Analysis

ANALYSIS - Virus blow to Trump's election plans

Coronavirus epidemic most serious test for Trump administration

Oguzhan Yanarisik   | 20.03.2020
ANALYSIS - Virus blow to Trump's election plans

- The coronavirus epidemic, which affected the whole world, has become the most serious test that the Trump administration is faced with so far. The criticism he received for downplaying the virus threat at the first stage and damage projections for the future suggest that this test will be arduous.

- The performance that Trump, and the United States in general, has put forth so far in the fight against the new type of coronavirus epidemic, is not at all heartwarming. The missteps taken by many institutions have shaken confidence in the capacity and competence of the U.S. administration.

-The geopolitical effects of the outbreak seem to have only the second place in terms of the importance of the situation compared to the health and security related dimensions of the crisis. On the other hand, this crisis has the potential to give birth to important consequences on the global position of the U.S. in the long term.

By Oguzhan Yanarisik

ISTANBUL 

U.S. President Donald Trump has been taking firm steps forward to the presidential election which will be held on Nov. 3, 2020. Factors such as his indisputable position within the Republican Party, getting over with the impeachment process without any calamities, the turbulent process of the Democratic Party in determining its candidate for the presidency, and the successful performance of the U.S. economy were instrumental in this. The coronavirus epidemic, which affected the whole world recently, has become the most serious test that the Trump administration is faced with so far. The criticism he received for downplaying the virus threat at the first stage and damage projections for the future suggest that this test will be quite arduous. Trump's performance on this issue looks likely to determine the fate of the 2020 election.

The performance that Trump, and the United States in general, has put forth so far in the fight against the new type of coronavirus epidemic, is not at all heartwarming. The missteps taken by the White House, Department of Homeland Security and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have shaken confidence in the capacity and competence of the U.S. administration. The contradictions in the explanations of Trump have served to spread confusion and uncertainty. Both the public and the private sector were seen as unprepared to produce and distribute the proper tools needed to diagnose and combat the virus. The Washington administration has raised doubts about even controlling the situation within itself, let alone leading a global intervention against the virus.

The biggest blow is to the economy

The new type coronavirus pandemic poses a risk for not only human health, but also to the economies of the states. It is pretty clear that economy, which is the field Trump trusts most, will receive serious damage. Because the investors want to secure the capital as a result of the fear of coronavirus epidemic, almost all types of assets (stocks, bonds, gold, oil) remained under selling pressure. As the consequence of the weeks of panic, stocks had almost lost all the gains they have gotten during the Trump era. Especially, tourism and transportation shares have witnessed with historical downfalls. Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin, said that the spread of the COVID-19 was “worse than September 11” for the airline industry. Therefore, the claim that Wall Street gave a successful performance thanks to Trump has received a heavy blow.

Lower unemployment rates, which is one of the issues that Trump brags about the most, have been on the rise in this period. For example, according to the projection that the U.S. Travel Association published, it is expected that the new type of coronavirus would inflict a blow worth $809 billion to the transportation sector, and 4.6 million people would lose their jobs in just transportation sector this year. Even this alone means that the current unemployment rate of the U.S. would double up and reach 6.7% from 3.5%. In addition to this, the announcement by the American Hotel and Lodging Association that 4 million people in its sector have either already lost their jobs or are on the verge of losing them in the next few weeks shows what size the unemployment figures may come to. Some projections predict the unemployment rate could rise to 20 percent.

So as to stop this rot, Trump administration has been putting some measures into practice. As one of the most important steps of this, to revive the U.S. economy and provide comfort to the businesses and workers most affected by the crisis, a nearly $1 trillion stimulus package was drafted with Congress.

Trump first belittled, then took seriously

President Trump is late in understanding the extent of the threat of the COVID-19 outbreak. In a speech on Feb. 28, he said the new type coronavirus was a “hoax” used by Democrats to harm him and his administration. According to the official figures released until that date, more than 80,000 people were infected with the virus and more than 2,800 people had died. Despite this, “Democrats are politicizing the coronavirus,” Trump shared, approvingly, with one follower telling him: "Mr. President, they tried to beat you with the Russia issue. They couldn't do that. They tried to defeat you with the impeachment scam. It also failed. Coronavirus is their new deception”.

Trump's closest ally in the media, Fox News Channel, has similarly made broadcasts that the coronavirus is not actually very dangerous. “This is just another excuse to try to oust the president,” Fox News presenters and experts said earlier, as seen in the video prepared by the Washington Post to draw attention to the contradictions. “Even in the worst case scenario, this virus will be like the normal flu. The claim that coronavirus is far more deadly does not reflect the truth. Without the vaccine, the flu would be far more deadly. This virus is being used as a political weapon against the president. Standard flu kills tens of thousands of Americans every year. Now is the best time to travel by plane. It's absolutely sickening that Democrats are trying to use this virus to score cheap political points against the president.”

When it became clear over time how dangerous the new type of coronavirus could be, there was a radical break in the rhetoric of Trump and later media outlets close to him. Fox News speakers, who initially downplayed the virus, began using a much different language just a few weeks later. "We need to replicate the tests to prevent this virus from spreading. We're not immune to this virus. We're dealing with a very dangerous and deadly virus. This dangerous health crisis could turn into a political crisis. We're already starting to feel the economic consequences. This virus can cause economic decline and even depression”.

Coronavirus is now “Chinese virus” for Trump

Donald Trump had preferred the tactic of “belittling the danger” at the start of the epidemic. He wanted to build his strategy on arguments like “virus threat will fade away when the weather gets hot”, which actually have no scientific proof to be true. However, when Trump noticed that this tactic did not work and even, conversely, his presidential abilities are being questioned, he has taken a sharp turn in his rhetoric about the virus. Trump, who takes aims at the virus rather than the democrats now, said: “We are against an invisible enemy. We have a problem that no one could think of a month ago.”. On the other hand, he was briefed on the virus threat two months in advance.

As if Trump wants to make people forget his previous insensitivity, this time he began to use very sharp language. He even described the fight against the virus as a war and claimed that the resulting crisis had made him a “wartime president.” Not only that, he introduced the Defense Production Act, which was used to ensure the production of essential materials, especially in times of war. Thus, it opened the way for the production of needed medical supplies by the state by expropriating private companies if necessary.

Trump must have thought that simply fighting against an unseen enemy might not be enough to strengthen his position, but he seems to have decided that the existence of an apparent adversary is also in his interest. To that end, he began to hold China directly responsible for the spread of this virus. He repeatedly used the phrase “Chinese virus” in his speeches. The White House said on its official Twitter account that many diseases such as Spanish flu, West Nile Virus, Zika and Ebola were named according to their origin. “before the media's false outrage, even CNN called it the Chinese coronavirus. Those who try to divide us must stop trying to make America fail and give Americans the real information to get through the crisis”.

China's mistakes indeed have a large share in the emergence and spread of this virus. The virus was first detected in November 2019 in Wuhan, Hubei province of China. But Chinese authorities have not disclosed this for months, even punishing doctors who first reported it. Thus, fighting the virus caused the loss of valuable time. It has delayed measures such as educating the public, restricting travel, and disseminating the vaccine. The Beijing Administration has not shared its information with the world; they refused to cooperate with the World Health Organization and even possibly manipulated patient/dead numbers as well. But despite all this, they turned to positive PR work, declaring victory over the virus. By sending aid to countries such as Italy and Serbia, they sought to position themselves as the actor who could do what the United States and the European Union (EU) could not. They were also very successful, thanks to the poor performances of Washington and the EU capitals.

The geopolitical implications of the new type of coronavirus outbreak seem to be of secondary importance to the health and security dimensions of this crisis for now. But this crisis has the potential to have significant consequences for the U.S.'s global position in the long term. All of the factors that made the U.S. claim to global leadership possible, such as its ability to manage internally, its vast production facilities, and its success in leading the fight against global crises, have thus far drawn a rather dark picture in this crisis process. On the other hand, if this process can't be managed well, the loser could be not just Trump, but the whole United States.

[Oguzhan Yanarisik, who completed his doctoral studies in the Department of politics and International Studies at the University of Warwick, UK., works as a faculty member at the Institute of Security Sciences of the Police Academy]

* Translated by Merve Dastan in Ankara

*Opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Anadolu Agency

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