We’re not all in this together

The pain of this pandemic is hitting everyone but not everyone equally. Going forward, there are better policies we can adopt to help average people. 

Americans have suffered in this pandemic due to corruption and incompetence, which go together because those who prize integrity pick experts over cronies. 

For example, a whistleblower complaint revealed the utter chaos in the operation run by President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, which sought to find adequate medical supplies for American hospitals and other medical providers as Trump friends and allies pushed the group for special help. 

President Donald Trump points to a reporter as he speaks about the coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House on April 2, as White House adviser Jared Kushner listens. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

The person Trump put in charge of the public health stockpile, Robert Kadlec, made a deal with a company he worked with that was worth nearly $3 billion, without any bidding and with the U.S. government paying twice usual prices. Kadlec used to be paid by the company that got the contract, a fact Kadlec didn’t disclose when he was nominated for the government post.

Dr. Rick Bright explained in a whistleblower complaint how he was demoted and retaliated against by Kadlec and others because he sought to “prioritize science and safety over political expediency.” Bright pushed administration officials not to approve medications “that lacked scientific merit” and to start earlier in vaccine development. Right after the first Covid case in the U.S. in January, Bright tried to work with the biggest domestic mask producer but was put off by higher-ups. Later, the Trump administration began “placing bulk orders with third-party distributors for many times the standard price,” The Washington Post reported.

Doctors, nurses, and the public still need masks and testing. Yet, as Trump was downplaying the risk three months ago, the State Department helped send masks, gowns, gauze, and respirators to China.

Like the investigation of war profiteering by arms manufacturers launched by Sen. Harry Truman in 1941, we need a probe into pandemic profiteering.

We also need better policies to stop people from dying from this disease. Right now more Americans die from Covid-19 in two days than died in our entire 18 ½-year war in Afghanistan

Trump continues to bungle the response. He called the American people “warriors” but is missing in action when it comes to testing and contact tracing — except to address Covid-19 cases in the White House. Trump left Americans behind on this battlefield and presents a false choice on health versus the economy.

The recipe for an economic comeback is getting the pandemic under control and choosing policies that help true small businesses, state and local governments, and individuals. States need to carefully monitor health as they loosen rules for some businesses in some areas. 

Tourists wouldn’t just flock to Maine if all social distancing rules were dropped.

Americans stopped going out before rules were imposed and won’t go out and spend money until they feel safe. 

The current federal approach hasn’t worked to counter economic damage. 

Extra money for one month doesn’t go far enough. European countries are subsidizing salaries, pumping money into the economy and avoiding layoffs, as Americans are experiencing greater financial hardships. 

The Paycheck Protection Program, which Sen. Susan Collins brags about, has helped some but also has been beset by problems. 

Earlier rounds of PPP funding benefitted large companies, including big donors to Trump’s campaign, more than it should have. 

In a recent New York Times column, Tim Wu, a lawyer helping small businesses apply, calls PPP “a fiasco” because it “replicated much of the existing unfairness of the United States economy. . . it has helped, more than anyone wants to admit, big chains and medium-size enterprises” Wu suggests making sure that at least half of future funds go to true small businesses. 

After hearing feedback from small business people, Rep. Jared Golden proposed changes to PPP that would make it easier for them to use the program and stay in business.

Yet Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell want the next pandemic bill to help the rich get richer. Rather than ensuring safety for essential workers from nurses to meatpackers to people stocking shelves, they propose cutting capital gains taxes and shielding businesses from lawsuits that could be filed if they put employees at risk. 

As this pandemic continues to bring pain, it should not also bring profiteering — and it wouldn’t if all policymakers acted as if they believe we are all in it together.


Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.