Coronavirus diary – Part 32
The problem was that democracy pandered to desire. It gave people what they wanted from day to day, but it did nothing to make sure they wanted the right things. It had no capacity for wisdom, for difficult decisions, or for hard truths. Democracies were founded on flattery and lies. Democratic politicians told the people what they wanted to believe, not what they needed to hear—David Runciman
In the run-up to the US general elections, two presidential debates were held between the Republican nominee, President Trump, and the Democratic nominee Vice President Biden.
The first was held at the Health Education Campus of Case Western Reserve University and the Cleveland Clinic on September 30, 2020. It was moderated by Chris Wallace of Fox News and the Second held on October 22, 2020, in Nashville, Tennessee that was moderated by Kristen Welker. Both debates were held at the instance of the Commission on Presidential Debates. Although the issues in the debate converged majorly on COVID-19 besides the routine issues of tax, healthcare, race question, Amy Coney (Supreme Court nominee), the national security and foreign relations. The debates reflected the public sphere in America.
Central to the two debates is the subject of COVID-19 described by Chris Wallace as an “awfully serious subject”, with over 200,000-plus dead. What would be the meaningful response of the two candidates going forward. President Biden who had the first go on the issue accented the cold statistics to the effect that “200,000 dead. As you said, over seven million infected in the United States. We, in fact, have 4% of the world’s population, 20% of the deaths. 40,000 people a day are contracting COVID-19. In addition to that, between 750 and 1000 people a day are dying.” And he affirmed that incumbent President Trump had no plan and underscored the president’s omission and commission.
The president he said, “He went in and we were insisting that the people we had in the ground in China should be able to go to Wuhan and determine for themselves how dangerous this was. He did not even ask Xi to do that… He told us what a great job Xi was doing. He said we owe him a debt of gratitude for being so transparent with us. And what did he do then? He then did nothing. He waited and waited and waited. He still doesn’t have a plan”.
Biden’s plan which he claimed he laid out in March and July 2020 that focused on “providing the money the House has passed in order to be able to go out and get people the help they need to keep their businesses open. Open schools cost a lot of money”. President Trump disagreed with Biden and argued that it was China’s fault.
According to him, “If we would’ve listened to you, the country would have been left wide open, millions of people would have died, not 200,000. And one person is too much. It’s China’s fault. It should have never happened. They stopped it from going in, but it was China’s fault.” He made the point that America was transparent about the numbers and you could not tell exactly what they were doing in China, Russia, and India. He responded by closing the doors to outsiders over which he was called xenophobic and racist. Trump further trumpeted his achievement with claims that the infectious disease expert, Anthony Fauci who said that “President Trump saved thousands of lives” in addition to the applause from some of the governors who said that, “President Trump did a phenomenal job.”
In concrete terms, the president said his administration, “… got the gowns. We got the masks. We made the ventilators. You wouldn’t have made ventilators. And now we’re weeks away from a vaccine. We’re doing therapeutics already. Fewer people are dying when they get sick. Far fewer people are dying. We’ve done a great job”. The absence of widespread acknowledgment of his effort was due to bad press and the fake news. He affirmed the point that Biden could not do so.
As he puts it, “But I’ll tell you, Joe, you could never have done the job that we did. You don’t have it in your blood. You could’ve never done that, Joe…Well, you didn’t do very well in Swine Flu. H1-N1, you were a disaster. Your own Chief of Staff said you were a disaster.” A defensive Biden noted that “… We didn’t shut down the economy. This is his economy he shut down. The reason it’s shut down is that look, you folks at home. How many of you got up this morning and had an empty chair at the kitchen table because someone died of COVID-19? How many of you are in a situation where you lost your mom or dad and you couldn’t even speak to them, you had a nurse holding a phone up so you could in fact say goodbye?” This was more about sentiments than his plan.
The debate tilted towards a vaccine, the elixir for COVID-19, and Wallace’s question was on the timeline for the vaccine and he asked: “The week before last, the Head of the Centers for Disease Control, Dr. Redfield said it would be summer before the vaccine would become generally available to the public. You said that he was confused and mistaken. Those were your two words. But Dr. Slaoui, the head of your Operation Warp Speed, has said exactly the same thing. Are they both wrong?” President Trump noted his administration was working and talking to the companies on the vaccine question and that the controversy about it was “a political thing.” However, Wallace underlined the real issue: acceptability of the vaccine by the public.
Other important aspects of the focus on response to COVID-19 were the wearing of a mask and the shutdown of the economy. Biden’s take was: “Well, masks make a big difference. His own head of the CDC said if we just wore masks between now, if everybody wore a mask and socially distanced between now and January, we’d probably save up to 100,000 lives. It matters. It matters.” And Trump rejoined that wearing a mask was okay but was not wearing a mask-like Biden whom he said, “Every time you see him, he’s got a mask. He could be speaking 200 feet away from him and he shows up with the biggest mask I’ve ever seen. I will say this”. On the economy, Trump said he had to shut down the economy but theirs was a political edge to it and the democratic governors who shutdown their states for more than necessary did for political reasons and that he had to open up to keep the economy running. His Democratic challenger would argue that “You can’t fix the economy until you fix the COVID-19 crisis. And he has no intention of doing anything about making it better for you all at home in terms of your health and your safety.”
In the final debate moderated by Kristen Welker, we are again confronted by cold stats about COVID-19 as she said, “And we will begin with the fight against the coronavirus. President Trump, the first question is for you. The country is heading into a dangerous new phase. More than 40,000 Americans are in the hospital tonight with COVID-19, including record numbers here in Tennessee.
Author’s note: This analysis will be
continued in part 33 of this diary next week.
Akhaine is a professor of Political Science at the Lagos State University.
And since the two of you last shared a stage, 16,000 Americans have died from COVID-19. So please be specific: how would you lead the country during this next stage of the coronavirus crisis?
Trump replied with stats as well. He said, “So, as you know, more 2.2 million people, modeled out, were expected to die. We closed up the greatest economy in the world in order to fight this horrible disease that came from China. It’s a worldwide pandemic. It’s all over the world. You see the spikes in Europe and many other places right now. If you notice, the mortality rate is down, 85%.” Optimistically with a vaccine in the offing, and the military’s Operation Warp Speed, the vaccine would go round and the virus would be vanquished. Many of the responses were a duplication of their responses in the first debate. Trump made a meal of the fact that he had succeeded in fighting the virus, enough of gowns, masks ventilators, and in fact producing ventilators and lending a hand of fellowship globally in the fight against COVID-19.
Again on the vaccine issue, Mr. President said, “Johnson and Johnson is doing very well. Moderna is doing very well. Pfizer is doing very well, and we have numerous others. And then we also have others that we’re working on very closely with other countries, in particular Europe.” He mocked Biden’s lack of capacity and said, ‘Oh, I should have, I should have, you know, moved quicker.’ But he didn’t move quicker; he was months behind me, many months behind me. And frankly, he ran the H1N1 swine flu, and it was a total disaster. Far less lethal. But it was a total disaster. Had that had this kind of numbers, 700,000 people would be dead right now, but it was a far less lethal disease”.
For Biden, with 220,000 Americans dead and whoever was responsible for not taking control could hardly be fit to govern America. Would he become president he “would make sure that we set up national standards as to how to open up schools and open up businesses so they can be safe, and give them the wherewithal and financial resources to be able to do that.” No solution but sheer rhetoric. To echoes his words, “And again, I go back to this, he had nothing. He did virtually nothing. And then he gets out of the hospital, and he talks about we’re, this is, ‘Oh, don’t worry. This is all going to be over soon.” Although Welker probed Biden for his strategy, he never talked about it; it was all about Trump not taking responsibility. But a hint was seen in his words: “What I would say is I’m going to shut down the virus, not the country.” with more social distancing and provision of plexiglass dividers for restaurants. The difference between Wallace’s and Welker’s moderated sections is that the Climate issue featured but our concern is COVID-19.
Author’s note: This analysis will be continued in part 33 of this diary next week.
Akhaine is a professor of Political Science at the Lagos State University.
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