These exceptional circumstances
The year 2020 has been “exceptional” in many ways; with the novel coronavirus and the uncommon drama of the upcoming US General Elections converging next week.
The pandemic spread across the globe, with varied impacts in different jurisdictions. Most countries responded reasonably. However, the United States, with less than 5 per cent of the world’s population, has 20 per cent of the Covid-19 deaths; a sub-par performance related to ignoring the advice of science.
In May 2020, The Lancet — Britain’s pre-eminent scientific journal since 1823 — expressed anxiety regarding the Trump Administration’s undermining the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. This journal’s editorial highlighted the harm of the US administration’s misguided policies.
It concluded: voters must put a president in the White House, come January 2021, who understands that public health should not be guided by partisan politics.
In the past couple of weeks there have been similar editorials by two of the leading US scientific publications, focused on the upcoming election.
The Scientific American, for the first time in its 175-year history, felt compelled to support a candidate for this upcoming presidential election.
Additionally, The New England Journal of Medicine — also making an exception over their 208 year-history — has published an editorial entitled “Dying in a Leadership Vacuum”.
Both publications had remained non-partisan for two centuries with histories of integrity, but felt that “exceptional” circumstances required exceptional steps.
The Scientific American made the point:
“ … Donald Trump has badly damaged the US and its people, because he rejects evidence and science. The most devastating example is his dishonest and inept response to the Covid-19 pandemic which has cost more than 190,000 Americans their lives by mid-September. The pandemic would strain any nation and system, but Trump’s rejection of science and public health measures has been catastrophic in the US.”
The Scientific American also noted that Trump had undermined other science-based programmes — most notably those addressing the environment. The Scientific American then took the exceptional step of endorsing candidate Joe Biden, based on his evident commitment to being guided by science and health expertise.
The New England Journal of Medicine has made no such endorsement.
However, its editorial clearly indicts the Trump Administration’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.
They question squandering the advantages for pandemic-handling provided to them, by the two preceding administrations, by George W. Bush [2001-2009] and Barack Obama [2009-2017].
The New England Journal of Medicine editorial points out that the current leadership has “taken a crisis and turned it into a tragedy … the magnitude of this failure is astonishing”.
The journal noted that the United States’ poor performance on “testing and tracing” — ranks the superpower below numerous countries with per capita-budgets that are a tiny fraction of that of the superpower.
The editorial concludes: “We should not abet [the current administration] and enable the deaths of thousands more Americans by allowing them to keep their jobs.”
In Bermuda we see first-hand, the “exceptional” handling of the pandemic by our neighbours.
Of course, our tiny size gives us great advantage. However, our success is clearly based on our government’s response; following the science and successful jurisdictions, as well as fostering community solidarity. By contrast, in the face of 225,000 Covid deaths thus far, Trump has increased polarisation.
While the body-politic of the United States has been rooted in division — notably regarding race — the current president remains exceptional. Contributions to this exceptional election season, include:
• Attacks on the United States Postal Service, undermining the centuries-long facility for “mail-in voting” — especially important now.
• Tactics geared to discourage voting. Lines for early balloting have voters waiting for hours — including up to ten hours in Georgia; drop-off voting in Texas reduced to one collection centre per county (for populations from one to several hundred people, up three for all of Houston’s four million people).
• Trump has used dog whistles in order to signal more thuggish supporters to attempt to terrorise voters, a good example of which is the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s uncovering a “militia” conspiring to kidnap the Michigan governor; the formation of “Trump Army” of poll watchers, ostensibly to “prevent corruption at the polls” — geared to discourage voters; especially in black and Latino districts.
• Trump refuses to confirm that he would allow a peaceful transition if he loses the election.
The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr reminded us that “truth pressed to Earth will rise”. In spite of challenges, early voting has occurred at record levels with more that 60 million ballots cast to-date (44 per cent of the total ballots cast in 2016).
While we have no formal role in our neighbour’s election, Bermudians and others sharing the planet, could offer our thoughts and prayers for the people of the United States, as they ballot for an outcome that will impact us all.
• Glenn Fubler represents Imagine Bermuda