Category Archives: Later, on politics

Election 2020: The Conventions

The political conventions of the Democratic and Republican parties were imminent. The excitement was building, even though the coronavirus would this year prevent the usual convening of boisterous delegates.

The Democrats would go first. They had announced four nights worth of speechifying to virtual audiences. It could not be the same as I remembered past political conventions. I would miss the funny hats, the jostling of reporters scavenging through the crowd for interesting sound bites, and the out-of-control floor demonstrations with all their giddy inebriation. I wondered how the party would pull off a virtual balloon drop.

The coronavirus had hounded the hapless Republicans from Charleston and Jacksonville. One week out, it was still unclear what the Republicans were planning aside from an obedient accommodation of the incumbent’s desire to give his acceptance speech at the White House.

I was looking forward to all the speeches from the Democrats; just how much of the Republican spectacle I would be able to stomach remained to be seen. It was important to be politically informed, but on the other hand, I was now an elder and life was just too short for too much emotional indigestion.

The purpose of the conventions was the selection of candidates for the offices of president and vice president of the United States, but those selections had been made weeks beforehand. Now, at convention time, there was no contest and no suspense other than how—or whether—the technology of running a virtual convention would work.

At the convention, the Democrats would formally choose Joe Biden to be the nation’s next president and Kamala Harris to be vice president.

They were running against the Republicans’ choices—the incumbents—for president, an orange-skinned, bouffant-haired blowhard, and for vice president, a pale-faced and preposterous walking cadaver. One could wonder whether these people qualified as human beings.

But the astonishing truth was that the Republican candidates could win in November. I doubted that the Republican candidates could win a fair fight. Somehow, though, that was not a comforting thought.

For years, the Republicans had been fiddling around with state laws to suppress voters, particularly voters who would be inclined to vote for Democrats. Lately, the coronapresident was doing all he could to wreck the US Postal Service so that there were real doubts about whether mail-in ballots would be delivered to state election officials in time to be counted. The coronavirus had made voting in person a life or death risk.

The American people would have to choose between risking infection and serious covid-19 illnesses if they voted in person (possibly after standing in line for hours) and risking that a hobbled postal system could not deliver their vote in time. To help them decide, the virus accomplice in the White House claimed that mail-in voting would be massively fraudulent and that in-person voting would be perfectly safe. The voters and their families would risk no more than what he had called “the sniffles” and, anyway, their children would be immune.  

Despite my bleak outlook regarding the future of our democracy, I will tune-in to the conventions this year because it is in my blood. I date my political awareness to the 1960 Kennedy election, when my brother was a volunteer in the local campaign office and JFK himself passed by Woolworth’s in a convertible. Even if those claimed memories are not entirely accurate, it was the Kennedy campaign that launched my life-long interest in politics.

But that was not my first political convention. I would swear that I can remember fuzzy black-and-white TV images of the 1952 Democratic Convention, when the party nominated Adlai Stevenson to run against Dwight Eisenhower. I would have been three years old then.

My mother, who was some sort of precinct volunteer in political campaigns at various times during my childhood, took me to the 1964 Democratic Convention in Atlantic City. I do not know if she was an active volunteer in the Democratic Party at that time, but somehow she had acquired general audience passes to attend the event. That year, Lyndon Johnson was nominated to run against Barry Goldwater.

The conventions this year could turn out to be the most memorable of my lifetime. The times are momentous against the backdrop of a world-wide pandemic that has infected more than 21.5 million people and taken nearly 773,000 lives so far. In the United States we have an imperfect Constitution under which an odious and ill-qualified candidate won election four years ago by a small margin of electoral votes even though more people voted for Hillary Clinton—almost 2.9 million more. We have an historic Democratic ticket with the first Black woman candidate for vice president, who also is the daughter of immigrants from India and Jamaica.

So, yes, I will watch the conventions. How could I not?

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I don’t know what makes me feel worse: the rampant coronavirus that could kill me if somebody sneezes or the fact that Donald Trump is still the president of the United States. I can protect myself from the virus by staying at home a lot, wearing a mask, and keeping away from other people, but there is no social distancing from this president and from our national nightmare.

Both things—the virus and the president—make me feel a sickness in the pit of my stomach. It is not a stretch to conflate the two. They are both nightmares.

Most of the time, I keep my mind busy with an assortment of activities and distractions because I try not to dwell on things that make me feel bad, and I suppose that’s good for my mental health. But my mind likes to wander, and my thoughts seem often to gravitate toward what’s wrong in my world.

I am getting used to a vaguely queasy sensation that something is not right, that my life is somehow out of balance. It is not just a fear of becoming infected. The coronavirus and the coronapresident are parts of the same pattern. The virus and what the president is doing about it, or failing to do, are not two different things but they are one unresolved story that has been playing over and over in my mind since early March.

The coronavirus does its deadly work by spreading from person to person and by replicating, a process that chokes off our oxygen supply and attacks our vital organs in ways that are not yet well-understood by science. Some of the damage may be permanent. It is both microscopic and bigger than any one of us. Stopping its global trail of death—over 283,000 deaths worldwide as of this writing—demands a national and global response.

An effective national response calls for a kind of leadership that that the coronapresident does not have. Instead, he denies the risk, complains about a hoax, ignores the science, blames the Chinese and Obama, hides or distorts the facts and now has begun to doubt the death toll.

Yet, as John Adams is credited with saying: “facts are stubborn things, and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.” As of this writing, the death toll in the United States is approaching 80,000 people.

The medical experts who advise the president speak to the public through a White House filter, careful not to contradict him. He can barely hide his boredom with them but they are useful props, standing by him on the same platform as if he were their equal.  

While there seems to be universal agreement in the medical community that a greatly accelerated testing and contact tracing effort is the only way to begin to stop the coronavirus, the coronapresident is not enthusiastic about testing because he believes that more testing will reveal more cases of COVID-19 and more cases will make him look bad and undermine his reelection campaign. The idea that more testing could prevent infections, reduce suffering and save lives is of little importance to him.

All he wants to talk about now is “reopening” the country because “we can’t let the cure be worse than the problem itself.” Let me fill in the blanks.

The “problem itself” is a deadly and uncontrolled virus that is super-contagious and for which the world has no treatment or vaccine.

The “cure” is the whole range of measures to reduce the spread of the virus: social distancing, wearing masks, and finding out, by a lot of testing, how widespread the virus has become. The cure, at present, means that some types of social and commercial interaction must be curtailed because those interactions enable the virus to spread and make the problem worse. Such interactions will be unsafe until human ingenuity finds new ways to block viral spread from person to person in workplaces, shops, restaurants, theaters, public transportation, and other places where people come in close contact.

The coronapresident rejects the cure and by implication prefers to do nothing about the problem, even if doing nothing about the problem means more disease and more death. The problem, he says, will go away on its own, without a vaccine and without all that much testing, like a miracle, it will disappear.

The coronapresident is not a real president. He is an accomplice. He is the virus made visible.

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