The buck stops here - GulfToday

The buck stops here

Michael Jansen

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.


Cuomo insists that New York cannot open until widespread testing is possible, a feat requiring federal help.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is the nemesis and antithesis of the current occupant of the White House Donald Trump. Cuomo haunts Trump’s waking and sleeping hours because Cuomo adopts opposing positions on how to deal with the coronavirus. The outspoken, brusque Cuomo holds daily hour-long press conferences on CNN where he provides, as far as he can, up-to-date, full and factual information on the epic battle with the virus mounted by the state of New York, the US epicentre of the disease. Cuomo has repeatedly said he takes the blame for mistakes or mishandling of the state’s response to the virus. He assumed blame, in US parlance, by saying, “The buck stops here.”

Cuomo’s briefings contrast sharply with those performed by Trump and his minions during which Trump tries, above all, to defend himself from criticism over his chaotic response to the corona crisis.

Cuomo holds press events at the New York governor’s offices in Albany, the state capital. He is flanked at the correct distance by a scientist and a political officer. Journalists are spaced around the large room so they do not come in contact. Cuomo makes an effort to respond properly to questions from journalists without challenging or belittling anyone.

Trump stages his briefings on the White House lawn. He is surrounded without proper distancing by advisers and specialists. When asked why tests and protective clothing for medics are not available, he attacks the questioner.

Trump is highly sensitive about queries about his erratic performance and record as commander-in-chief in the US war against the coronavirus. At every appearance before the media, he changes his story, denies his failings, claims the US is doing a great job. He refused to take the virus seriously until mid-March, did not urge lockdown and social distancing, or gather the medical supplies and equipment needed to fight infection and spread.

More concerned about the disruption of the US economy and job losses than the health of the population, Trump called for an end to the lockdown by April 12, far too early for safety. Only at the end of March did he sign a $2 trillion (Dhs7.3tn) emergency spending bill to stimulate the economy. Although the largest piece of legislation in US history, the bill does not meet the needs of small businesses, the unemployed and the health care system. Trump recommends the use of handmade masks to prevent the spread of the virus, but says he will not wear one, and promotes unproven drugs to treat the virus with the aim of getting the country back to work before the virus is contained.

Cuomo and other state governors have complained about the lack of tests, sterile masks and gowns for medical staff, and ventilators for critically ill patients. They did their best not to rile Trump until he proclaimed that he, not they, would decide when the country would end the lockdown and reopen for business. The governors, including members of Trump’s Republican party, responded by saying he was “factually wrong” according to the US Constitution and accused him of “spoiling for a fight on this issue.” Cuomo and the governors of neighbouring states have decided to closely coordinate reopening in order to avoid fresh virus outbreaks. The governors of three West Coast states — California, Oregon and Washington — have followed suit. Trump capitulated, “passing the buck” to the governors. However, he fully intends to make Cuomo and other Democratic party governors pay for opposing him and depriving him of the glory of playing king.

A week ago, Cuomo made the point that New York cannot open up until it is possible to do widespread testing and will need federal help to carry out this operation. He said Washington could not expect states to reopen without providing them with the funds to do so. This amounted to “passing the buck without passing the bucks,” the money. Instead of listening to Cuomo and acting appropriately Trump responded by calling for the “liberation” of three states — Michigan, Minnesota and Virginia — from lockdown, thereby encouraging right-wing followers to mount protests against Democratic governors. Similar demonstrations have erupted elsewhere.

Trump’s behaviour has already weakened US efforts to contain the virus and can only divide a country which is already split between the 35-40 per cent of people who follow him blindly and the rest who look to responsible politicians, including Republicans, who adhere to the advice of the scientists.

Trump’s is a dangerous game. Unless the US wins the war against the virus the country and its 330 million people will remain hostage to wave after wave of contagion while other countries try to ensure that reopening does not lead to such an outcome, thereby plunging the globe into economic chaos.

The recovery and reopening of New York City, the world’s financial engine, must be a primary goal of the US federal government and, as Cuomo insists, will need federal help to achieve this end. Trump cannot starve New York City and expect the US economy to revive. Unless and until it does, the global economy will suffer recession.

There is a world of difference between Cuomo and Trump. Cuomo is a veteran politician who has served as governor of New York State since 2011. His father was elected to three terms in this office while the younger Cuomo acquired considerable experience in humanitarian work before joining the Clinton administration. He eventually served as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. As governor, he has an impressive record. He has promoted climate change, gun control, expanded medical care, taxing the wealthy while reducing taxes on the middle class, increasing the minimum wage and ensuring pay equality. While some have urged Cuomo to run for the presidency in November, he has refused to leave his present job.

By contrast, Trump followed his father into property development and shifted into casinos, golf clubs and resorts as well as reality television. Trump never held public office until elected to the presidency and seems to hold the mistaken belief that he can do whatever he wants. So far, the Republican leadership has refused to check him. The coronavirus might just do this. The sooner, the better.


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