It seems like we’ve been living with the coronavirus pandemic in a slow-motion time warp. But it’s time we snap out of it and beat this plague with the can-do attitude that has characterized Americans’ character when faced with other seemingly insurmountable crises.
When the Great Depression struck our parents and grandparents, they buckled down, worked hard and helped dig America out of the economic dumps. The government did its job with innovative social programs that wove an economic security net to break the financial free-fall.
After the bombs fell at Pearl Harbor, Americans didn’t crawl under the covers and shirk their responsibilities. They helped build a military-industrial juggernaut that overwhelmed dictators in both Germany and Japan. Young Americans answered the call by the millions to join in the armed forces that saved the world from tyranny.
In our own time, after the twin towers fell on 9/11, Americans again summoned the courage and fortitude to both comfort the victims of terrorism and confront its perpetrators. We not only rebuilt the World Trade Center, but also we regained our national sense of purpose to keep America strong and free. Evil lost; goodness triumphed.
Today we’re faced with an invisible, insidious enemy that has threatened our national health and battered our prosperity. Millions of Americans are still out of work, struggling to pay their mortgage or rent and put food on the table, and wondering if things will ever get back to any semblance of normal.
We must dig deep to find the courage to meet this scourge. We can take our inspiration from the hundreds of thousands of health care workers and first responders who have shown us incredible courage every day in the face of danger and even death.
Like the soldiers who stormed ashore at Normandy and the firefighters who ran up the steps of the twin towers as fire rained down, the brave Americans who are on the front lines in our hospitals and ambulances deserve our undying gratitude and respect. Likewise, the millions of essential workers who grow our food, make the products we can’t live without and deliver them to our stores, businesses and homes. They’re all heroes.
And as much as Americans like to find fault with their government and its leaders, the fact is that government at all levels has stepped up during this crisis with unprecedented support. Let’s not lose sight of the fact that Congress and President Trump have put aside sometimes bitter differences three times now to pump trillions of dollars into the economy. And the Federal Reserve has directed trillions more to maintaining financial liquidity that has so far kept us from another Great Depression.
Economists tell us that given all this financial relief, the poverty rate has actually fallen during the past few months. The $1,200 stimulus checks, the $600-per-week unemployment insurance subsidy, the generous grants and loans to businesses large and small, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Medicaid benefits — all have kept our economy on life support until the world’s scientists can produce a vaccine to finally beat back the pandemic.
In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, local leaders and health care professionals at all levels have worked valiantly fighting this virus. New York faced down the earliest and deadliest wave, and while we’re still not entirely out of danger, we’re mercifully ahead of much of the nation on the road to recovery.
So where do we go from here as we face the latest signs that the virus isn’t an easy enemy to defeat? We double down on our determination to beat it. Congress is considering another round of financial relief for the nation. It needs to think and act intelligently.
Rather than blindly throwing trillions more at the pandemic, the next round of relief should be focused on bolstering our health care system to fight the virus, directing “job bonuses” to workers to get them back to work, helping small businesses hang on, helping state and local governments maintain vital services, and getting our kids back to school.
Here on Long Island, that last item — the safe return of students to the classroom — should be priority No. 1. Cuomo has laid out clear guidance to get our schools up and running. Our teachers will be on the front lines of this next battle. We must encourage and reward their bravery.
Al D’Amato, a former U.S. senator from New York, is the founder of Park Strategies LLC, a public policy and business development firm. Comments about this column? ADAmato@liherald.com.