Protests and President Donald Trump’s inflammatory tweets urging people to “liberate” their states have generated headlines. Yet the most impressive story might be the concern most Americans still have for one another.
By and large, people are sheltering in place and protecting their communities, and support doing so. An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll (conducted jointly by prominent Republican and Democratic pollsters) found that nearly 60% of Americans continue to favor current measures to contain the virus. Significantly, the survey was taken during a week when the president and others were ramping up pressure to reopen the economy.
The survey is further evidence that throughout much of the COVID crisis, the public has been leading the president and others. In March, when President Trump still was calling for full pews and open businesses by Easter, surveys showed broad support — including majorities of Republicans — for shelter-in-place restrictions, closing hospitality venues and keeping students out of classrooms.
Public surveys, though, only tell us so much. They are least useful when used as political weapons — tools for one party or some politicians to say we are right, others are wrong. They are best used, instead, to inform strategic planning.
Protesters — those who took to the streets and, maybe more important, those at home trying to juggle too many bills with too little income — have a valid message. Many Americans are suffering. Surveys are telling leaders some important things:
• Most of us probably wouldn’t go to public venues right now even if they were open. The broad support for restrictions is saying we are staying put not because government is telling us to do so, but because we know it is best for us, our families and our communities. Reopening businesses, especially hospitality venues, isn’t likely to save businesses or jobs in the near term. Tragic, but a reality.
• Rather than urging political solutions (“liberation”) that are nonsensical, the federal government would do well to marshal substantial resources toward coordinated efforts to create more tests that can be quickly analyzed and research into a vaccine and, ultimately, a cure. Stop touting “miracle” cures that aren’t proven. Instead, put the entire genius of America to finding real solutions.
Efforts now are underway, but they too often are disjointed and underfunded. One can infer from the polling data that many Americans aren’t likely to venture out without assurances that it is safe to do so. Vaccines and cures are the best assurances.
• Start now to plan for the future. Many lost jobs won’t be coming back ... ever. We will need new investments in the economy. Let’s make them worthwhile. Congress would do well to pass a major infrastructure investment bill now. By the time legislation gets through Congress, projects are shovel-ready and people who have lost their jobs are trained for new employment, money should be in the pipeline to get people working as soon as it is safe to do so.
• More emergency relief likely will be needed. That will require more government spending. But can’t we at least start to make some down payments on the cost? Many, many people have fared well over the past two decades. The 2017 tax bill was another silver lining for those who already are sitting on pots of gold. With polls showing the public recognizing the seriousness of the crisis, isn’t there room in public policy today for targeted tax increases on the individuals and businesses that can afford to put more toward solving this national crisis?
Someone ultimately will pay for the massive run-up in debt. How is it fair to do what is being done right now — pushing the cost off to our children and grandchildren?
That’s a tall order for political leaders in these divided times. But when we have done best as a country, it has been when our leaders listen to all views — including those of protesters — and take decisive, forward-looking actions. Surveys are saying this: the right leadership will earn broad “followership.”
Tom Horner is a public-relations consultant and was the Independence Party of Minnesota’s 2010 candidate for governor.