Showing posts with label Covid-19. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Covid-19. Show all posts

Monday, August 24, 2020

The Case to Fire Donald Trump

                                                                (Image: YellowHammer.com)

 “Character, in the long run, is the decisive factor in the life of an individual and of nations alike.”
-Theodore Roosevelt

In mid-March, America and South Korea had the same number of Covid-19 deaths; around 90. Now, in late August, South Korea had a total of 306 deaths, while America has crossed 170,000 deaths. It is true that United States has a larger population, but the fact is that with 6 times the population of South Korea our Covid-19 deaths are more than 15 times higher.

Nobody can blame Donald Trump for Covid-19, or for being caught flat-footed like every other global leader. Even President Moon Jae of Korea admitted that his government had a poor early response and apologised to Koreans, but then swung into action and did what was necessary to save lives. That America continues to have 40,000+ new cases and around 500 deaths every day, six months into this crisis, can only be attributed to a failure of leadership.

In February this year, I put Mr. Trump’s chances of re-election at 95% because the economy was strong. We may never settle the argument on whether Mr. Trump’s policies led to the last few years of economic expansion, low unemployment and historic wage growth or if they were a result of President Obama’s policies, but we cannot deny Mr. Trump credit for not messing it up.

However, the economic picture now is starkly different from February of this year. In the second quarter US GDP shrank 32.9% on an annualized basis, making it the worst contraction since record-keeping began in 1947. The economy is in freefall, small businesses are shuttering in record numbers and we are facing the highest unemployment rate since the Great Depression.

I hold no grudge against people who voted for Mr. Trump and agree that Hillary Clinton was a horrible alternative. The Democratic Party in 2016 offered no vision for Americans hurting from the job loss and chronic unemployment which contributed to the opioid epidemic that devastated working class families across the country.

I have also spent time listening to people who felt that they needed to vote for Mr. Trump in 2016. Many independent voters say they liked the fact that he was unscripted and did not sound like every other Stepford politician, even though none liked his lack of civility. This is also why many two-time Obama voters held their nose and voted for Trump in swing states. The fact remains that he was the only politician who spoke to Americans feeling forgotten by both parties.  It is a group Mrs. Clinton chose to ignore. Many of these voters were tired of out-of-touch political elites in both parties, and they decided that Mr. Trump was a risk worth taking. In 2016 Mr. Trump was an unknown quantity in politics, albeit a larger than life reality TV personality, but three years on he has a track record in Washington.

Democrats too have shown a lack of maturity. Many prominent Democrats made it clear after their election defeat that they were going to do everything in their power remove President Trump from office. Since then the opposition has cried wolf numerous times, claiming Mr. Trump was about to start a nuclear war with North Korea and then a conventional one with Iran. Many Democrats have spent much energy looking for reasons to impeach him.

I am not excusing Mr. Trump’s behaviour or actions. I expected the opposition to spend less time expressing outrage at every tweet, acting like the moral police and focus instead on holding the President accountable for tangible actions that have been damaging to Americans. It does not help that Democrats operate in a perpetual state of hysteria, often coming across more like brats, kicking and screaming every time something does not go their way - for instance, the Speaker of the House, ripping up the president’s State of the Union speech, on live TV.

I am a liberal but one who has always called things like I see them, on both sides. We are now in the midst of a global crisis of the magnitude we have not seen since WWII. It no longer matters if you hate Democrats or love President Trump; this election is not about politics as usual. Our livelihoods, the lives of your family, my neighbours and the future of our children are at stake.

Canada, China, Denmark, Finland, Italy, Oman and Singapore have contained the virus and re-opened their economies. America is the wealthiest nation on earth. We have the foremost scientific minds, coupled with access to unrivaled technology and resources. Why have we failed to contain the virus, continuing to see the highest cases and deaths in the world?

As long as America relies on a patchwork of responses cobbled together at the state level, we lose. As long as states are forced to bid against each other for PPE and test kits, we lose. As long as we travel across state lines and refuse to obey quarantine rules, we lose. As long as we continue to flout the advice of health experts, we lose. The longer we allow this virus to run rampant through our divisions, the longer our children suffer social isolation, the more likely they are to fall behind academically in ways that will negatively impact them for life.

We need one plan, not fifty, along with a national Covid task force that ensures medical equipment, testing kits, lab capacity, medical personnel and other resources are deployed when and where they are needed. This is the only way to contain the spread until we have a vaccine; which is still 18-24 months away. We also need continuous monitoring to catch and stop new outbreaks; we know these will continue to occur until there is herd immunity.

President Trump has shown that he is incapable of doing the two things that will help us navigate this crisis: listen to experts and develop a cohesive national plan.

Any president, who abhors details, believes he is smarter than experts and claims that this virus will simply “disappear”, is either not competent or worse, does not care enough to lead us. Waiting for a vaccine is also not an option. The fastest the world has developed a stable vaccine is in four years. Even the most optimistic scenarios suggesting vaccine availability early next year do not consider the additional time it will take to test safety and then to immunise at least 80% of our population to achieve herd immunity.

Consider that the majority of small businesses have less than one month of cash reserves on hand. Small businesses are not just the fabric of our local communities but they form the heart of America’s economic engine. They account for almost 50% of jobs in the private sector, and for the majority of job creation in the country. Some estimates say that up to 43% will close permanently if we are unable to help them survive the next few months.

The knock-on effect of small business closures will devastate America from county to coast. If we fail to save them, and allow the most apocalyptic predictions to occur, we will look back on 2020 as a good year. The unemployment, homelessness and food insecurity that will result from this failure will make the Great Depression seem like a minor hardship. We can prevent and ensure businesses stay open, but this is not possible as long as we remain in a perpetual state of crisis that forces them to keep shutting every few weeks due to preventable local surges.

We can all agree that Joe Biden does not light a zoom on fire, and he even ambles into a room. If he wins, he will enter office at the age that Ronald Regan left, and at 78 years will become our oldest president. But few people have a deeper understanding of the mechanics of our government, or experience working with both sides of the aisle to get things done. Now more than ever we need to find bi-partisan compromise that leads to action.

The stalemate in Congress is not an option at a time when our economy is falling off a cliff. Millions of Americans are facing the prospect of long-term unemployment, eviction from their homes and are unable to feed their families. President Trump has had ample time to show us his legendary deal making abilities and has failed to do so. The businessman who declared bankruptcy six times, frankly, seems bankrupt on ideas for how to deal with this crisis.

 Mr. Biden was the man responsible for cajoling Republican votes to pass the 2009 Recovery Act, and was entrusted by President Obama to supervise its implementation. Those who fear the Bernie wing of the party’s undue influence in a Biden administration should keep in mind that Mr. Biden is not a progressive, and failed all their inane purity tests. He recently also shut out the progressive wing of the party during the DNC convention, and has re-iterated this with his moderate VP pick of Kamala Harris. Further, Mr. Biden is wise enough to understand that there is no question of implementing ambitious plans like the Green New Deal or an overhaul of our healthcare system, if there is no US economy to overhaul. Joe Biden understands that now is not time for revolution. Right now our country needs steady, sturdy and consistent.

Mr. Biden does not have a fancy Ivy League degree. He spent thirty years commuting by local train, was a single father and has suffered tremendous personal loss. He genuinely seems to empathise with the plight of average Americans in ways that his party’s elite cannot, and that President Trump is incapable of. Politicians can fake almost everything but not empathy. So while he may not be anybody’s ideal candidate, no rational person can deny that even with his perceived limitations and human faults, he is far better suited to navigate this health and economic crisis than the incumbent in the Oval Office. At least he cares.

Americans have always managed to rise above political differences and come together to defeat a common enemy. Even politicians cross party lines to do the right thing for the country. President Johnson, a Democrat, counted on support from senate Republicans to pass the 1964 Civil Rights Act, after Democrats tried to filibuster and block its passage. Republicans joined Democrats to draft articles of impeachment against President Nixon. Al Gore disagreed with the Supreme Court verdict but still conceded to George W. Bush, “for the sake of our unity as a people and the strength of our democracy.” In past elections too we have seen Americans cross party lines, like the Reagan Democrats and Republicans who voted for Obama in 2008.

Pessimists will say that this was in the past, and that we are too divided to come together. They might be surprised to learn that Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, negotiated a deal in the absence of a national testing strategy, with three Republican and four Democrat Governors to develop and deploy a rapid testing strategy across their seven states.

We will have many more elections to indulge in our petty bickering and partisan fights, but right now, we need to elect a president who will make a genuine effort to bring us together, not one who relishes stoking divisions and takes pleasure in pitting us against each other. If we choose to re-elect a man who refuses to listen to experts and is incapable of empathy, then the coronavirus will win and we will all lose.

Before you walk into a voting booth or mail your ballot, ask yourself if E pluribus unum is merely a phrase on a seal, or a motto that still reflects our national character and shared values.

 

Friday, July 31, 2020

Democrats Have Nothing to Fear, but Themselves

(Image: Saul Loeb/Getty Images)

“Most human beings have an almost infinite capacity for taking things for granted”
-Aldous Huxley

When Mr. Trump completed his hostile takeover of the Republican Party and claimed the 2016 nomination, it became Mrs. Clinton's election to lose. Her senior aides had secretly been hoping she would face Mr. Trump because they were convinced that “a race against Trump would be a dream for Clinton”. A few months before the election it became clear to me that Mrs. Clinton’s hubris might cost her the election. She did not feel the need to make a case for why voters should choose her, and instead came across more like a Queen expecting a political coronation.

Fast forward to the 2020 Democratic primary, once again my views were out of sync with the majority media, political pundits and progressive party base. From the outset it was clear to me that Joe Biden would win the nomination. Not because I believed Mr. Biden was the strongest or most qualified candidate, but reading between the lines of a fractured and deeply divided party it was evident that of the frontrunners, he was the only one who had support among Black voters; without whom no Democrat can win the White House.

In February this year, I would have put Mr. Trump’s chances of re-election at about 90% because the economy was going great guns, and Democrats seemed too divided to form a cohesive front. Covid-19 changed everything. With the economy in freefall, small businesses shuttering in record numbers and the highest unemployment rate since the Great Depression, the picture now is very different.

In addition, the President’s handling of the crisis has been nothing short of a disaster and his repeated refusal to follow the guidance of his top scientists or develop a coordinated federal response has led to a patchwork of disparate actions at the state level, leading to a dangerous resurgence of coronavirus cases and deaths all over the US.

As a result, polls show Mr. Biden’s lead growing to double digits nationally.  He is widening the gap in swing states and even leading in states that Mr. Trump won with double digits in 2016. There is growing consensus in the media and within the Republican ranks that Mr. Trump is hurtling toward a massive defeat, one that could see Democrats win not just the White House, but also gain majorities in both chambers of congress.

Like 2016, it would seem that the 2020 election is fast becoming Mr. Biden’s to lose. Especially since Mr. Trump continues to administer self-inflicted wounds almost daily. His latest approval has dipped below 40%. Other than Harry Truman no incumbent President has won reelection with such an abysmal job rating. However, if there is one thing Democrats excel at, it is snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. There are six things I would caution them about:

Don’t take Black (and Latino) voters for granted: Since 1968 no Republican presidential candidate has received more than 13% of the Black vote, so it is no surprise that Democrats have come to take the Black vote for granted. In 2020 they do so at their own peril. A recent survey by BlackPAC of registered African American voters found that a significant number are disillusioned with the Democratic Party and more than half feel that the party is not paying close enough attention to the black community.

The Democratic Party’s overly simplistic view of African Americans as a monolithic voting bloc is out of touch with the reality. Blacks in America comprise multiple ethnicities and nationalities, with immigrants representing almost 10% and 24% of Latinos also identify as Black. Similarly, Black voters do not hold the same views across the board. As the Bernie wing of the party pushes the party farther leftwards, they are in danger of disillusioning 25% of Black Democrats who called themselves conservative and 43% who called themselves moderate.

Worryingly, polls show that Mr. Biden’s support among young Black voters, who are leading movements like Black Lives Matter and spearheading calls for systemic change, significantly trails the levels of support he enjoys among older Black voters. Also, Mr. Trump’s support among Black and Latino voters has increased in the past year from 8 to 10 percent and 28 to 30 percent, respectively, this despite his best efforts to the contrary. What should worry Democrats is not the level of support Mr. Trump has, which remains low, but that displeasure with the President has not translated into more support for them.

It’s (still) the economy, stupid: In the second quarter US GDP shrank 32.9% on an annualized basis, making it the worst contraction since record-keeping began in 1947. If the current trajectory continues then Mr. Trump will lose the only arrow in his tiny quiver. But we are still almost 100 days away from the election, and we have seen that the moment the country begins re-opening, as it did in May, there is an economic rebound. In May and June alone a record-breaking 7.5 million jobs were added and there was evidence of pent-up consumer demand with retail brick and mortar sales rising 7.5% in June, following a record jump of 18.5% in May.

If we are able to get the current coronavirus surge under control and start re-opening businesses once again across the country, it is possible that we might see the start of an economic recovery just in time for the election. This would unquestionably be a boost for Mr. Trump because the economy is the only issue he is still trusted on, more than Mr. Biden. In fact, a sizable majority of swing state voters approves of Mr. Trump’s handling of the economy, and trusts him more than Mr. Biden to lead America out of this economic crisis.

Biden’s enthusiasm gap: A recent national survey conducted by SSRS for CNN finds that there is a gap in enthusiasm among Biden versus Trump’s supporters. 70% of Trump voters say they support the President and are voting to reelect him, with only 27% stating they are voting against Biden. On the flipside Biden voters claim the opposite with 60% saying they are voting against Trump, and only 37% casting a vote in support of Biden.

We also know that the Democratic Party is deeply divided with various factions within it jockeying for position. Earlier this year an Emerson College poll found that 50% of Bernie voters would not support a candidate in November if Mr. Sanders was not the nominee. The vitriol and divisiveness was laid bare during the recent primaries, and while one has seen some degree of coalescing between the Bernie and Biden wings of the party, there is still more that divides them than unites.

More recently Nina Turner, a co-chair of Mr. Sander’s campaign, described the choice in November to a reporter at the Atlantic as, “It’s like saying to somebody, ‘You have a bowl of shit in front of you, and all you’ve got to do is eat half of it instead of the whole thing.’ It’s still shit.”

Harvard professor and Bernie supporter Cornell West added in the same article that, “We have to be true to ourselves and acknowledge that Biden is a mediocre, milquetoast, neoliberal centrist that we’ve been fighting against in the Democratic establishment.”

In polls we trust: In 2016 national pollsters consistently predicted that Mrs. Clinton’s likelihood of winning the presidency was around 90 percent. Two weeks before the 2016 general election multiple polls showed her leading in the key swing states of Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, with leads of anywhere from 4 to 9 points. Mr. Trump won all three states.

One big difference between 2016 and 2020 is that Mr. Biden’s lead has been larger and more consistent at both the national and state levels. Also, we should note that the issue is not so much accuracy of polling, because studies show that they have been historically accurate within the margins of error, but that the country has become so divided that the winning or losing can lie within these margins of error of +/- 4 points.

Also, remember that winning the popular vote does not mean winning the Electoral College. In 2016 Mr. Trump lost the popular vote by around 2.5 million votes, but won the Electoral College thanks to 79,646 voters in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Democrats must not grow complacent based on current polling numbers. We know that Mr. Biden faces a serious gap in enthusiasm with his voters and he also must not repeat Mrs. Clinton’s mistake, and assume people will turn up simply because they dislike the sitting President. Mr. Biden must continue to outline his kinder and more inclusive vision for America, and contrast it with the President’s divisive one, giving voters a reason to come out for him.

Biden’s fitness for office: Rasmussen poll conducted at the end of June found that nearly four out of 10 voters believe Joe Biden has dementia. It is true that a higher percentage of Republican voters (66%) think this, but 30% of independents and 20% of Democrats also believe it. The same poll finds that over fifty percent of Democrat voters feel it is an important issue, and one that Mr. Biden should publicly address. Another poll by Zogby found that 60% voters aged 18-29 thought it likely that Biden is suffering early-onset dementia, along with 61% of Hispanics and 43% of Blacks.

To be fair, unlike Obama’s birth certificate, this lingering doubt is not a figment of the fringe right-wing’s imagination. Through the primary debates Mr. Biden’s performance was viewed as uneven, with him often losing his train of thought, forgetting words and sometimes the question he was answering. He would routinely cede time back to the moderators, when every other candidate was fighting for more time to speak. Julian Castro brought up the issue of Mr. Biden’s memory lapses during one debate, and was backed up by Cory Booker, who said in a post-debate interview on CNN that it was a legitimate question based on Biden’s “fumbling”.

It is worth pointing out that there is a double standard in the mainstream media on this issue. They have openly debated and discussed President Trump’s cognitive faculties but seem to stay away from questioning Mr. Biden’s. In the end, it will likely come down to Mr. Biden’s debate performances against Mr. Trump, which will lead the American people to decide for themselves.

Covid-19 and vote by mail; fail: New York has a Democratic Governor and the party holds majorities in the state senate and assembly. The Mayor of New York City is a Democrat, and the city council has a super majority with only 3 Republicans serving in its 51 member body. For our local primary election on 23rd June this year, every official from the Governor down vowed to expand voting by mail and other options.

So far, around 100,000 absentee ballots have been invalidated, which is about one in five, and a number of races are still waiting for results at the end of July. To say it was an unmitigated disaster would be an understatement. What is scary is that, in a state committed to getting this right, and completely controlled by Democrats, the official preparation and infrastructure was clearly not capable of handling the influx of mail-in ballots.

Every facet of the system seems to have failed in New York. There were not enough ballots printed, the postal service faced delays in sending and receiving forms, people were unable to understand the mail-in ballot instructions and now officials are struggling to count them. Furious candidates are still waiting for results more than a month after the election and many are filing lawsuits claiming voter disenfranchisement.

Consider that a major factor in Biden’s ability to win rests with 65+ voters showing up to the polls, and Democrats are more fearful of contracting coronavirus than Republicans. So with Covid-19 at large, one could conjecture that older Democrats are more likely to opt for absentee ballots, than Republicans, which would give Mr. Trump a major advantage.

The bottom line is that if a solidly Blue state, one that made a concerted effort to expand voting rights, could not get any aspect of a small local election rightwhat will happen during a massive national election, and in far more contentious swing states?