I was going to write something hopeful for once in this column. I was going to frame it around Vice President Mike Pence and our own Gov. Jay Inslee casting aside their petty partisan differences to face down a common enemy, the coronavirus.
I was going to write about the elbow bump.
Did you see it? Pence bounded off a plane at Joint Base Lewis-McChord this past week and Inslee was there to greet him. It could have been awkward, as Inslee had pettily blasted the Trump administration recently even after the veep had called to thank Inslee for his leadership on the virus outbreak.
But to their credit, they went for the elbow-bump — the coronavirus handshake. Well, theirs was more like a forearm cross tap, but whatever, they actually pulled it off like they sorta meant it.
Gone, momentarily, was the partisan pointlessness. They cooperated and seemingly collaborated during Pence’s visit. In a sign of progress, Pence allowed a dose of unusual reality into the proceedings when he admitted that “we don’t have enough [coronavirus] tests today to meet what we anticipate will be the demand going forward.”
Getting along, acknowledging facts even if they’re unpleasant — these are baby steps for our dysfunctional political system. But they are steps forward all the same.
Until, well, until the toddler at the top knocked over all the blocks.
“I told Mike not to be complimentary to the governor, because that governor is a snake, OK?” you know who said Friday, choosing a tour of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to add this important contribution to the disease-fighting effort.
“Inslee,” he went on. “I said if you are nice to him, he will take advantage and I would have said no. Let me just tell you we have a lot of problems with the governor … The governor of Washington, that’s where you have many of your problems, okay?”
Make no mistake — this is the start of Trump blaming us for the coronavirus outbreak. Sure here he’s mostly targeting Inslee. But his top economic adviser also counseled everyone Friday to “avoid Seattle.” It’s only a matter of time before Trump suggests the epidemic would have been contained but for Seattle somehow getting sick. Then he’ll dub the outbreak something inane like the “Inslee-enza” and bam, he’s off the hook (at least in his own mind).
I didn’t care for the way Inslee handled the start of this. It was the wrong moment to dunk on a partisan opponent whose help you desperately need. But leave it to Trump to dial the grievance level up to 11.
Trump also maddeningly said Friday, again, that the coronavirus was contained.
“This came unexpectedly, it came out of China, we closed it down, we stopped it,” he said.
Anyone walking around the mostly empty streets of South Lake Union on Friday could tell you we didn’t close it down, we didn’t stop it (unless he’s no longer including Seattle as part of “we”). Take it from some family members of the dead, that “mission accomplished” rhetoric rings especially hollow right now.
“Where is the CDC, where are the professionals?” one of them wrote to me this past week, asking not to be named because he has a relative in the quarantined Life Care Center of Kirkland. “It feels like we’re going it alone.”
It is starting to feel as if Seattle is being symbolically quarantined from America. In part by the disease-control measures, with the dark offices and quiet downtown streets. But in part just by poisonous rhetoric.
Dammit, I said I was going to write something nice, so here it is. In the midst of all the above toxicity, the state Legislature in Olympia was asked to respond to the coronavirus. On Monday a Democrat and a Republican jointly sponsored a $100 million emergency funding bill, on Tuesday it passed the state House 96 to 0, and on Wednesday it passed the state Senate 47 to 0. Unanimity like that almost never happens.
“It is my goal to avoid this being a partisan, nasty debate …” said state Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville. “I am not going to argue about the amount of money we spend to protect public safety and keep commerce going in this state.”
Good for our state lawmakers. We may be marooned out here. But at least for the moment, we’re marooned together.