As the coronavirus outbreak has shut down the economy and suspended typical daily life, the United States presidential election has reached an impasse. Instead of devoting countless hours of her day to social media and other forms of entertainment, Hayley Rothbart ’21 spends her time watching the news, which shows individuals clothed in protective gear and waiting in line to cast their votes. Other times, she flips through newspapers to keep up with the latest political updates. Although the California primary passed without major virus-induced hiccups, Rothbart continuously reads articles regarding how other states are faring in the election.
“It’s been sad to see a slow down of primary season because I’ve been really invested this year, but I know it’s all for our safety,” Rothbart said.
With the outbreak of the coronavirus in the U.S., primaries have been dramatically affected by the pandemic. According to the New York Times, more than 15 states have delayed or recast their primaries to accommodate the safety measures implemented because of the pandemic. The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) announced that many states have rescheduled these elections for June 2, the latest possible date to vote before the Democratic National Committee’s deadline of June 9. Other states have resorted to voting by mail, curbside ballot drop-offs and early voting. The NCSL also stated that party fundraisers have been canceled and polling stations have been opened later than intended because of the workers’ reluctance to show up.
Students and teachers discuss the plan to reopen economies.
President Donald Trump has recently called to reopen the country by easing social distancing restrictions and allowing small businesses to operate, despite the growing number of Covid-19 cases. AP United States Government and Politics teacher Dave Waterhouse said that he believes Trump’s plan will put the country at risk, both economically and politically.
“I think his inconsistency on reopening, which has recently leaned more toward sooner rather than later, will hurt him a lot, if the curve doesn’t start bending down pretty quickly,” Waterhouse said. “The people who are demanding to open the economy immediately are probably die-hard Trump supporters, but more than 70 percent of the public think the restrictions are just right or need to be even tougher. So, I think that continuing to push for an earlier reopening is a huge political risk.”
Trump has also been providing daily briefings to address the problems arising from the coronavirus in the U.S. However, these briefings only serve to confuse and misinform Americans, Waterhouse said.
“At first, [Trump’s] briefings helped his favorability ratings due to the ‘rally round the flag’ effect,” Waterhouse said. “He looked like he was in charge and taking things seriously, but since then, they have begun to hurt him, because there really wasn’t much to say that didn’t involve speculation. Yet, he wanted the attention, so he just started rambling and speculating, which finally produced ridicule. He so hates being made fun of that now he says he is going to stop the press conferences. Without rallies and press conferences, the only thing he has left to feed his ego are tweets.”
Some students think that Trump’s handling of the coronavirus will detrimentally affect his campaign, but others disagree.
Despite the controversy regarding Trump’s handling of the outbreak, Rothbart said that he does not attempt to refrain from making biased comments about the virus, such as “the Chinese Virus”and “Kung Flu,” which have fueled xenophobic actions toward Asian Americans.
The influence of xenophobia on politics has been seen in previous years, Waterhouse said.
“Bush used xenophobia after 9/11, and, of course, Trump used it to get elected in 2016,” Waterhouse said. “I am sure he will us it again, and it is probably still the strongest card he has to play in 2020.”
However, James Johnson-Brown ’2 said he believes that Trump’s comments will work only to damage his popularity.
“The term ‘the Chinese Virus’ is Trump using xenophobia of his base to distract from his own complicity in the coronavirus response mismanagement and subsequent massive spread in the U.S.,” Johnson-Brown said. “This is just going to make Asian Americans more likely to vote with who represents their interests, and that’s increasingly becoming the Democrats.”
Trump has also received criticism for his economic handling of the outbreak. The Los Angeles Times stated that, due to the pandemic, the U.S. is headed into a recession. According to BBC News, the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 12.9% while the S&P 500 dropped 12%, one of its lowest drops ever measured, March 9. The Nasdaq Composite closed 12.3% lower, which marked its worst day ever. Congress was also warned that in addition to a stock market correction, unemployment rate could soon reach 20 percent since about 25 percent of Americans are under order to stay home; in comparison, during the height of the Great Depression, nemployment reached almost 25 percent.
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“It used to be political gospel that the economy mattered most in voting, that people voted with their pocketbooks, but identity, especially white identity, is a powerful force in politics,” history teacher Elizabeth Bergman said. “Trump has staked his reelection campaign on white identity politics and a soaring stock market. The former is arguably bolstered by the pandemic, yet the latter undermined.”
On the other hand, Matthew Lee ’21 said that he thinks Biden’s reopening plan is more realistic to our current situation compared to Trump’s rush to reopen the economy.
“Biden’s outline to sustain the outbreak seems better than how we are handling the situation right now,” Lee said. “While Trump is misjudging the severity of the situation, it seems that Biden is more aware of the struggle and is more in touch with the general population.”
Rothbart said that though aiding individuals economically is important, these efforts should not distract from the 2020 election.
“So many people have lost their jobs and we need to be helping them and the whole country get through this tough time, but hopefully this doesn’t postpone the election,” Rothbart said. “If the virus peaks during June or July, as currently predicted, we may have a chance.”