Silver Linings? Can Something Good Come of This?

The Wall Street Journal’s Gerald Seib asks prominent Americans Silver Linings? Can something good come of this?

Jim Mattis, former secretary of defense: “If in this dramatic coronavirus age we don’t recognize what our revolutionary founding fathers saw so clearly—we either hang together or we hang separately—we will not have a government of, by or for the people. People will continue to be elected because they are ‘anti’ something. But you can’t govern just being anti; a government must be for something. . . .

“No government of the people, by the people, for the people, especially one with a Constitutional composition of four competing power-bases, can function or govern effectively if it remains permanently in electioneering/divisive mode, with gladiatorial combat the norm, as we try to politically kill one another.”

Rahm Emanuel, former mayor of Chicago: “The two positives I see are that, rather than view the federal government as a problem, we might start to see it as a solution, as a net plus. And second, we might end this period of not investing in America.”

James Baker, former secretary of state and treasury: “For several years now, I have firmly believed that the political dysfunction in our country is the biggest challenge that confronts us. If we are to effectively address the coronavirus crisis and other problems, Americans must once again learn to talk sincerely with one another about solutions to our problems rather than yell at each other about the cause of them. The current dilemma presents all of us with the opportunity to begin reversing this troubling trend.

“When we inevitably get past the current health crisis, there will be many other difficult problems to resolve. We must whip our economy back into shape, better prepare to guard against future pandemics, and find solutions to many other difficult challenges that have gone unaddressed for far too long—like immigration reform, our fiscal debt bomb, global climate change and the fact that critical antibiotics and rare minerals are controlled by a country that doesn’t play by the rules. . . .

“Regardless of our political party affiliation, we should only support candidates for public office who reject identity politics which only divide us by race, ethnicity and gender…”

Douglas Elmendorf, dean, Harvard University’s Kennedy School: “I hope that this crisis restores Americans’ belief in the importance of effective governance. Around the world, governments with professional expertise, appropriate resources, and principled leaders will save lives and maintain prosperity—and governments without those characteristics will cost lives and sacrifice prosperity.”

Robert Gates, former secretary of defense and director of the Central Intelligence Agency: “First, I hope one outcome will be to improve the social safety net, especially health care, for those unable to afford private health insurance. Maybe a mix of public and private, where anyone making over a certain amount would have private insurance (or pay for alternative government plans) and those under that amount of income could access at no charge a basic level of publicly funded health care.”

But Mr. Gates also worries that “social distancing and the spirit of community was already being weakened by social media and other forces. This crisis, where pretty much everyone is on his/her own and isolated by quarantine and stay-in-place orders, I fear will accelerate the deterioration of any sense of shared purpose, values and sacrifice. The notion that we are all in this together will, I think, be further weakened.

“The fecklessness of the federal response will add to people’s frustrations and anger at Washington even as the standing of governors and local officials is enhanced because of their promptness in acting and decisiveness in using the tools they had. . . .


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