A Pandemic In An Election Year

The coronavirus arrived in the United States during an election year, which is quite inconvenient for American democracy.
Nine states have primary elections scheduled in April, but they’ll likely be postponed indefinitely, and there’s a chance both parties will have to postpone their nominating conventions. We’re hopeful there will be a general election as scheduled, even if it’s by mail or internet or some other sure-to-be-controversial method, but it will be an election like no other.
Former Vice President Joe Biden has a clear lead in the Democratic primary race and seems a sure bet to soon clinch the nomination, but last remaining rival Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders hasn’t dropped out and nothing’s certain. Neither candidate is currently able to hold rallies or do other traditional campaigning, and both are finding it hard to get any coverage from media that have little time or space for anything other than coronavirus news. Whatever arguments they might make for themselves are largely unheard, and important issues that will likely survive the coronavirus are not being debated.
President Donald Trump has already clinched the Republican nomination, and although he can’t hold the campaign rallies he so dearly loves he has no trouble getting media coverage, but that’s not necessarily to his benefit. Even by November he probably won’t be able to run as planned on boasts about record stock market highs and unemployment lows, there are valid criticisms of his response to the coronavirus crisis, and he’ll find it hard to plausibly pin any of the blame on either Biden or Sanders.
Much depends on how the coronavirus and the economy play out between now and November, which is still far off, but we don’t expect the country will be tired of winning, and that it will be an acrimonious election.

— Bud Norman

Go Ahead and Panic

The National Basketball Association has indefinitely suspended the rest of its regular season, and the National Collegiate Athletic Association won’t allow any fans to attend its men’s or women’s “March Madness” post season basketball games, so we’re starting to take this coronavirus pandemic seriously. Universally beloved movie star Tom Hanks and his wife have reportedly tested positive for the disease, so apparently no one is safe.
President Donald Trump went on prime time television from the Oval Office on Wednesday to reassure the public that there’s no need for panic, but he also announced he’s banning any travel from European countries for the next 30 days and is preparing to deficit spend billions propping up a suddenly ailing economy, so you can draw your own conclusions based on how much you trust his self-proclaimed very stable genius. From what we’ve seen of it over the past three years, we’re inclined to panic.
Trump was loudly sniffing at the end of every sentence, but he’d been doing that long before anyone had heard of a coronavirus, so we’re not bothered by that, even if Trump has come in contact with with several people who are self-quarantining themselves after coming into contact with people who have contracted the virus. We’re more bothered that Trump fired all of his National Security Council’s experts on global pandemics when he came into office, spent the first weeks of the pandemic claiming it was yet another hoax concocted by his political opponents to make him look bad, so far failed to deliver on a promise of testing for everybody, and has urged people to keep going to work and coming to his campaign rallies even if they have reason to believe they’ve contracted the virus.
Even before anyone ever heard of a coronavirus Trump was eager to restrict any interaction between America and the rest of the world, and the travel restrictions he’s imposed in the wake of the pandemic might well prove sound public policy, but it’s not good for either the global nor the intertwined American economies. Trump has declared himself pleased that Americans will stay in America and spend their dollars here, but as a luxury hotel mogul he should know that America gets more from international travel it spends, and that when basketball games and music festivals and intrastate business meetings and domestic airline flights and cruise ship bookings are being cancelled and supply chains are being interrupted there will be serious economic repercussions.
All the smart money is already panicked about it, with all the major stock exchanges down by 20 points over the last weeks into what is now officially Bear Market territory, after a remarkable 11-year run of Bull Markets, which any Republican will have to admit is eight years longer than Trump has been in office. Trump is urging the Federal Reserve Board to further lower interest rates, which are already pretty much zero, and to keep up the “quantitative easing” of freshly printed money that Republican used to decry, which now have the 2- and 10- and 20- and even the 100-year bond yields at pretty much zero, and is promising to add a few few puny billions of dollars to the nation’s latest $1 trillion dollar deficit to offset all the economic carnage. We’ll find out today and in the coming days how the smart money reacts to that.
Shortly before Trump’s address to the nation, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Dr. Anthony Fauci, who seems to know even more about this coronavirus thing than than Trump, warned a House oversight committee that “Things will get worse.”

In any case we’ll hope for the best. We won’t being showing up at anyone’s campaign rallies, as no one seems to know what to do about this, but we will try to show up at the West Douglas Church of Christ and Kirby’s Beer Store, and maybe even watch all the great basketball on our computer or some local tavern’s television. If we’re lucky, life will go on.

— Bud Norman

Grading Hurricanes on the Curve

As Hurricane Florence heads toward the mid-Atlantic coast, threatening 130 mile an hour winds and 83-foot waves and severe flooding, President Donald Trump is promising another one of his A-plus efforts to deal with it. He’s also describing his response to last year’s Hurricane Maria as an A-plus effort, though, which should give pause to anyone in Florence’s path.
Most Puerto Ricans give Trump’s efforts a much lower grade, according to a recent poll commissioned by The Washington Post and the Kaiser family foundation. Only 15 percent of the respondents describe Trump as doing an “excellent” or “very good” or merely “good” job, with 52 percent rating his performance as “poor” and another 28 percent calling it “fair.” The Puerto Rican government and the territory’s governor fared only slightly better, with 25 percent giving high to the former and 31 percent to the latter, while the federal government’s overall response got favorable reviews from 39 percent and 41 percent approved on their local government’s efforts.
Such dissatisfaction is understandable. Sixty-four people died during the storm — a low number compared to other recent hurricanes, which Trump proudly touted in the immediate aftermath — but the lack of potable water and fresh food and medical services caused the storm’s death toll to rise to 2,975, making it the second deadliest natural disaster in American history. A year later large parts of the island remain without electricity and power outages remain common almost everywhere, the roads to several remote towns remain closed, and re-building efforts are moving slowly.
Trump is right to note that the Puerto Rican government had let its infrastructure to deteriorate to a vulnerable state, as most Puerto Ricans apparently agree, and he’s also right that getting needed supplies and personnel to a far-off island is more difficult than responding to a hurricane on the mainland. Even so, we can’t argue with any Puerto Rican who gives Trump a lower grade than A-plus. Nor can we blame them if they still resent Trump’s “tweets” about how the lazy Puerto Ricans wanted everyone else to take care of their problems, or his petty feud with the San Juan mayor who was wading through waist-deep waters to deliver help while the president was playing golf on one of his own courses.
The states and municipalities along the projected path of Hurricane Florence are more well-run and better built to withstand a hurricane than Puerto Rico, and their English-speaking citizens can probably expect more presidential attention in the lead-up to a mid-term election they’re eligible to vote in, but it looks a hard rain that’s gonna fall. We’ll be hoping for an honestly -earned A-plus to help out.

— Bud Norman