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Not a mutiny, just leadership

President Donald Trump speaks about the coronavirus in

President Donald Trump speaks about the coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House on Monday. Credit: AP / Alex Brandon

As the nation wrestles with the question of when and how to emerge from the coronavirus crisis, two televised tableaus emerged Monday. One featured the president saying he is the only one with the power to reopen the country; the other presented two groups of governors launching separate processes to plot a return.

The governors are on the right track. The president finally acknowledged that on Tuesday.

The best way to come out safely on the other side of this pandemic is not with wishes, dictates and arbitrary deadlines, but with an intensive, comprehensive and data-driven focus that produces a plan with specifics — one that carefully balances public health with economic health. That’s what was offered by governors in the Northeast and on the West Coast, an approach later adopted by the governor of Arkansas and a group of upper Midwest governors as well. The Northeast governors’ strategy is instructive.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and governors from New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Delaware agreed to form a working group of medical, economic and administrative experts to share ideas and devise a proposal for such an interconnected region. The virus could take Amtrak and Route 80, never mind I-95.

To complain that the governors are mutineers, as President Donald Trump did, was false and dangerous. Much better was Trump's promise Tuesday to communicate with all 50 governors on their plans to reopen, even as he clung to the fig leaf of "authorizing" their actions. The federal government must be a partner in this climb out of hell. Some elements of a recovery are beyond the states. The federal government is best positioned to deliver the enormous amount of testing required to determine who has had the virus, the tracing of those who are carriers and their contacts, and the acquisition and distribution of medicines, equipment and supplies. Strong coordination and logistical know-how will be required, the kind the military can and does deliver every day.

This is not about who gets the credit or the blame. Cuomo was right to note that the best thing that has happened during the past 45 days of this fight is the extent to which various levels of government as well as hospitals, businesses and regular people have worked together against the virus. Everybody has a role to play. Worrying about reelection advantages and who gets star billing will doom us all.

We have been concerned that the nation has not been getting the leadership it needs from the president. Americans want to hear the truth, however hard it might be. They want a recovery plan, and want to know what it means for them. They crave certainty at this time of confusion. And they want those charged with delivering Americans safely to collaborate, not fight.

Americans have signaled in many ways their respect for the job their governors are doing. Trump must not waver on that commitment, and must work with the governors toward the better days that lie ahead.

— The editorial board