Nobody Knows the Answer. The Burden is on the President to Answer It Anyway
President Trump and to a lesser extent governors and local leaders, face a brutal decision. But he doesn't face it alone.
President Trump is asking for prayer. He needs it. He must make what he calls “the biggest decision of my life.” That’s selling it short. It may be one of the toughest decisions anybody has ever had to make. How and when do you reopen the economy coming out of a pandemic?
New York’s Gov. Andrew Cuomo has little patience for anyone who thinks it’s an easy call for leaders, even on the state level. “Anyone who says to you, ‘Oh I know what we should do I know’ — Yeah, you don’t know, because nobody knows.”
How do you balance potential remaining risks because of COVID-19 with the lasting devastation of lives from continuing the shut-down? How do you know what’s right when there’s no sure way to determine victory? What’s “winning”? The virus isn’t going to wave a white flag. Could you have opened the economy a week earlier, saved scores of small businesses with no extra loss of life? Could you have waited another week, lost no additional businesses but saved some lives?
What We Do Know
Here’s the only thing we do know: Whatever Trump decides, he will be told he has blood on his hands. He will be hammered, mercilessly. After all, many blame him for deaths caused by anti-Trump people who shoot up synagogues. He’s blamed for the potency of hurricanes. He’s blamed if some critically ill person staggers across the border and dies. Heck, he just got blamed when some idiot downed fishtank cleaner.
But this is different. The call is his. He is the President of the United States. Governors can say the president doesn’t have the authority, but he is the one with the responsibility. The burden. “The Buck,” as Harry Truman called it. The buck for ending this shutdown sits on his desk. And whatever Trump decides, people will be harmed. Period. No escape.
It is a given we will see further cases of coronavirus. It is a given many businesses will go out of business. People will die from COVID-19. People will also die downhill from the pandemic of health issues arising from economic despair. (No one’s even including the toll of a U.S. shutdown on those working at micro-businesses in developing countries.)
Even the right call will appear to be the wrong call, because there’s no way of counting the lives saved, the long-term benefits of returning prosperity.
You can’t have a press conference in the Rose Garden of people who didn’t turn to drugs or drink or suicide, or those whose lives and the lives of their children and grandchildren didn’t cycle towards destruction. Your foes can drag onto CNN the children of someone who died from the disease. And they will. You can bet they will. And Donald Trump will feel every one.
How far away do the days of high rises, high living, hot resorts, Art of the Deal and The Apprentice seem now.
Here’s Where We Are Blessed
Trump says he will decide with a lot of input from the “experts,” coupled with “instinct.” Contrary to media memes, Trump does listen. He wants the options, he wants the contrary opinions. He wants to be surrounded by wisdom. Begs for it all the time, in fact. And he’s learned in recent years to surround himself with prayer. But he’s also learned over the decades to listen to the still voice within.
President Trump has the prayers of millions of Americans. He has got armies of experts. He’s got a gaggle of sharp governors. The president’s got a top-notch health task force. He’s got an all-star economy task force. He’s got the vice president. And he’s got his family. But ultimately, Donald J. Trump is the one walking up the mountain alone. Alone in choosing what in his heart feels is the right thing to do.
And yet, he’s not truly alone.
Moses knew that lonely burden of leadership, the fate of his people in his hands. God told him, “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the LORD your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.”
Jesus had countless followers, 12 disciples, 3 particularly close disciples. Yet the walk up Calvary was his own. On the Cross he cried out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” But he was evoking Psalm 22, which goes on to say, “But you, Lord, do not be far from me. You are my strength; come quickly to me.”
Begin and End With Prayer
For Trump, each coronavirus task force meeting begins in prayer. Each conversation with his faith council ends in prayer.
A few years before Donald Trump ran for president, the charismatic speaker Kim Clement prophesied that Trump would be the next president. He also made another prophesy that gets a little less attention. The next president “will not enter the White House a praying man, but he will leave the White House a praying man.”
In this crisis, with this historic decision looming, that makes all the difference in the world.
Al Perrotta is the Managing Editor of The Stream and co-author, with @JZmirak, of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Immigration. You can follow him at @StreamingAl. And if you aren’t already, please follow The Stream at @Streamdotorg.