Much of what we considered “normal” in Pre-Coronavirus America will disappear or be severely altered when we finally reach that happy land called Post-Coronavirus.
I won’t miss handshakes, and I don’t spend much time sitting around in bars, anyway. Getting sports back would be nice, but one of the lessons we should take from Pandemic 2020 is just how much we can get by without.
No, my chief concern about Post-Coronavirus America is what damage the pandemic is doing to our politics. And my concern is intensely focused on an event fewer than seven months away: the 2020 presidential election.
This election already enjoyed informal billing as the most important of our lifetimes. It will determine whether we endure Trump for another four years or choose something more “normal.” But the pandemic has made “normal” a slippery term. In fact, Donald Trump might seem like a perfectly normal president to many Americans in a Post-Coronavirus America.
Many others still hope not, but they have reason to worry. Democratic campaigning has been paralyzed by the pandemic. Trump’s trademark rallies have been halted, as well, but he reaches more people through his daily coronavirus task force updates, which provide an unfettered forum for influencing pandemic and political messaging.
Even though much of what he says is misleading or false, his updates provide the perfect vehicle for the one message that people are desperate to hear: good news.
And the news is always good: The curve is always flattening; we’re testing more than anyone; we have more ventilators than we can use; masks are being produced by the millions; the light at the end of the tunnel is shining brightly; and the economy is going to skyrocket to heights previously unimagined.
The pandemic pulpit allows Trump — unprompted by any particular media question — to flog the essential grievance that helped elect him: America has been taken advantage of by everyone — China, NATO, the European Union, the International Monetary Fund. And now look what the World Health Organization has done to us! Grievance sells particularly well during a pandemic.
Worst of all, the crisis has awakened Trump’s authoritarian tendencies, which were never very sleepy. He campaigned on “I alone can fix it,” and this sentiment enjoyed an eyebrow-raising apotheosis last week when Trump asserted: “When somebody is president of the United States, the authority is total. And that’s the way it’s got to be. It’s total.”
Four more years of Trump would be a dangerous experiment for American democracy. But nearly as bad would be an election whose integrity is in question.
The 2020 election already had a lot going against it. We’re paying very little attention to what Russian trolls are doing behind the scenes. Gerrymandering and voter suppression are hidden in plain sight. Now grievance plus a sense of pandemic desperation plus a charismatic leader with no appreciation for the constitutional limits of his power do not bode well for a normal election. The integrity of the 2020 election is in jeopardy.
For the most part, the states administer voting. But the 2020 election is a national concern. As states are beginning to reopen their economies — some of them probably too quickly — a national plan must be developed to ensure that a legitimate election can take place in November even in the face of a resurgence of the pandemic.
Trump must not be allowed to postpone the election; we’re terribly naive if we think this idea is far-fetched. If you doubt Trump’s willingness to foment civil unrest over an election he doesn’t like, consider two words: “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” We need to assume that in-person voting is going to be both difficult and dangerous. We must resist Trump’s unsupported claims that voting by mail is inherently corrupt, and we need to generate a bipartisan congressional effort to help states develop and finance voting systems that are as reliable as in-person balloting. This must begin immediately.
Our nation can survive a pandemic. It can survive a global depression. It cannot survive an election that doesn’t merit our full confidence in its outcome.
John M. Crisp, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, lives in Georgetown, Texas, and can be reached at email@example.com.