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Politics in a pandemic


May 20, 2020

The rapid deterioration of the US economy due to the novel coronavirus pandemic has started to make President Trump very nervous.

After all, the presidential election is less than six months away. After continuously downplaying the threat, he was ultimately forced to confront reality as the number of infections and deaths kept climbing. As of mid-May, the number of infections in the US were approaching 1.5 million and deaths were closing in on 90,000.

In mid-April, the White House Coronavirus Task Force came up with projected death figures of between 100,000 and 240,000. For a moment Trump looked shell-shocked and even moved. That didn’t last long. The political ramifications of the health and economic impact of the crisis started to hit home. He pivoted quickly and started to urge governors to open their states for commerce, never mind that almost none of them were meeting the criteria for opening, such as 14 days of declining infections.

Supporters of Donald Trump were mobilized to rally in front of governors’ offices and urging, even threatening them to open the state for business. Many demonstrators were armed; some carried racist Nazi and Confederate flags, and worse. As could be expected, the president commented that these were “very decent people”.

President Trump understands the chances of his reelection would be slim if the economy continues in terrible shape through the summer. Unemployment at 14 percent is at the highest ever levels, with more than 30 million unemployed. Forecasts for April-June quarter are even worse.

About 56 percent of Americans disapprove of how the Trump administration has handled the crisis: first minimizing the threat, then peddling fake remedies such as Chloroquine and disinfectant, and finally shifting the blame to WHO and China, and even Obama. Yet there is more to these numbers. As we dig deeper, we find out that while 80 percent of Democrats feel the government has done a poor job, 80 percent of Republicans actually approve.

The bifurcation of the country by political parties is now near complete. Donald Trump is the first president in my 40+ years in the US who after winning the election made no effort whatsoever to reach out to those who didn’t vote for him. In fact, the genius of his politics, if we can call it that, has been a sensing of deep anger that resided among much of the white population since the election of Obama. Not only had a Black man been twice elected president, he did it without winning a majority of the White vote!

Immediately, the slogan “we will take our country back” was heard. Whose country? And from whom? The answer came in the election of a divisive and bigoted man named Donald Trump. His campaign was built on stoking hatred of Obama, and hatred of immigrants and Muslims.

As the 2020 election approached, Trump was ready to roll out the same playbook. But a small thing called Covid-19 got in the way. After declaring a national emergency on March 15, he realized the virus will not go away quickly, while the election timing looms. In addition, the virus was disproportionately affecting major cities, which typically lean Democrat. All of a sudden Trump had found yet another supposedly winning formula. He started to call for opening the economy, saying “We cannot punish everyone for a problem affecting only certain areas”.

During his 2015 campaign Trump had said he could kill someone on 5th Avenue and still not lose support. The question now is how about if under his inept leadership a hundred thousand people die? We will find out on November 3.

The writer is a freelance contributor based in Washington DC.

Website: blogs