I started watching presidential elections in 1960 with the Richard Nixon vs. John F. Kennedy debates. Current President Donald Trump says he learned a valuable lesson from Nixon — “no tapes.”
This has been the most unusual presidential election I have ever seen. How did we get so polarized that everything from the sad loss of life from COVID-19 to church attendance, sports and opening schools has a blue or red side to it?
The answer: divisive politics has taken over!
With an incumbent president, the election is usually about the incumbent’s record. But with the economy in shambles, his early fumbles on COVID-19 and no apparent plan to handle it, Trump has tried to move the debate away from his record toward cultural division and loyalty testing. Republicans wear red and Democrats wear blue.
Trump believed he was riding a good economy toward an easy re-election. Then COVID-19 hit. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee cancelled any activities that had large groups of people, which involved schools, sports, public meetings, churches and political fundraisers. Many businesses closed as employees were laid off and the economy ground to a hault. Think red for economy.
The initial focus was on safety. We learned new terms such as “social distancing,” which means stay at least 6 feet or more apart. We learned that you had to wash your hands a lot, with warm water, and for at least 20 seconds each time. That is just enough time to sing “Happy Birthday” twice. Think blue for science and safety.
Congress passed emergency legislation to encourage businesses to retain their employees. The expert advice from Trump’s advisers Dr. Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx was to stay home, avoid groups and wear masks — although there was some early confusion about why we’re wearing masks. We now know it is mostly to protect the other person from us, although we later learned masks do provide some self-protection.
Daily press briefings were a disaster as the experts were frequently forced to correct Trump. He would say the virus would go away and they would carefully correct him.
Trump portrayed himself as the victim and tried to ignore the intrusion of COVID-19 as he believes his best chance to win re-election is the economy and to pretend everything is returning to normal. The economy is the one area that Trump out-polls Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee. By forcing businesses to reopen and rejecting his own experts’ advice, Trump hass undermined his coronavirus task force. Trump got several Republican governors to go along with opening up their states’ businesses before they were ready. Count them as red. Democratic governors were much more cautious and were reopening more slowly. They are blue.
But in one of the oddest color signals, Trump refused to wear a mask, suggesting it was unmanly. No mask if you want to be manly, unless it’s a red mask. Biden makes a point of wearing his blue mask to signal safety and science first. None of these choices were necessary. It was possible to be safe and still open the economy, carefully and slowly. But Trump’s timetable was political and he forced his supporters to make choices. However, one poll said 74% of the public didn’t feel it was safe to go shopping or go out to a restaurant to help stimulate the economy.
Dr. Fauci is closer to blue and according to polling has more credibility than Trump, which appearantly annoys Trump.
Trump’s next red strategy was to get religious leaders to support opening all the churches by Easter. Blue followers thought getting a large group of people together, even for church, was an unnecessary gamble with people’s lives, so they were cast as anti-Christian. I got a couple of emails from people who were angry that Gov. Inslee wouldn’t let them go to church, placing the issue in political terms rather than science terms.
Trump then wanted to get back out to campaigning, where he feeds off the public interaction. He chose Tulsa, Oklahoma, and its 19,000-seat venue despite being told by many sources that it was a bad idea to have that many people together in one place with no masks and too close to one another. Trump said 100,000 people wanted tickets and the place would be overflowing. Continuing his practice, he wasn’t going to wear a mask, and most of his supporters didn’t either.
Then in the most shocking request yet, he asked his attending supporters to sign a statement saying they wouldn’t file a lawsuit against him if they contracted COVID-19 at his event. Too many people and no masks — what could go wrong?
Since only 6,200 people showed up, they must have been more worried about their health than Trump was. Trump followed that with joining 3,000 people at a church in Arizona with an unmasked choir. Oklahoma and Arizona are crucial to Trump’s political schedule, but asking his supporters to choose him and no mask over their health and family?
Then some of those red states that opened early at Trump’s urging had a surge in COVID-19 and have been reversing their decisions and closing some businesses — and requiring masks.
Trump will do anything to keep the public distracted from the reality of COVID-19, which he proved by telling governors that if they didn’t open schools this fall, he would withhold federal dollars from them. To use children, parents and teachers as political bargaining chips in such a selfish political move smacks of desperation.
Then if all that wasn’t strange enough, Trump wanted control of the COVID-19 numbers. Hospitals were told to stop sending information to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), though still no empathy or understanding that people are afraid and don’t share his timetable.
Professional sports returned, and most colleges will play some football this fall under safety guidelines, but with no fans.
Trump appears to be trying to financially starve the U.S. Postal Service so absentee ballots might not get back to the elections department in time to be counted.
And he used the White House as a prop in his television show, the Republican National Convention. Fires in the West and hurricanes in the South reminded us that the future of our planet was also open to debate.
Then in Bob Woodward’s new book, “Rage,” Trump admits to not telling the public how dangerous COVID-19 is — and purposely downplayed the issue, even though he knew the truth!
Then U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away, and the Supreme Court took center stage and is likely to go from a makeup of 5-4 conservative to 6-3 conservative. It also provided Trump another distraction to avoid COVID-19.
Could the election get any stranger? Apparently it could.
Next we saw a presidential debate that was any thing but presidential. Then after belittling those who listened to scientific experts and are wearing masks to avoid COVID-19, Trump caught the disease.
It appears the president went to a public event for his Supreme Court nominee, and a fundraiser, after he was infected while awaiting another test rather than quarantine.
At last count, 27 people from Trump’s orbit tested positive. Trump spent some time in the hospital, but while still infectious, he took a joy ride to wave at his supporters, jeopardizing his security detail and anyone else he came in contact with.
We still don’t know much about his condition. But after Trump left the hospital, rather than be thankful for surviving and show leadership by encouraging everyone to wear masks, he continued to undermine the experts and staged a picture putting his mask in his pocket.
Can it get stranger? Yes! Trump had been unwilling to speak out against white supremacists and had criticized Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer for wanting the public to wear masks and being cautious about opening businesses. Now we find out that a terrorist group was planning to kidnap Whitmer. She laid the blame squarely on Trump for courting racial division.
Any stranger? There are still a few weeks left before the election, so maybe it can. Are you blue or red?
Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.