By James A. Baker, III
Honorary Chair, Baker Institute for Public Policy
These are difficult times for a lot of our fellow citizens. Their suffering and indeed the suffering of others around the world should be in our thought and prayers.
Geopolitically, there are lessons for U.S. leadership as we head through this global crisis.
First, we cannot allow one country — China — to control resources that are critical to America’s well-being, like the production of antibiotics and other pharmaceuticals and the semi-control of rare earth metals critical to the production of high-tech products. This pandemic has brought to our attention the national security threat that is created by the control by one country of the means of production of these items, particularly when that country does not play by the international rules of the game.
Second, the pandemic is a stark reminder that we cannot isolate ourselves from the world. As we respond to it, the United States should restore and nurture the diplomatic, economic and military alliances that have helped make our country strong since the end of World War II, even if some of those alliances may need updating. We should remember that both sides lose from trade wars. While we cannot be the world’s policeman and should not try, having friends and allies around the globe makes us much stronger than if we try to go it alone.
And third, as we work to restore those alliances, we should remember that American leadership on the world stage generally remains a force for peace and stability. Although we have attracted criticism from capitals around the globe — some warranted and some not — we are still looked to for guidance and leadership. It is important that we work to maintain that leadership as we try to restore the global economy.
Meanwhile, with a presidential election seven months away, no one can clearly forecast how the pandemic will affect the outcome.
At this point, one could assume that President Trump might have a good chance at winning a second term. His job approval rating is higher than it’s ever been during his presidency. Recent Gallup polling indicates that 49% of all Americans think he’s doing a good job overall and 60% approve of the way he has handled the current crisis.
However, it is worth noting that the short-term gains the President has experienced in the past week could well be undone by what I have always said are the three most important issues in any presidential election: The economy, the economy and the economy — in that order. People vote their pocketbooks and the economic dislocation of this pandemic is already huge and growing.
Almost 10 million have filed for unemployment as businesses trim their workforces, including a record 6.6 million first-time claims for the week ending March 28. With growing uncertainty about the length of the pandemic, some project an unemployment rate of 30% or higher.
A potential bright side is the likelihood that the downturn could be comparatively brief if America’s period of isolation ends sooner than later and our nation can get back to work. Nevertheless, the party in power generally loses clout during tough economic times, and that appears where the country is headed. As a result, this pandemic should politically benefit the Democrats.
But there is a new and perhaps decisive element in this election: and this is the sheer toll of the pandemic in terms of sickness and death. The president will be judged — and rightly so — on his handling of the unfolding pandemic in human as well as economic terms.
Regardless of one’s political affiliation, we need to ask our elected leaders, members of the media and fellow countrymen to find the necessary wisdom to stop the incessant over-politicization of this crisis. I know that politics ain’t beanbag and I’ve got the bruises to show for it. Still, I’m revolted each time I turn on the television news stations and watch virtually every aspect of a crisis manipulated for partisan political advantage.
This pandemic and looming economic crisis will affect all of us. Not just Republicans. And not just Democrats. The sooner we relearn how to set aside our differences and unite during this difficult moment, the stronger we will emerge from it.