“What would you have done differently?” That’s the reasonable question a reader asked me after I outlined the many ways Trump had let the nation—and small businesses—down in his bungled response to the coronavirus. So let me respond…
First, let me say that no one would have handled this perfectly—it was after all a novel or new virus. I would have expected Trump or any President to make some mistakes. But Trump and his Administration were almost a textbook case of what not to do in handling a major health crisis—with dire results.
What I think I would have done—what most Presidents in our past would have done (of either party)—would have been something along the following:
First and foremost, I would have actually taken the virus and its threat seriously, fought the virus, and been honest with the American people.
1. I would have listened to my advisors who were telling me as early as January that the novel coronavirus was—in their words—“the greatest national security threat” that would occur during my Presidency. I would have seen how seriously it affected China and gone into overdrive in January when I was warned by my intelligence agencies.
2. I would have accepted the Covid-19 tests offered by the World Health Organization instead of insisting that we independently develop an American test—which put us back months.
3. I would then have implemented wide-spread contact tracing. Germany accepted the WHO tests along with contact tracing—as did South Korea—and their economies bounced back faster and far, far fewer people died.
4. I would have convened a task force of experts in the fields of public health, infectious diseases, the economy, sociologists, and psychologists—as well as communications and public relations experts. This task force would have helped me devise the plan for combating the virus as quickly as possible and minimizing the economic impact.
5. I would have held a “Fireside Chat” with the American people—backed up by leaders of both parties—explaining just how serious the situation was and asking for their cooperation and patience as we shut down the economy for a short but extreme time to eradicate the virus.
6. I would have worked with world leaders to come up with an international plan on how to limit/stop the spread of the virus globally so the world economy could recover sooner.
7. I would have put America on war-time production levels of PPE, tests, testing materials, ventilators, and so on—to get those materials produced in vast quantities in record time so we would not put so many of our health workers at risk and could implement a huge national testing program.
8. I would have worked with—instead of against—governors to come up with national plans.
9. I would have been honest with the American people—and consistent. They would know I was relying on science and not playing politics.
10. I would have made sure that by at least late April every American could get tested at least once a week, have results in 24-48 hours—and then be isolated—so that those who tested negative could start work again and we could open our offices and stores and travel. This would get our Main Streets and downtowns open and get people comfortable traveling again. And we could help save our retail, restaurant, travel, and other hospitality industries (which now may never recover and best estimates are that travel may not reach pre-Covid levels for at least 5 years).
11. I would never have repeated outrageous claims that the virus would somehow magically disappear, that it was no worse than the flu, that it could go away if you ingested bleach, and so forth, all which undermine the public’s confidence in actual health experts.
From an economic standpoint:
1. I probably would have had to have had severe shutdowns in all metropolitan places in the US; less severe measures in more rural areas. I would continually emphasize that if we all participate the shutdown would be stressful but limited in duration instead of the lingering mess we have now.
2. I would have called in Congressional leaders of both parties and urged the kind of massive financial commitment we made in the CARES act but with easy-to-apply for and receive GRANTS for the smallest businesses, including the self-employed. I would have done what the European countries did and take over the payrolls of small companies instead of making them jump through hoops for the PPP.
3. I would have asked tech companies like Google and Facebook and WordPress and Shopify and others to volunteer their staff to help small businesses who never had a web/ecommerce presence to help them get online fast so they could better survive as consumers turned to online shopping. And I would have had a massive public relations campaign to urge people to buy from their local, small businesses as well as giant online retailers.
4. I would have used whatever authority I could muster to set commercial mortgages and rents on pause so that businesses (and their landlords) could take a breather, in particular helping retail, restaurant, and customer-serving service businesses survive, and the property owner would not have been penalized.
5. If it was still necessary—as it is now—I would have spent every single day of the last four months working with Senators and Congresspeople to get a second rescue package enacted that would provide: extended unemployment, small business help, more funds for combating the virus, and a second stimulus for Americans.
There’s probably a whole lot more I would have done. And I think—I know—that virtually any other President would have done some of the things I mentioned—or others that would effectively shorten the duration and reduce the death toll of the coronavirus attack.
But Donald Trump was not up to the task. And so, I urge small business owners—and those of you who love small businesses—to vote for Joe Biden for President, so we can fight this virus and get this country back on track.
Small business owner, author, columnist, advocate