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Trump’s Illness Shouldn’t Be a Governance Crisis

The Editors
·3 mins read

(Bloomberg Opinion) -- The news that President Donald Trump has contracted the coronavirus has made a very strange year even stranger, and a stressed and battered political system has suffered a new blow. With a bit of prudence and foresight, however, the country can cope.

It’s tempting to entertain dire scenarios at such a moment. The president’s illness will complicate everything from the debates to his pending Supreme Court nomination to negotiations over a new economic relief bill. But Americans should be confident that the government can still function. The 25th Amendment specifies procedures for transferring the president’s powers in an emergency, while the Presidential Succession Act identifies who assumes office should both the president and vice president be incapacitated. Although no one could’ve predicted precisely this chain of events, officials have long contemplated — and prepared for — a crisis in the executive branch.

Even so, the next few weeks will no doubt pose a challenge for American democracy. Elected officials, including the president, will need to summon an unusual degree of sobriety and goodwill to ensure that order is maintained and the election proceeds smoothly.

As a start, the White House should level with the public, not only about the president’s health but about who else is infected, what protective measures are in place and what contingency planning is underway. It must be conscientious about further testing and contact tracing, while keeping people apprised even of not-so-good news. Congressional leaders in both parties should likewise aim for maximum transparency. The goal should be to reassure the public, calm markets, bolster America’s allies and generally turn down the temperature.

Another obvious challenge will be the election itself. Politics will not — and should not — stop because of this news. Both parties’ national committees should publicly explain their procedures for replacing a nominee in an emergency. More important, the campaign should proceed with a spirit of generosity and good faith that has not exactly been in evidence so far. Former vice president Joe Biden hit precisely the right tone on Friday: To the man he had viciously sparred with on a debate stage just days before, Biden offered only prayers and good wishes.

Finally, this jolt should be a reminder — both to the White House and to the public — that this pandemic is nowhere near over. With many states attempting to reopen their economies and return to some degree of normality, it was all too easy to yield to complacency or exhaustion. After eight months and more than 200,000 American deaths, the virus remains uncontrolled — a threat even to the most carefully guarded man in the world.

In the weeks ahead, there will be time to assign blame, question decisions and assess where things went wrong. For now, wish the president — and the republic — nothing but the best.

Editorials are written by the Bloomberg Opinion editorial board.

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