In the end, Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb didn’t have much choice.
He had to shut the state down.
That’s why on Monday he signed an executive order closing all non-essential businesses in Indiana. He also directed all Hoosiers to stay home for two weeks unless they’re caring for others or going for groceries or medical supplies.
Holcomb didn’t have many alternatives.
Ever since the first coronavirus case in Indiana was diagnosed on March 6, the growth chart for the spread of the disease has looked like a graphic for a rocket launch. The rate of new cases has been accelerating almost exponentially and Surgeon General Jerome Adams says the coming weeks will be worse – much worse – than what Americans have seen so far.
As Holcomb spoke, the Hoosier State had recorded around 260 cases and seven deaths.
Those totals, though, are deceptive.
Because it still is difficult to impossible for Hoosiers to be tested for coronavirus and the results of the test can take almost a week to be reported, the real numbers doubtless are higher.
And likely to get worse.
That accounted for the urgency of the governor’s short address Monday. He spoke for about 10 minutes and sounded for much of it like a man in a hurry to finish with an unpleasant task.
Holcomb still is not a polished speaker. Every time he steps to a microphone, he resembles a self-conscious high school student dragged to the front of the auditorium to make a few remarks.
But, in this case, that didn’t matter.
The governor’s very stiffness – even awkwardness – compelled attention to his message.
The subtext was clear.
Holcomb wasn’t issuing a sweeping executive order because he wanted to. He was doing it because he had to.
Fair-minded Hoosiers will respect that. They will grasp that the governor wasn’t attempting to exploit an emergency to enhance his authority but instead is trying to keep his fellow citizens from dying in greater numbers than necessary.
So did Holcomb’s tone.
It established a marked contrast with that of President Donald Trump during this crisis.
Trump again and again has sought to invoke the dark furies – division, discord, seething resentment – that propelled him to power. When it became clear there was no magic wand the president could wave to ward off this danger, he began seeking ways to evade responsibility for it.
He called it a “foreign virus” or “Chinese virus.” He lashed out at a reporter who lobbed him the softest of softballs by asking if the president wanted to speak to Americans who are frightened at this moment. When asked about failures in the federal government’s response to the crisis, the president of the United States – the president of the United States – said he took no responsibility for what his administration does.
For Donald Trump, the buck stops with him only when the news is good.
When the going gets tough, he looks for a desk to hide under.
Thank goodness Holcomb took a different tack.
Instead of speaking to Hoosiers’ darker impulses, he summoned, to use Abraham Lincoln’s wonderous phrase, the better angels of their nature.
He heaped praise on Indiana citizens who are part of the solution, not the problem. He lauded not just health care workers – he called them heroes – but others who simply practiced social distance.
And, thus, saved lives.
He also didn’t try to spin things to make himself look good. He just laid out the facts, confident that Hoosiers were wise enough and tough enough to face them.
Holcomb’s message was clear.
The coronavirus is a threat to all of us. For that reason, we all must work together to meet and defeat the virus.
As an exercise in elocution, the governor’s short speech might have merited only a passing grade.
But, as an act of leadership, Eric Holcomb’s performance was first-rate.