Hail to the chief of the newly united rational states of America.
Andrew Cuomo, by name.
Clear-thinking citizens owe New York’s governor and his counterparts a heartfelt thank you. By stealing a Monday march on the country’s titular leader, they have ensured that the reopening of large regions of America will proceed according to the dictates of science and rationality — and not self-interested political considerations.
Cuomo led the way by helping forge a bloc of Eastern states, from Delaware to Massachusetts, committed to developing a regional approach to reopening. On the West Coast, California, Oregon, and Washington announced a similar effort.
That sets up a national clash of concepts: the world of science and fact versus the world as conservative will and idea.
Although President Trump has insisted the states take the lead in battling the coronavirus contagion, he claims it’s up to him to decide when the economy reopens. Asked several days ago what his metrics for that decision would be, Trump pointed at his head and replied: “The metrics right here.”
Scant comfort there. Not for those who stand with science. Or anyone else who has watched this president’s rambling, self-centered, factually unmoored briefings.
Which is where Cuomo comes in. On Monday, after laying out the considerations that should guide an economic reopening, the New York governor announced efforts to formulate a comprehensive, multi-state plan in conjunction with Delaware, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island. Massachusetts will participate as well. (Kudos to Governor Charlie Baker for making this a bipartisan effort.) Expect those states to base their actions on what best pandemic practice suggests.
That’s a vitally important development, particularly when you consider the occluded impulses of some of their conservative counterparts. Like, say, Governor Brian Kemp of Georgia. Unchastened by his own astounding ignorance about asymptomatic COVID-19 transmission, he has issued an order to reopen the state’s beaches. Or Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida. Laboring under the delusion that the coronavirus “just doesn’t seem to threaten, you know, kids,” he is talking about reopening schools. Then, of course, there’s Governor Kristi Noem of South Dakota, who scoffed at stay-at-home orders as “herd mentality, not leadership” — and whose state, sadly, is now suffering the results of her ideological aversion to common sense.
It doesn’t take Nostradamus to see where this is heading. Slow to embrace shutdowns on the leading edge of the pandemic, Trump will prematurely try to reverse those closures on its trailing edge. If past is prologue, he will do so without a full and careful assessment of the relevant facts and considerations and without ensuring the necessary precautions are in place.
Why? Because he knows an economy still sputtering in November deprives him of his strongest reelection rationale.
And though the reopening decision doesn’t properly reside with the president, Trump insists otherwise.
“When somebody’s president of the United States, the authority is total,” he asserted on Monday. That’s nonsense on horseback — but expect his right-wing media claque to nod as reflexively as a dashboard full of bobbleheads.
But now, with their multi-state coalition, Cuomo and his fellow governors have created a rationalist counterpoint against any reopening based on politics rather than science.
Optimally, something else is needed here: a panel of experts to inform and instruct — and backstop — the decisions those blocs make.
Such a panel would serve several important purposes. It would create a trusted source of uncowed counsel, giving responsible governors authoritative guidance to justify their actions — and resist White House pressure. Further, it would put pressure on governors whose vision is impaired by partisanship or clouded by ideological optimism to justify actions that are out of scientific sync.
There is no shortage of such experts. Given the world-class hospitals and universities in cities like Boston, New York City, Atlanta, and Cleveland, it should be comparatively easy to put together a panel from institutions in states led by both Democrats and Republicans.
We need it soon, however.
Thankfully, there are signs the COVID-19 crisis may be slowing — but a contagion of conservative nuttiness waits in the wings.