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Coronavirus diary – Part 33

By Sylvester Odion Akhaine
18 November 2020   |   3:43 am
On November 30, 2019, I left Detroit for Nigeria after a conference at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. To be sure, there was no hint of a Coronavirus outbreak.

On November 30, 2019, I left Detroit for Nigeria after a conference at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. To be sure, there was no hint of a Coronavirus outbreak. With hindsight, I would have been caught in the US lockdown when COVID-19 made its stealthy inroad into the US. Official Washington was smarting from the impeachment exercise which itself was a trial of liberal democracy and its resilience within the capitalist substructure that underpins it.
Recall that on December 31, 2019, COVID-19 broke out in Wuhan, China, and by February 7, 2020, it had claimed Dr. Li Wenliang who raised the red flag and coursed into several continents, compelling the WHO to declare COVID-19 a global pandemic. Evidentially, several US leaders had forewarned of a global pandemic and the imperative of preparedness to confront such eventuality. Nevertheless, the country was caught unaware, and the institutional response was disarticulated due to the erratic and petulant occupant of the White House. Proactiveness took backstage for official blame-game and sundry conspiracy theories about the origin surged. Yet POTUS blamed China for the virus and China had rejected Trump’s accusation as baseless through its U.N. ambassador Zhang Jun. 
Ex-cathedra, POTUS drove home the point of China’s complicity at the United Nations General Assembly in September. As he puts it, “We must hold accountable the nation which unleashed this plague onto the world, China…The Chinese government, and the World Health Organization – which is virtually controlled by China – falsely declared that there was no evidence of human-to-human transmission…Later, they falsely said people without symptoms would not spread the disease … The United Nations must hold China accountable for their actions.” As the virus took its toll on America, a First World country finds itself on the same pedestal as the Third World with an infrastructural deficit—no enough hospital beds, intensive care units, and ventilators. It was simply a harvest of death.

The gloom in the face of Andrew Cuomo of New York as he reeled out daily situation reports cannot be forgotten so soon. Official Washington had no silver bullet for COVID-19 and still has not found one except touting of vaccine that might be ready ‘soon’. The frustration of no-cure expanded the blame-game. The WHO was complicit with China and the US withdrew officially from the organisation of which he was hitherto a major financier. China would promise more financial support to the WHO. Rosie Perper of Business Insider reported China’s injection of an extra $30 million into the agency to support the fight against the global pandemic and shore up health systems in poor countries. Indeed, 

China’s Xi Jinping would respond to Trump’s UN address by a call to “follow the guidance of science, give full play to the leading role of the World Health Organization and launch a joint international response … Any attempt of politicizing the issue, or stigmatization, must be rejected.”

The situation at home underlined by deaths in thousands and expanding curve of infection was too cold for comfort, and in an election year, it would be exploited by varied political actors. This was exactly the case. The president continued the preposterous wish that the virus would disappear and went to length to suggest the injection of bleach into the body to cure the disease, an issue he said was a joke and taken out of context.
Before the November 3 elections, the charges against Trump were articulated as one of mismanagement of the COVID-19 pandemic. The president was at variance with his chief advisors on the pandemic such as Anthony Fauci. The antinomies of Trump’s responses were aptly articulated by The New England Journal of Medicine which had to issue its first editorial on an election in its 208-year history. There was a de-emphasis on capacity building with regard to real-time test resulting in delay and with a consequence for disease control; relegation of scientific knowledge to the background while foregrounding “uninformed ‘opinion leaders’ and charlatans who obscure the truth and facilitate the promulgation of outright lies”; and consequent job losses and avoidable American deaths more than it ever lost since World War II. 
Importantly, there was a lack of leadership example as President Trump discouraged the use of a mask, and undermined support for wearing masks contrary to the advice of his director of the Centres for Disease Control (CDC) that wearing of a mask can slow the spread of COVID-19 and protect others. Truly, he was in conflict with Michigan state laws on the wearing of Mask when he visited that state in May. Not unexpected of a president who spent a great deal of his time playing down the severity of the virus and the illusion of a possible disappearance. 

Trump and his wife were infected by the virus and would be interpreted as nemesis since he had always downplayed the infectiousness of the disease. Observers such as Washington Post’s Margaret Sullivan noted that the US needed “an entirely credible, fact-based voice from the White House”. But the Economist could not miss out on the political in it. It wrote that “Donald and Melania Trump have both tested positive for COVID-19, just four weeks before the presidential election. This must be frightening for them and their family. It will also have an important effect on the presidential campaign. Political journalists have been speculating about an October surprise for months. Now we have one”.

But it opined that the electoral capital would be minimal in case the incident engendered “a sympathy bump in the polls” but more of a deficit in that “His own illness makes that task impossible for the next ten days. By the time he emerges from quarantine there will not be much time left for him to make up the deficit in his poll numbers”. Alas, POTUS bounced back earlier than expected into his campaign blitz.
Nevertheless, it must be acknowledged that COVID-19 and its mismanagement by the incumbent Trump administration mattered in the election process. Little wonder that The New England Journal of Medicine was vehement in his call to vote out Trump. As the journal note in its rare editorial: “Anyone else who recklessly squandered lives and money in this way would be suffering legal consequences. Our leaders have largely claimed immunity for their actions. But this election gives us the power to render judgment. Reasonable people will certainly disagree about the many political positions taken by candidates. But truth is neither liberal nor conservative. When it comes to the response to the largest public health crisis of our time, our current political leaders have demonstrated that they are dangerously incompetent. We should not abet them and enable the deaths of thousands more Americans by allowing them to keep their jobs.”

In a convergence of efforts, Roy Zimmerman, the American satirical singer-songwriter and guitarist lent his lyrics to the anti-Trump party thus: “Vote him away.

In the bunker, the White House bunker, The Liar Tweets tonight, the death toll rises and multiplies as The Liar Tweets tonight. It’s really Putin who he’s saluting from that West Point grandstand, congratulating him for creating new jobs for the Taliban.

Don Psychotic, Lying King. 
“Stop the typing right away, show’s over folks. It’ll vanish any day. It’s a deep state hoax. Need some help? Don’t look at me. You’re on your own. I’m protecting Robert E. Lee and Roger Stone.”
“In the country the cries for justice ring through the streets tonight. But in the White House, the might-is-right house, The Liar Tweets tonight. Vote Him Away.”

The US elections have come but not gone. Its aftermath will reverberate for a very long time. It seems to me that the elections were not won or lost majorly on the basis of COVID-19 but rather on account of Trump’s alienating nationalism in a frontier country as well as his petulant persona. While Americans sort their mess, the situation reminds me of the assertion of David Runciman of the University of Cambridge whose book, The Confidence Trap, A History of Democracy in Crisis from World War 1 to the Present I reviewed for the Canadian Journal of History in 2016. While paraphrasing De Tocqueville, he notes: “The key to making sense of American democracy was to learn not to take it at face value. It worked despite the fact that it looked as though it shouldn’t work. Its advantages were hidden somewhere beneath the surface and only emerged over time.”


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