As a public health crisis threatened to overwhelm our hospitals last month, Americans were just coming to realize it could empty our offices and pocketbooks, too. What was also coming, besides COVID-19, was a financial support framework the likes of which this nation has never seen, to keep our economy from collapsing.
Seemingly faced with the choice of closing and suffering massive economic losses or forging ahead knowing that they or their workers could get sick, business owners were left with no good options while President Donald Trump and others stubbornly refused to acknowledge the threat of what would soon be declared a pandemic. Flippantly dismissing the pandemic to cameras in March, Trump’s White House ineptly laid the groundwork for a fumbled response for years.
“I just think this is something … that you can never really think is going to happen,” Trump said March 7. According to Politico, a 69-page playbook from the National Security Council was just one mechanism that went unheeded in the White House. It was even color-coded.
In South Carolina, our own leaders have fouled up as well. As politicians, TV hosts, and the president shrugged off the dangers, Gov. Henry McMaster and state officials with the Department of Health and Environmental Control repeatedly insisted large public events and school should continue as planned. That left local leaders and business owners holding the bag, making hard decisions the governor should be making as a public health emergency turns into a crisis.
Thankfully, there is a sliver of functioning government in Washington that has yet to be gutted, or at least there was over the past couple weeks.
Sensing a massive economic upheaval completely unlike the 2008 downturn, Congress passed three separate bills over two weeks to help fight the epidemic and soften job losses and business closures. The massive rush of cash to replace losses in the American economy for months is unprecedented. Twelve years removed from the recession, cushioned by its own stimulus bills that drew criticism from government-cutting Republicans, payouts to every American worker and his or her family were added during negotiations to get the bill through the GOP-led Senate.
But even in the details of the latest recovery bill, conflicting approaches to help nurse the economy are visible. Aside from the one-time payouts, the bill’s remedies remain centered around employers, rather than workers themselves. U.S. Sen. Tim Scott romanticized the sanctity of the “employer-employee relationship” to the point of the absurd in criticizing proposals that failed to fluff the mythology of the American Dream. Nonetheless, Scott and every single other senator voted in favor.
This is what our government is for. This is why we elect our leaders: to conduct the business of the state fairly and respond quickly and decisively in moments of crisis. South Carolinians should take note, since we know many are not very familiar with the concept of government working for them.