Watching the way COVID-19 has become a political football, especially for the Democratic Party, one must wonder about its possible value under a Joe Biden presidency.
Raising this question is by no means an endorsement of Donald Trump for president, particularly as I have expressed critical views about the president’s “loose tongue” and “incoherent, insulting tweets” more than once. Yet I wonder why Democrats once treated the epidemic as a false alarm sounded by a hated chief executive to increase his power. Joe Biden, for example, railed against Trump’s travel bans as driven by xenophobia and racism. In March, Democratic leaders like New York Mayor Bill de Blasio were urging their partisans to eat in crowded restaurants.
Then the signals changed. Democratic leaders stumbled on the insight that the rising infection rate could benefit their party. Thereafter Democratic governors ordered extensive lockdowns while making expediential exceptions for abortion centers, cannabis distributors, and rampaging mobs of “peaceful protesters.” Although Democratic governors in the Northeast placed aged COVID victims in nursing homes, causing thousands of deaths among the most vulnerable, this catastrophic blunder caused no loss of popularity. In the case of Governor Cuomo in New York, the media did such a transformative job on his performance, that despite being responsible for almost 6,000 deaths from filling nursing homes with COVID-carriers, he became the very face of the anti-COVID crusade overnight.
Democratic governors also began issuing stringent orders for social distancing and the wearing of protective masks. Judging by national polls, this strategy has worked, again with extensive media assistance. American voters seem to believe that Joe Biden, who has hardly left his basement in months, and who is routinely photographed with a mask covering his entire face, is the perfect leader to address the COVID crisis. Although Donald Trump has taken energetic measures to deal with the epidemic, he is widely perceived as being indifferent, probably because he does not describe COVID as an existential threat. Only 35 percent of Americans, according to polling, have any faith in the president responding adequately to the pandemic. (There is no evidence that he has not, nor that his Democratic opponent would do any better.) It seems Democrats have been successful in turning their earlier position on its head and, with the assistance of ever-obliging media, come out ahead.
This dramatic about-face raises an important question: What will be the position of the Democratic faithful, particularly the media, if they pull off a victory in the upcoming presidential race?
Allow me to suggest two courses. One would be to make the epidemic go away by not mentioning it for a while. When a vaccine is ready for distribution, then Joe Biden or the acting president (Stacey, Liz, Kamala or whomever) could take credit for this achievement.
All this, of course, would require media cooperation. I would remind our gentle readers that in 1968-69 the Hong Kong Flu killed up to 4 million people worldwide and received nothing like the attention that has been conferred on what so far seems a less dangerous successor. Although I was afflicted with this virus in 1968 and ran high fevers for several weeks, I had no idea of how widespread the epidemic was. Perhaps the media could make COVID similarly disappear from the public spotlight if their favored party takes the White House, bringing back the problem once a vaccine is widely available.
The second course would be to double down on the selectively applied restrictions, continuing to make exceptions for the appropriate leftist causes. Ever larger, more impenetrable masks would be required. Virtue-signalers would rush to wear these face coverings as a sign of their party and ideological loyalties. Lockdowns would persist, and if the economy tanks, then no big deal. The media would hide that fact from the public, while the government goes on monetizing its increasing debts. If financial ruin sets in, then this too could be blamed on the party out of power.
If the public believes Joe Biden can deal with COVID more effectively than the present government, even if he can’t tell his sister from his wife or finish a coherent sentence, then it may be willing to believe other nonsense coming from PC-authorized sources. In any case given all the other financial programs to which the Left is now committed, such as racial reparations, socialized medicine for illegals, and a Green New Deal, who would even notice if the economy tanked?
I am not saying that COVID is a made-up thing which only gets coverage for political reasons. It is a real epidemic, which, judging by my experience with a similar affliction, can leave the infected feeling quite sick for weeks. But up to 99.75 percent of those who come down with this illness are not dying, and unlike the reaction to the Hong Kong Flu, safety measures such as social distancing may be keeping the infection rate relatively low.
What it is hard not to notice, however, is the increasing politicization of this illness, which seems to be coming mostly from one party and its media friends. This may justify speculation about the future of a politicized health crisis, depending upon which party gains the White House this fall.
Paul Gottfried is editor in chief of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He is also the Raffensperger Professor of Humanities Emeritus at Elizabethtown College, where he taught for 25 years, a Guggenheim recipient, and a Yale Ph.D. He is the author of 13 books, most recently Fascism: Career of a Concept and Revisions and Dissents.