Americans like to believe we all unite to fight an external threat.

But it’s not true in the COVID-19 crisis.

Start with the inexplicable absence of toilet paper in the supermarket. Because almost all of it is manufactured in the U.S., there’s no shortage. But the shelves were swept clear of it.

That’s hoarding. By buying far more than you need, so you will have more of a product much later, you deprive a neighbor who needs some now. After just a few minutes in the market, you could see that happening – and not only to toilet paper. Supermarkets have imposed rationing.

Or what about young people who crowded together in Spring break revelry? They mistakenly believed either they wouldn’t get COVID-19 or their case would be mild. They have shown no concern for older and vulnerable people who may pick up the virus from them with dire consequences.

What about the mindless naysayers? They remind us that many people die from automobile accidents or the annual flu, so we should not get upset about COVID-19, which has until now claimed many fewer victims, though there is no known limit to the losses. Don’t worry about its deaths.

There are good people. Bad behavior should not obscure the selfless acts by many people to help others. Health care providers accept enormous personal risk in around-the-clock battles to save lives. Many people shop for the elderly and check on the condition of the most vulnerable. That’s the spirit needed in this situation.

In a crisis of this scale, the people turn to their governments. The time comes when elected leaders must step beyond everyday partisan politics to provide not only material leadership but encouragement and hope for all.

Not this time. Perhaps for the first time in memory, leadership that rallies all people has been absent.

Take the CARES Act, the $2 trillion piece of federal legislation that is designed to rescue workers, companies and the economy from the threat of a major recession. Except for one member of Congress, it was passed unanimously by both houses.

CARES is basically a big government spending bill, the necessary bookend to the Federal Reserve’s action to cut interest rates. The GOP had to go along with the essentially Democratic concept, because the economy demanded government support. Some Republicans disliked expanding the national debt by big outlays, but had no choice.

The bill was negotiated by Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, on behalf of President Trump, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, on behalf of the Democrats. Each side had to make unpleasant sacrifices to strike the necessary deal. If you want bipartisanship, this is what it looks like.

But when the bill, fully supported by both parties, was signed by the president, the only people surrounding him were Republicans. That amounts to trying to steal the credit for the compromise. Americans united to meet a national challenge? Hardly.

If there’s one thing the former reality show host knows, it’s how to steal scenes. His daily media briefings, even when he reads dryly from a prepared script, give him good television ratings, which he brags about. He wants to be seen as supreme crisis manager to boost his re-election campaign.

The Democrats allow a partisan Trump to dominate the media. If Joe Biden expects to be the Democratic candidate, where is he now? Or former President Obama, who could call for public action in response to the virus. Or Speaker Pelosi, who could request a joint appearance with Trump. Are Mike Bloomberg’s billions only for his political campaign or could he help?

Instead of them, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, not an immensely popular leader but one whose state is the hardest hit, holds an excellent daily briefing, which receives national coverage. Increasingly, he looks like the kind of competent, strong-willed person who could be the candidate called for by the times.

Aside from the domestic situation, it is evident that, without the U.S. as the leader of the world’s response to COVID-19, there is no available alternative. But Secretary of State Pompeo spurned cooperation with what used to be America’s closest allies, because he insisted they must agree to name the virus after China.

The result is that not only do the president and his aides fail to lead a unified America, but the U.S. fails to lead a unified international response.

The coronavirus and its effect on the economy are a costly tragedy. But so is the failure of the federal government to rally the American public and lead the world.

Gordon L. Weil formerly wrote for the Washington Post and other newspapers, served on the U.S. Senate and EU staffs, headed Maine state agencies and was a Harpswell selectman. 

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