By Olivia A. Jackson, PhD, Associate Professor, Florida Memorial University
By now, we all have had to quickly adjust to the challenges resulting from Covid-19, a viral pandemic that has brought about health and economic crises of grave proportions, particularly impacting our elderly and Black and brown lives. While doing so, unfortunately, President Trump has managed to turn this viral threat into a weapon of opportunity to push forth broader political agendas while dividing the nation along partisan lines.
Take for example President Trump’s race-baiting rhetoric from the outset in January, referring to the virus as the “China Virus,” leading some of his supporters to viciously seek out and target people who appeared of Asian descent. Instead of focusing on preparedness, such senseless rhetoric simply reflects his ability to spur divisiveness by attributing the virus’ spread to a particular sector of society. Remember, this is the same president who declared in early February that, because only 15 reported cases of infections had been reported at that time, this virus was akin to just another flu-like virus. By late February he continued to minimize the impact of this virus, predicting that by April the number of cases would be near “zero” and would “miraculously” go away.
Unfortunately, as the number of cases continued to climb, the obvious blowback from his delayed response began to emerge: the country was not prepared to deal with the exponential rise in cases and deaths, although the Obama administration actually provided the Trump administration with a Pandemic game plan for addressing pandemics (entitled: Playbook for Early Response to High Consequence Emerging Infectious Disease Threats and Biological Incidents.) So, Mr. Trump, you are wrong when you say Obama left you with “…empty shelves, empty cupboards” to address pandemics.
Nevertheless, no longer able to ignore this pandemic’s effects, and after two months of dismissing this virus, he eventually acquiesced to the public health officials’ insistence to issue a national stay-at-home directive, despite several brave state and local leaders taking matters into their own hands by declaring “shelter-in” policies for their own residents. Let’s get real. Our president’s delay to issue this directive and now his rush to “re-open America” is driven by one motive—an opportunity to win a second term in office. From the outset he weaponized this pandemic to gin up his base by blaming this virus on the “liberal media,” “the radical left,” and of course, Obama. Given the subsequent economic decline, Trump immediately began to weaponize this same virus to push forward an economic stabilization policy in an effort of ensuring re-election with the hopes of people forgetting his failed response to this pandemic. Unfortunately, because of our president’s petulant behavior and lack of leadership, the rise in infections, deaths, and economic fallout that could have been avoided actually occurred. By May 29, the number of reported infections skyrocketed from 15 in mid-February to over 1.7 million, and 101,635 reported deaths.
In the meantime, this pandemic has been utilized by Trump and his supporters (who are encouraged both implicitly and tacitly by the president) to divide the nation,— i.e. the mask vs. non-mask wearers—along partisan lines. The numerous “anti-lock down” groups (cheered on by our president) that show up at state capitols and city halls, un-masked and toting their guns demanding governors and mayors to return to “normal” vividly highlights even more how our country’s leadership weaponizes this pandemic to divide folks along political ideological lines. Unfortunately, such partisan battles only serve to pit ideological loyalties against sound public health advice.
Indeed, reviving the economy and getting folks back to work is crucial for a nation to thrive, but as health experts insist, doing so without carefully balancing public health policy could lead to greater spikes in infections and deaths. So I implore you to remember that as we approach the November 2020 election, let this pandemic —and how it has exposed the failed leadership of our president—serve as a reminder to vote as if your life depends on it…because it does.