Published: 03:06 PM, 02 May 2020
Since the end of World War II and more importantly following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the United States of America has led the world in many ways as a generous nation and/or as a policeman.
While it remains the world’s most powerful country in terms of economy and military, it apparently is losing or waning its long-standing socio-economic-political influence or presence across the world in recent years. While there are several other factors responsible for the decline of its global image, undoubtedly one of the most important reasons is its people. By people, I mean political or government leaders, party leaders and even people among the general public although this does not entirely come down to one individual or political party or even one single administration.
In recent times, America’s leadership and the inherent partisan divide over the Covid-19 pandemic is a bad example for America and the world at large. Over the past several weeks, both the federal government and state governments have taken several measures to tackle the spread of the coronavirus following the confirmation of the first positive case on January 21.
On January 31, the Trump administration announced that it would deny entry to any foreign national who had visited China in the last 14 days, after which the Chinese government accused Washington of spreading fear by enforcing travel restrictions. President Donald Trump nominated Vice President Mike Pence in charge of the government’s response to the pandemic on February 26. On March 11, the White House restricted travel from Europe for 30 days in an attempt to fight against the coronavirus. And on March 13, the government declared a national emergency to free up $50 billion to combat the virus.
Subsequently on March 18, President Trump signed a coronavirus relief package including free testing and paid emergency leave. And on March 27, Trump signed a stimulus package of $2 trillion, one of the most expensive relief measures passed in the history of the United States Congress. While the authorities have taken several measures, arguably one of the biggest worrying developments is over the lockdown and social distancing issues.
To combat the spread of the virus, many states have ordered different restrictions at varying levels of severity. What has surprised many around the world is that the largely-perceived-as-law-abiding citizens have taken to the streets and other places in small groups and or large numbers to protest the restrictive measures announced by different state administrations. Some protesters, who are mostly Trump’s supporters, argue that emergency declarations by Democratic governors violate their constitutional right to peacefully assemble.
The unfortunate development is the manner in which the entire situation becomes more of a partisan issue at a time when the United States has surpassed all other countries, including China (at least per official data) in terms of both positive cases and deaths. The Democratic governors have asked the White House to urge Americans to stay at home during the lockdown and maintain social distancing. On the other hand, Trump has directly or indirectly incited and or encouraged his supporters to protest the orders of state governments.
Instead of urging them to stay indoors, Trump at a press briefing on April 19 said, “some governors have gone too far” and the protesters were “great people…their life was taken away from them…these people love our country, they want to get back to work.” While the Constitution grants the states power over public order and safety, the president’s opinion and/or statements from the White House undoubtedly have a strong influential message on the American people. The partisan divide over the coronavirus pandemic was evident when some Republican governors had started easing lockdowns in their states in the past several days.
For example, on April 21, governors in three southern states – Georgia, Tennessee and South Carolina – announced their plans to ease coronavirus lockdowns. Subsequently, restaurants, hair salons, gyms, bowling alleys and some cinemas were allowed to reopen in Georgia since late last week. The Tennessee governor said most of the businesses will be allowed to reopen by May 1. And South Carolina allowed people to return to beaches and also permitted the reopening of non-essential retail businesses. Though it is entirely up to the states to decide when to relax or reopen their businesses, it is concerning that the issue has become so partisan among politicians and their supporters. While there is no doubt that the lockdowns are definitely hurting the US economy, it is disheartening to see protesters with Trump 2020 flags, hats and shirts in states ruled by Democratic governors.
As per a BBC news report on April 21, one militia leader in the state of Illinois said, “Reopen my state or we will reopen it ourselves.” Such a development is particularly disturbing in a socalled democratic country where there is easy-access to arms and ammunition. Some Trump supporters believe or hold the view that the pandemic, the wide criticism of his administration’s handling of the virus in its early stages, combined with the deteriorating economy could minimize the chances of his re-election bid in November. This can be construed as one important reason why Trump has put the blame on his predecessor Barack Obama, the Chinese, and the World Health Organization for the spread of the deadly virus and its socio-economic impacts on America and its people.
While the lockdown may be draconian or deadly as much as the virus itself, the protesters’ behavior and the entrenchment of partisan politics are an alarming sign for the future of American democracy and polity. While it is still months away before the November presidential election, it is clear that the politics of coronavirus and the economic impacts will affect the election outcome and whether Donald Trump or Joe Biden will sit at the White House.