have learned in the past few years, Trump also listens to people outside his administration for advice. These figures have been encouraging him to reopen the economy. Recently, Tucker Carlson went on the air and asked his viewers if the death toll would be higher if we let the economy remain open. He said, “We don’t know.” But we do know. Public health officials have cited “flattening the curve” — a move that requires staying at home and effectively shutting down the economy — to reduce death rates and infection rates. Carlson, Hannity and Ingraham have all dismissed public health policy run by public health experts. They even denounced any efforts to protect Americans from this pandemic as partisan efforts to kill freedom. This is coming from the same “news” hosts and organization who peddled the idea that COVID-19 was a hoax — a plot by Democrats to hurt the president.

Let’s be clear that this effort to reopen the economy isn’t about the 16 million people who are now unemployed. It’s not about helping those losing their jobs and livelihoods at the hands of this pandemic. The $2.2 trillion aid package signed by President Trump includes essential help for small business and unemployed individuals. But it includes far more help for massive industries and big business. In the bill, $500 billion will go to hotels and $50 billion to airlines. What’s worse is that these very industries have spent years boosting their own stocks through buybacks. Even as COVID-19 was raging across the globe, Hilton Hotels announced a $2 billion stock buyback on March 3. Some of the money from the package may also go to President Trump’s own businesses through tax cuts, tax rebates and direct money from the Treasury Department. This aid package is about bailing out big business, and reopening the economy would do the same. 

Trump and Fox News are trying to convince the public that reopening the economy is a good thing. It absolutely is not. Fox News has even gone to the lengths of trying to discredit Dr. Anthony Fauci, a leading expert in this area, using crackpot conspiracy theories. We are in the midst of a global pandemic — it is more important now than ever to heed the warnings of experts. It was made clear by the stimulus bill that President Trump’s interests lie with big businesses rather than American workers. It should be clear to everyone, especially the president, that lives are more important than corporate gains. No amount of profit for these industries and executives is worth sacrificing lives. If it takes staying locked indoors to save lives and prevent a pandemic from spreading, then so be it. Trump wants to be a wartime president. By proposing to reopen the economy, he’s proving he is a fraudulent president.

Jeremy Siegel is an Opinion Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at opinion@cavalierdaily.com. 

The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Cavalier Daily. Columns represent the views of the authors alone.

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