On Wednesday, as COVID-19 was claiming its 100,000th U.S. victim in just four months, President Donald Trump sat in the Oval Office with a frequent political adversary, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has been more than just matching him for TV face time in these pandemic-plagued days.
The two battlers from New York City’s Queens borough seem to have spent their meeting in unaccustomed agreement. Namely: Discussing the win-win benefit of jump-starting America’s shut-and-shattered economy by injecting a dose of big-time spending to modernize New York’s rusting, cracking, crumbling infrastructure.
Infrastructure in Crisis — it’s a concept we all get. Just mention “infrastructure” and our mind’s eye sees those steel girders that are the spines of America’s national infrastructure. We see those massive concrete-and-steel highways, bridges, tunnels and train tracks. Sure, some are a century old; yet we trust them to always get us safely across the mountains, rivers and lakes. Or just get us across town on an expressway, subway or elevated train track.
Yet, our mind’s eye also sees and recalls those years-old pictures of infrastructure calamities: collapsing roads, bridges, tracks and tunnels. Indeed, as Trump and Cuomo were reportedly agreeing — although nothing concrete was announced — TV news was also showing us videos of the latest infrastructure calamity: massive floods in Michigan, caused because aged and inadequate dams failed after record rains.
But while Trump may be preparing to announce a new hurry-up spending program to modernize America’s steel spine and concrete infrastructure, I’ve been thinking that perhaps we also need to do something more. This is the moment we need to rethink — and maybe redefine — precisely what else should be included in what we call America’s Infrastructure in the 21st Century.
After all, during the last four months of pandemic challenge, we learned a lot about just what we need and desperately trust will always be there, serving as our steel-strength spine — keeping us America Strong so we can safeguard our families.
We learned that the infrastructure we rely upon most in this pandemic era is not made of steel or concrete at all. It is the health care workers at all levels, who had the guts and humanity to go to work each day — knowing they were walking into the viral pandemic peril all the rest of us were frantically trying to avoid. They are the nurses, health technicians, physicians, custodians and ambulance personnel who went to work at our hospitals every day so we would never have to be taken there.
Oh yes, they have been honored for their fearless sacrifices in the last several months. Every politician you ever voted for (or against) has hailed them as “heroes.” We all have clapped, cheered and honked our horns for them. Recently, President Trump hailed America’s doctors and nurses for “running into death just like soldiers running into bullets.” America’s health care workers are, of course, grateful for that.
But you may have missed this news about the even greater gift that all health care workers recently got from their grateful nation. NEWSBREAK: In a surprise expression of national gratitude, the president announced that all of the nation’s health care workers would be paid a 50% raise in addition to having their income taxes waived.
If perchance you missed that news story, it may be because you do not live in the African nation of Ghana — because that’s where it happened.
Ghana’s president, Nana Akufo-Addo, stunned his nation’s health care workers when he recently announced the raises, which are being funded by his government.
In the United States, health care workers haven’t received a similar federal ka-ching for braving COVID-19 every day. Many other countries, such as Canada and France, have given health care workers raises or bonuses. The United Kingdom is paying families of health workers who die of COVID-19 $65,000.
But so far, Ghana’s generosity appears to have set the world record. Yet Ghana’s grand gift may still be news to Trump, who isn’t known for being effusive in praising African nations. (You may remember the time, in 2018, when Trump reportedly awakened news censors during a discussion with senators about immigration from Africa, Haiti and El Salvador by asking: “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?”)
We agree that America’s hospital and health care workers patriotically emerged as our national treasure — an indispensable part of America’s lifesaving infrastructure. While they cherish being saluted with our applause and cheers and honking horns, they really deserve the sort of gratitude their bankers will accept as deposits.
Perhaps, just this once, America’s president will follow the lead of an African president. Here’s hoping Donald Trump will be thrilled at being celebrated around the world as the American Nana Akufo-Addo.
Martin Schram, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, is a veteran Washington journalist, author and TV documentary executive. Readers may send him email at email@example.com.
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