Bill Gates is the latest in a growing chorus to voice concerns over statements made by President Trump that he would like to get America’s economy running again by Easter.
During a recent TED talk (as reported by Recode), Gates said “it’s very irresponsible for somebody to suggest that we can have the best of both worlds,” implying our ability to contain the virus and keep Americans safe while keeping the economy open and running at full speed.
He added “There really is no middle ground, and it’s very tough to say to people, “Hey, keep going to restaurants, go buy new houses, [and] ignore that pile of bodies over in the corner. We want you to keep spending because there’s maybe a politician who thinks GDP growth is all that counts.”
Trump has said he wanted to re-evaluate his administration’s initiative to slow or contain the spread of the virus which included “social distancing.”
The initial 15-day period ends next week and on Tuesday during an Fox News town hall, Trump said “I give it two weeks,” suggesting he was ready to end the 15-day self-isolating guidelines when they expire.
“I guess by Monday or Tuesday, it’s about two weeks. We will assess at that time and give it more time if we need a little more time. We have to open this country up.”
He added “I would love to have the country opened up, and rarin’ to go, by Easter” and “people can go back to work and practice good judgment.”
Trump reasoning for the accelerated timeline is that the longer the economy is effectively shut down, the longer it will take to get it up to full speed.
However, Gates is just one of a growing chorus of experts and politicians who worry that pushing the economy to reopen in an effort to help the stock market recover is ignoring the very real likelihood that we would be putting citizens at danger if the spread of the virus isn’t under control.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, whose state is battling the highest number of coronavirus cases in the US, made similar comments to Gates on Tuesday.
“No American is going to say, accelerate the economy at the cost of human life, because no American is going to say how much a life is worth. Job [No. 1] has to be save lives,” he said.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican and head of the National Governors Association, expressed concern over the need to meet a schedule on an “imaginary clock.”
No matter how much pressure President Trump places on governors or even citizens to get back to work, legally there’s not much he can do.
Legal experts say a U.S. president has quite limited power to order citizens back to their places of employment, or cities to reopen government buildings, transportation, or local businesses.
The policies that Trump announced on March 16 for slowing the spread of the novel coronavirus (such as social distancing) were merely guidelines, and the same goes for any newer, less restrictive policies he unveils, according to Robert Chesney, a professor of national security law at the University of Texas.
“Those are guidelines. He can change his advice,” Chesney said. “He is free to advocate. And that is an important part of the presidency — the bully pulpit.”