As coverage of the coronavirus streams 24-7 on the airways, updating cases and casualties as well as policy shifts and other breaking developments, it is understandable Americans might find their attention riveted to day to day events linked to the pandemic, making it hard to even think about larger political contexts or issues raised by the pandemic.
We rarely even hear, for example, about the Democratic primary, much less about the approaching presidential election in November, on which many American interests hang in the balance.
Last March 23, speaking to the date on the 10th anniversary of President Obama signing into law the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi held a press conference to introduce House Democrats’ COVID-19 economic stimulus response, Take Responsibility for Workers and Families Act.
Importantly, she did not miss the opportunity to link the coronavirus pandemic and this immediate legislative response to the larger, seemingly always-present, and ever-looming public health crisis in America posed by the Trump administration’s ongoing legal efforts to abolish the Affordable Care Act.
Indeed she opened her remarks, in fact, drawing attention to the discordance between the American efforts to pull together to stem the spread of the coronavirus and save lives and the unceasing efforts of the Trump administration to undermine access to healthcare for tens of millions of Americans. She emphasized:
Now, we find ourselves in the depths of one of the most serious health and economic emergencies our nation has ever faced. The protections of the Affordable Care Act are more important now than ever. But right now, in the middle of coronavirus, the Trump Administration is in court suing to tear down the entire Affordable Care Act. Every last protection and benefit.
She followed with this exhortation:
Today, therefore, I am calling on President Trump to abandon his lawsuit seeking to strike down the Affordable Care Act. Instead, the President must urge the fourteen states who have refused to expand Medicaid to do so.
Pelosi’s strategy is clear here: to keep Americans’ eyes focused on 2020 and what is stake; and, more importantly, continue to remind Americans what Trump is up to, what he is actually doing.
Meanwhile the media itself is still largely absorbed in a narrow minute by minute view of Trump’s statements, caught in the exhausting and counterproductive “ah-ha” and “gotcha” spiral of fixating on and running after Trump’s dog pack of lies. The media, for the most part, has yet to follow the persistent admonitions of MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow to focus on what Trump does, and not on what he says. Stop giving his lying mouth air time, and start covering the actions of his administration.
Pelosi tried to steer the media in just this direction, reminding them that “right now, in the middle of coronavirus, the Trump Administration is in court suing to tear down the entire Affordable Care Act. Every last protection and benefit.”
And she stressed the consequences, which should rightly be magnified in the context of the coronavirus pandemic:
If President Trump succeeds in striking down the ACA in court, gone is the ban on insurers putting limits on your health care, gone are guaranteed essential health benefits and free preventive services, gone are young people staying on their parent’s insurance until age 26, gone is the health insurance of 20 million Americans and gone are the lifesaving protections for more than 130 million Americans with pre-existing conditions.
As momentous and relevant as Pelosi’s address was in alerting the media and Americans collectively to the larger political issues, and their larger and longer-term political interests when it comes to healthcare access, the media got swallowed up in its own pandering mentality.
As political analyst Terrie Albano observed, writing on Medium:
Did anyone hear this earth shattering statement? Did any cable news channel get their dozens of talking heads to explain and amplify this call to action? Did everybody know the Trump administration is using its suit to get the courts to eliminate the ACA and the popular and necessary insurance coverage for pre-existing conditions for 130 Americans? I don’t think so.
I heard the statement on MSNBC and then spent most of the afternoon hearing all the talking heads dissect Trump and his press conference. Pelosi’s statement was mentioned in passing by some hosts.
Albano’s astute observation is a call to action for the media to engage in journalistic practice responsible to the American public.
Trump is, without a doubt, bungling management of the coronavirus pandemic, irresponsibly costing thousands of Americans their lives and putting many more at risk through the lethal combination of his lies, inaction, and deleterious decision-making.
And it is quite likely his abysmal and fatal leadership now will have an impact come November 2020.
It is also paramount, however, to follow Pelosi’s lead to tie the present moment to larger political stakes and to highlight what Trump is doing and has done, how his policies and practices have made this moment all the worse for Americans.
Tim Libretti is a professor of U.S. literature and culture at a state university in Chicago. A long-time progressive voice, he has published many academic and journalistic articles on culture, class, race, gender, and politics, for which he has received awards from the Working Class Studies Association, the International Labor Communications Association, the National Federation of Press Women, and the Illinois Woman’s Press Association.