Not a blue wave, but a blue tsunami

Corona pushing Trump to an electoral abyss
Democratic presidential hopeful former Vice President Joe Biden, left, and US President Donald Trump. Photo: AFP

"The Martians—dead!... slain, after all man's devices had failed, by the humblest things that God, in his wisdom, has put upon this earth."

— HG Wells, "The War of the Worlds"

In "The War of the Worlds," HG Wells' science fiction novel, the world is brought to its knees by a vastly more technologically advanced species. The tides are turned after the humble bacteria triumphs where man failed, felling the Martians.

In an uncanny echo, US President Donald J Trump may have at last found his match in an invisible virus which is resistant to all his bullying and bluster.

First, a caveat is in order. A lot can change before November, when Trump and the Republican Party face a terrified electorate. With less than 100 days remaining, however, the window of opportunity is closing. Fast.

Putative Democratic nominee Joe Biden has a solid, stable margin in nationwide polls. An Economist/YouGov poll finds Biden leading Trump nationally, 49 percent to 40 percent.

The US presidential race is determined by an arcane system of state-by-state victories. A Change Research poll shows Biden ahead in the six battleground states of Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

The scrupulously non-partisan Cook Political Report is the gold standard for handicapping US political races. "This election is looking more like a Democratic tsunami than simply a Blue wave," wrote its highly-respected analyst Amy Walter. "Republican strategists we've spoken with this week think Trump is close to the point of no return. A couple of others wondered if Trump had reached his 'Katrina' moment: a permanent loss of trust and faith of the majority of voters."

Trump's flaws are many—his mind-boggling mendacity, his sorry parade of aides, his embarrassing failure to grasp important issues, his brazen penchant for pardoning convicted acolytes.

However, it's the corona crisis that's ultimately proving to be his undoing.

"Poorer nations throughout Latin America, the Middle East, South Asia and Africa are bearing a growing share of the caseload, even as wealthier countries in Western Europe and East Asia enjoy a relative respite after having beaten back the worst effects through rigorously enforced lockdowns," The Washington Post reported.  "And then there's the United States, which leads the world in new cases and... has shown no sign of being able to regain control."

There is a simple reason for this mess.

The US is unique among developed nations in fighting science instead of embracing it. Wearing a mask in public, standard elsewhere, is a matter of bitter partisan debate. The Trump administration recently handed US media talking points undermining its most respected and top infectious disease specialist, Dr Anthony Fauci. 

"The fight with Fauci illustrated what, to many supporters of Trump, has been a disturbing pattern: ill-timed battles with little evident public support that do nothing to... articulate a rationale for another term in office or contain a pandemic that is both crippling the nation and dooming his re-election chances," CNN reported.

What's so heartbreaking is the US is paying a terrible price for it. The US is home to a quarter of the world's reported coronavirus infections and deaths, despite being home to only 4.4 percent of the global population.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta is one of the world's most respected research institutions, sought out by the entire world to deal with public health disasters like this. Yet four former CDC chiefs lamented in an article in The Washington Post: "It is extraordinary for (CDC) guidelines to be undermined …

"The four of us led the CDC over a period of more than 15 years, spanning Republican and Democratic administrations alike. We cannot recall over our collective tenure a single time when political pressure led to a change in the interpretation of scientific evidence."

They added: "We're seeing the terrible effect of undermining the CDC play out in our population. Wilful disregard for public health guidelines is, unsurprisingly, leading to a sharp rise in infections and deaths... China, using the same mitigation tools available to us and with a far larger population, has had just a tiny fraction of the 3.1 million cases reported here.

"Trying to fight this pandemic while subverting scientific expertise is like fighting blindfolded."

So, what's Trump's response to all this? Mean tweets about his pet peeve du jour, and dark observations about the other issue where he has failed to grasp the nation's zeitgeist—massive nationwide protests against the recent racist police killing of George Floyd, a Black man.

His tone-deaf response to anti-racist protests are particularly anachronistic. It echoes another Republican president who targeted white resentment of Blacks in the last century, the disgraced President Richard Nixon.

"Trump in recent weeks has repeatedly reprised two of Richard Nixon's most memorable rallying cries, promising to deliver 'law and order' for the 'silent majority.' But... America today is a radically different country than it was when Nixon rode those arguments to win the presidency in 1968 amid widespread anti-war protests, massive civil unrest... and rising crime rates," Ronald Brownstein writes in The Atlantic magazine.

"Trump hopes that reprising Nixon-style messages about disorder will allow him to mobilise massive margins and turnout among the white voters who feel threatened by these changes. But the country's underlying evolution shows how narrow a path Trump has chosen. He is betting the Republican future on resurrecting a past that is dissolving before his eyes."

What's true for haute cuisine is just as true for politics: You can't make the same souffle rise twice.

And thank goodness for that.


Ashfaque Swapan is a contributing editor for Siliconeer, a digital daily for South Asians in the United States.