With all the news focusing on the devastating impact the COVID-19 pandemic is having on the everyday lives of citizens and the Michigan economy, it is understandable if most people might have lost sight of the fact that come November, our country faces what many believe to be the most important Presidential Election since before the U.S. Civil War.
Regardless of political views, politicians, public policy experts, religious leaders, labor leaders and others all agree on this important fact: how our country responds to this international pandemic will be a political game changer in American politics.
“This is a total and complete game changer, but you don’t know exactly how,” said Dr. Tim Kiska, a pollster and associate professor of communication at the University of Michigan-Dearborn.
He said the impact of the deadly virus has been virtually all-encompassing in the state and has touched everyone’s life to one degree or another. And how effective voters believe the government response to the pandemic has been will make or break some very important elections around Michigan and the country, including the presidency.
“I’m thinking everything is up in the air and I think by November it’s going to be a referendum on Donald Trump’s performance and that whole body of thought about ‘getting the government out of my life.’”
The crisis has given a lurid new visibility to the glaring racial disparities in our society when it comes to access to healthcare and the types of jobs to which African Americans have been relegated, he said. In addition to those challenges it has also exposed the years of neglect to our country’s infrastructure such as hospitals and other vital emergency and public services in big cities due to political pressures to not adequately fund cities and large urban centers by the fiscal and social conservatives who have dominated both state and federal government for the better part of 30 years.
“It really shows how our infrastructure has been whittled away like crazy,” Kiska said. “But people are starting to wake up and say we have to get our act together.”
However, Adolph Mongo, a veteran Detroit political strategist, said while the fallout from the pandemic has alarmed many people, he is convinced Trump supporters are not only unmoved, but even more determined to see him win reelection. Thus, the Democrats will have to invest a lot of time and money in communities of color, the black community in particular, convincing them to come out in force in the middle of a pandemic to vote for former Vice President Joe Biden whom many consider uninspiring.
“On the surface, the virus plays into Republicans’ hands because they are used to using absentee ballots with their people and while black seniors have always played these absentee ballots, it’s going to be about getting regular black folks to use them,” he said.
“These Republican crazies are ready to do whatever Trump tells them to,” Mongo said. “They are ready to die for the cause. So these Democrats are going to have to spend a lot of money to get the message out. This includes [spending money] on all the social media platforms; Facebook, Instagram, YouTube. They are going to have to go the full Monty on this to get young people in the cities.”
While it may seem as if it has been a lifetime away, it’s only been months since former Vice President Biden swept to an impressive victory on Super Tuesday. In Michigan, he not only performed well among African Americans, but also received strong support from other key demographic groups — including college-educated white women, moderates and those over 45 — in a primary that shattered Democratic turnout records by more than 30 percent.
His decisive victory over Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) and subsequent endorsements from Sanders and other vanquished primary rivals such Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) has people from both sides of the aisle interpreting Biden’s momentum as an indicator of which way the state may vote come November.
However, while acknowledging the passion the presidential race has generated on both sides of the partisan divide, Sandy Baruah, president and CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber, said it was simply premature to prognosticate about an election seven months away.
“I’m just not sure,” he said. “Right now we are in the thick of it; including the politicians and the voters. Everyone is experiencing this thing and how it’s going to turn out in November? Right now it’s way too early to tell.”
But former Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer said any objective observation of the way President Trump has responded to the Coronavirus pandemic will have to conclude that he has not performed well in his responsibilities to lead the nation during this moment of crisis.
He said Trump was informed by public health experts from the Obama Administration of the potential for a pandemic to cause massive harm to the U.S. during his tenure, and yet, went about making massive cuts to the Center for Disease Control and the very agency set up by the Obama Administration to monitor and jump into action if an emergency such as this were to occur.
Furthermore, he not only ignored the pleas to act from members of his own administration when it became apparent earlier this year that it was a problem in China and heading our way, but has not been truthful with the public about what he has done.
“Vice President Biden back in January indicated in an editorial what should be done to protect America and our citizens, including sending someone to China at the time to learn what they were doing so to best protect ourselves,” Archer said,.
“So, if you were to take those factual situations to someone who has never heard of Biden or Trump … I believe they would say what has occurred, has occurred because of the current President of the United States Donald Trump.”
The Rev. Horace Sheffield III, a prominent Detroit activist and the head of DABO (Detroit Association of Black Organizations), and Pastor of New Destiny Christian Fellowship Church, is a COVID-19 survivor and agrees with the former mayor.
However, after coming close to losing his life from the deadly disease his observation is much more personal. He said he has grown disgusted at how Trump and his supporters have managed to politicize a public health crisis that is endangering all of our lives.
“The proof is in the fact that the social distancing policy has now become politically polarized with right-wing governors, egged on by President Trump, moving too quickly to let down our guard and encourage people to gather in groups again before we even know the full extent of the virus’ impact on society,” Sheffield said. “And this whole schism between the state and federal government and the state having to bid for stuff all over the world to get what they need is ridiculous. The way this pandemic has been handled has been a dismal failure. And we will remember this in November.”