Baldwin, Barnes Shred Trump’s Coronavirus and George Floyd Response in Virtual Town Hall
Graphic via Tania Lili for Courier

Mandela Barnes and Sen. Tammy Baldwin rip the President’s actions in a virtual forum about the pandemic and police protests.

Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes and Sen. Tammy Baldwin in a virtual town hall on Monday denounced President Trump’s botched response to the coronavirus pandemic that has so far killed nearly 110,000 Americans and infected almost two million, and to issues of police brutality and systemic racism that have boiled over in recent weeks.

Barnes and Baldwin appeared at the town hall, hosted by four liberal groups, alongside five Wisconsinites negatively impacted by the coronavirus including two business owners, two educators, and an attorney. The discussion came as the still-prevalent virus has taken a back seat as the world is focusing on ongoing protests over police brutality and systemic racism sparked by the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man murdered in police custody.

“We have to remember that we are still in the middle of a public health emergency,” Barnes said. “These are not two separate conversations. You can’t talk about COVID in the state without talking about equity, because systemic racism has led to the outcomes that we’re seeing in COVID patients.”

He went on to chide the Republican-controlled state Legislature, saying “they are in lock-step with the Trump administration” in responding to inequality and the pandemic. 

“The administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic has shone a spotlight on its priorities: And that’s big corporations and billionaires first, and everybody else last,” Barnes said. “The stock market is more important to them, to this administration, than what the average American’s quality of life is.”

The lieutenant governor expressed anger in Trump and Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConell’s dismissal of House Democrats’ ”Heroes Act,” which would provide further coronavirus relief. That, combined with Trump’s complete disregard for expert health advice and warnings, is indefensible, Baldwin said.

“There were so many warning signs and previous reports done … and at every turn those were just ignored or there was a claim of ignorance,” Baldwin said. “That’s not true. We knew the roadmap; we knew what we had to do.”

Trump has dropped most of the burden of responding to the virus onto states’ shoulders, all while praising governors who have done nothing to fight the virus and encouraging protesters to “liberate” themselves from state-imposed lockdowns and publicly picked fights with governors who dared push back. 

In March, he told governors “try getting it yourselves” when it became apparent there would be a personal protective equipment shortage.

Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes and Sen. Tammy Baldwin speak during a virtual town hall about the coronavirus pandemic and systemic racism. (Screenshots)

“All of this shouldn’t have even been necessary, because it’s what our president should have done as a leader who wanted to promote health and safety and also do this as quickly as possible so that we can get folks back to work,” Baldwin said.

Darren Price, owner of BP Smokehouse in Tomah, one of the local business owners who spoke, said the federal coronavirus response, including the controversial Paycheck Protection Program, “really wasn’t helping.”

“Trump is not a failure,” Price said. “Failure implies that you tried to do something and you failed. They haven’t even tried… It’s incompetence at a level we’ve never seen before.”

Last month, Trump openly admitted that his rush to reopen the economy would result in preventable deaths, but said citizens are “warriors” who should be willing to “be affected badly” for the sake of the economy.

“When Trump says, ‘We’re going to have some deaths,’ I’m one of those likely candidates, and I understand that,” said Anne Brown, a 63-year-old attorney from Eau Claire. “That shouldn’t be taken lightly.”

And like with coronavirus, the economy has been Trump’s refrain amid the mass civil unrest across the country following Floyd’s murder. When the most recent unemployment numbers unexpectedly showed job growth, Trump said it’s “a great day for (Floyd).” He also has no plans to address systemic racism besides economic growth.

In response to protests which have at times turned violent and also seen police clash with demonstrators, many times without provocation, Trump has expressed his desire to have the military “dominate” citizens. 

For Barnes, that response is missing the point at best, dangerous at worst.

“The destruction of any sort of physical structure or property, it pales in comparison to the systematic destruction of communities over generations,” Barnes said. “It’s like internal bleeding: You might not see the injury; you don’t notice it. But it’s lurking underneath the surface, impacting an entire system. And if it’s left untreated, the results are deadly, the results are catastrophic.”