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Even without our leaders, Americans can lead on coronavirus

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When our leaders have failed in crises, America has been at its best when we focus on what we can do rather than who we can blame.

As we entered World War II, the Greatest Generation didn’t argue over whose fault it was that the military only had 3,000 planes — they built 300,000 more. When the Bush administration bungled its response to Hurricane Katrina, millions stepped up to become unofficial first responders, food suppliers — even caretakers for children separated from their families.

By now, there should be absolutely no confusion: Coronavirus is a crisis. COVID-19, the disease it causes, has been confirmed in every state, and the number of U.S. fatalities is the highest in the world. In Massachusetts, more people applied for unemployment in the past three weeks than they did during the first year of the Great Recession.

This crisis will not, as the president believes, resolve itself. We don’t know how widespread the virus is or how long our response will be.

But the choice we face is clear: We can follow the Trump administration in its search for someone to blame, or we can lead by renewing our patriotic commitment to having each other’s backs.

We can all make shared sacrifices, starting by following the CDC’s guidance to “flatten the curve.”

Some generations were called to war. Today, we are called to stay home. That simple act can save the lives of older neighbors and people with weakened immune systems.

If you’re a landlord, tell your tenants they won’t be evicted or penalized for being late on rent. If you’re an employer, make every accommodation for workers to stay home.

If your company can make masks, ventilators, or other vital equipment for health care professionals on the frontlines, don’t wait for the president to use the Defense Production Act – start production now. Recently, my office connected iRobot, the company that makes the Roomba, with a local hospital. iRobot figured out how to donate 2,000 pieces of protective equipment. More should follow their lead.

My colleagues in Congress can do their part by passing legislation that allows everyone to stay safe without going hungry or bankrupt.

Signed into law last month, the CARES Act takes initial steps to stabilize the American economy and shore up the safety net, such as boosting unemployment benefits and increasing aid to state and local governments. However, these efforts are not enough. As Congress considers even larger aid packages, we need to focus on the needs of people, especially those on the front lines providing food or delivering goods, the unemployed, as well as small businesses.

In this atmosphere of uncertainty, we need to vigilantly guard against disinformation. If we indulge an urge to blame – if we cast fellow citizens as villains – we’ll hamstring our response and do our enemies’ work for them. Already, Russian intelligence agencies and Chinese Communist Party agents are using the pandemic to pit Americans against one another and weaken our capacity for unified action.

Unfortunately, the Trump administration is doubling down on the suspicion and scapegoating that allow disinformation to thrive.

Amid the chaos, the president continues to label COVID-19 the “Chinese virus,” as if assigning it a nationality would allow him to ban it from the country. He flatly claims “no responsibility” for a lack of available tests. And when experts call for a heightened response, he blames “the Fake News Media” or Democrats for undermining his presidency. He’s also accused the World Health Organization of seeming “very China-Centric” and launched a new attack ad suggesting former Washington governor and U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke is a Chinese official.

Trump allies echo these impulses. Former Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, for example, dipped into the ancient well of antisemitism by urging his right-wing following to blame 89-year-old philanthropist George Soros for the pandemic.

People outside of the president’s base have always warned of the harm he could do in a true crisis. Replacing experts with sycophants has been like building lead-lined pipes to every home in America. It was always dangerous — it just took a disaster for everyone to see the full effect.

In an era of extreme polarization, some have questioned whether our capacity for patriotic sacrifice can still overcome this stunted, irresponsible leadership.

I know that it can. In the weeks and months ahead, we can prove that to the world.

We can be far more than our leaders would have us believe.

Moulton represents the 6th District of Massachusetts.


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