Never before in the history of the United States has an incumbent president dismissed in advance the outcome of the election and refused to make peaceful transfer of power, if defeated. He alleged that in 2018 mid-term election, the number of candidates belonging to the Democratic Party got elected to the House of Representatives and to the Senate through fraudulent voting practice. Neither Trump nor his party stalwarts could, however, provide compelling evidence in support of voting fraud nor challenged the outcome of the election in the superior courts. The State level officials responsible for conducting the elections even in the Red States were not in agreement with the president. Nonetheless, Trump goes on casting doubts on the fairness of the presidential election scheduled on November 3, 2020.
Due to surge of Covid-19 infection, the election authority has allowed early voting and absentee voting to commence at the beginning of October and to continue till the end of the month. It has also permitted the ballots to be mailed through postal service till November 3 and validated to count those if they reach the authority within three days after the election date. This was challenged in the courts by the Republican Party but the superior courts, in consideration of the volumes of the ballots and huge pressure placed on the postal department, ruled in favour of the extended period. As of now (Tuesday, October 27), more than 65 million votes have been cast.
Covid-19 pandemic has triggered colossal sufferings to the entire world. About 42.50 million people have developed infection of the virus and over 1.15 million succumbed to the infection. In the United States alone, 8.5 million people have been infected and nearly 225,000 people have died. The virus is showing no sign of respite. About 60,000 people are now getting infected each day and hospitals are again getting over-crowded. The State governments and city administrations are reimposing restrictions on the assembly of people and urging the commuters, workers and office goers to wear masks and maintain social distancing. Scientists believe that compliance of the safety measures would provide deterrent to the spread of the virus. They conclude that wearing masks and practising social distancing would remain pivotal even after the vaccines are available in near future.
Trump is not responsible for the pandemic nor it is fair to accuse the Chinese government for letting the virus spread worldwide. The lab officials in Wuhan didn't deliberately preside over the transmission of the virus to human body. It might have been accidental. This is still under investigation. In the meantime, the Chinese government has extended helping hand and supplied PPE, materials and equipment for the hospital staff in many countries including the United States. Beijing's assistance should not be underestimated.
European countries have also been badly affected but the governments listened to the scientists and imposed severe safety measures, undertook large-scale testing and arranged safe isolation of the people tested positive. Shutdowns of business outlets, educational institutes and outside gatherings were imposed. International flights were reduced to the minimum.
These measures paid off and toward the end of summer the pandemic was largely contained in Europe. In the United States, Trump administration opted a different trajectory. Trump undermined the severity of the pandemic at the outset and predicted that it would automatically disappear around April. He disapproved shutdowns of the schools and business outlets and showed wanton disregard to safety protocols prescribed by the Centre for Disease Control. In summer, Trump launched a campaign against shutdowns and asked his supporters to liberate Michigan, California, Illinois and other states where Governors aligned to Democratic Party were opposed to relaxing safety protocols. Trump has been desperate to revamp the economy, and, in the process, he didn't bother to repudiate the safety protocols proclaimed by the CDC. Trump felt he had the choice to either enforce lockdowns until the threat of the pandemic comes under control or allow business outlets to operate in full capacity. He was concerned that stagnation in economy in the "election year" could seriously undermine his chance of being re-elected.
Trump failed to realise that the economy would not be vibrant as long as the pandemic remained intractable. And the pandemic cannot be contained in the absence of safety protocols and large-scale testing. The strategy therefore, calls for gradual opening of the economy while keeping the safety protocols in full compliance. Scientists firmly believe that making "mask wearing and social distancing" mandatory, the toll on human lives could have been reduced significantly. The choice is therefore not either to "contain the pandemic" or "resume economic activities". The strategy should encompass containment of the pandemic through enforcement of safety measures, large-scale testing and shutdown of the areas having positive cases and at the same time allow resumption of economic activities in phases. This is how China brought the pandemic under control and allowed resurgence of its economy. IMF has reported that during the third quarter of the year China achieved 4.8 per cent economic growth and its manufacturing industry grew by 6.9 per cent.
South Korea, a country of 55 million people contained the pandemic successfully. Cambodia, Japan and Singapore are some of the success stories.
Trump's ambivalent policy could neither stimulate the economy nor bring the pandemic under control. About 28 million people lost their jobs since the pandemic began. The administration claimed that it has created or reinstated 11 million jobs in recent months. Still, there is a loss of 17 million jobs. Bus industry has now come to a grinding halt this month and 80,000 of its employees have been furloughed. Many more people are on the verge of losing jobs. The unemployment rate has surged to nearly 9 per cent. Low income and unemployed people are in a dire state of hardship. The second stimulus package has been subjected to roulette between the Congress and the White House.
The second phase of the pandemic has now struck the country much earlier than the CDC predicted. America had a record of 76,000 infection on July 17 - just four states accounted for more than 40,000 cases. But on Saturday October 24, the infection reached 83,000 and on an average, 1,000 people are dying per day. Hospitalisation has soared dangerously in 36 states and the situation is intractable. Mark Meadows, the White House Chief of Staff told CNN, "We are not going to control the pandemic" -- an admission of capitulation. Public health experts believe that wearing masks and observing social distancing could save more than 100,000 American lives in the coming months.
President Trump and Vice President Pence have shown very little respect to the CDC officials and called them idiots. Both are crisscrossing the country addressing the crowds who are neither wearing masks nor observing social distancing. Trump claimed on Monday, October 26, that "pandemic is ending anyway. We are rounding the turn. We just want normal life. It's happening very quickly." But the facts suggest otherwise.
After the campaign rallies Trump and Pence returned to Washington and attended a gathering of over two hundred people at the White House on Monday, October 26 celebrating Amy Barrett's confirmation to the Supreme Court. Month ago, following the celebration of Barrett's nomination to the Supreme Court several White House officials tested positive of coronavirus and Trump himself was admitted to the military hospital for treatment. Dr. Fauci, infectious disease specialist, called the gathering "a super spreader event". At the last weekend, five officials at the Vice President's office tested positive but Pence ignored and addressed election rallies in Minnesota, in violation of CDC safety guideline.
Meanwhile there has been a significant surge of threats and intimidation by radical groups including Proud Boys loyal to Trump. The Amnesty International said in a statement, "We have monitored the unraveling of norms, laws and rules around the world - and are deeply troubled by what we see happening in the United States … Amnesty International and others have exposed widespread and egregious human rights violations committed by officials throughout the United States."
The election is one week away. Opinion polls conducted by several institutions and universities indicate former Vice President Joe Biden is having a comfortable lead over Trump. But people are mindful of the fact that securing majority popular votes doesn't guarantee a victory unless complemented by a minimum of 270 electoral college votes. Trump is not prepared to accept defeat and vowed to approach the Supreme Court where he expects majority conservative Judges, of whom three were appointed by his administration, would be gracious to him.
Abdur Rahman Chowdhury is a former official of the United Nations.