There is no doubt that the coronavirus has severely altered the course of our day to day lives. Whether the pandemic has impacted us in the loss of a friend or family member or simply has us forced to navigate through the struggles of remote learning or working from home, everyone has felt the effects of this disease in some way or another. By no means is it a simple task to social distance and have to stay home indefinitely, though it is certainly preferable to what will occur if we fail to abide by these rules. President Donald J. Trump’s proposal to return to normalcy and liberate certain states at this point in time raises questions over his leadership abilities and his commitment to the citizens of the United States.
Thomas L. Friedman’s article, “Trump Is Asking Us to Play Russian Roulette With Our Lives” discusses the reasoning behind the drastic measure Trump has advocated for as well as the long term effects. If people begin to open up workplaces, schools, restaurants, and generally work their way back into their normal routines, the virus will continue to spread and kill thousands of people — and there is a sense of inequality in this. Essential workers or people who must continue working in order to survive are put at risk. People may be left with no choice but to take public transportation to work or to send their kids to school or daycare because they are unable to afford an alternative. Because of Trump’s idea to liberate ourselves, there will be an influx of people posing a threat to these workers. This is what Friedman calls playing Russian roulette with our lives: having to choose whether to respond to the demands of this liberation or to continue staying safe and social distance. Unlike the people of lower socioeconomic status, wealthier populations, on the other hand, have the choice of how they wish to respond to the virus and not be forced to put their lives at risk.
I completely agree with Friedman’s assessment of the effects Trump’s decision will have on people. The economic inequality in the United States and the general differences between the rich and poor have escalated, and this is just another example of that inequality taking place. However, I personally would like to go as far as to say that Trump’s actions in this scenario show signs of demagoguery and democratic erosion. American researcher, Jennifer Mercieca, identifies a dangerous demagogue as someone who acts in their own self-interest and does not allow themselves to be held accountable for their actions. This definition accurately reflects Trump in his response to the coronavirus, as he acts primarily according to his needs and fails to take into account how his proposal will affect others. Because people are being instructed to stay home and avoid any inessential trips, consumerism has gone down significantly. Additionally, according to the New York Times, unemployment rates have skyrocketed with up to 16 million people left without a job as of April. Together, this has contributed to our slowly declining economy. This poses a serious threat to Trump’s campaign in the 2020 election because it proves his leadership was inadequate in keeping the economy stable. By allowing people to return to life as normal, consumerism will inevitably rise once again as will the economy. However, as previously stated, this will lead to the deaths of thousands of people and is not a rational way of solving the situation at hand. Trump refuses to take responsibility for his actions and acts selfishly in order to have a chance at being reelected.
Thomas Friedman also mentions that initially Trump, as well as other political officials, did strictly enforce social distancing and staying home. However, it did not take long for him to revoke his statements and place blame on Democrats, expressing that they were solely responsible for “locking people up” and “depriving [us] of [our] livelihoods,” as Friedman puts it. Levitsky and Ziblatt’s “How Democracies Die” identify a few indicators of authoritarian behavior, one of which is the denial of the legitimacy of opponents. Clearly, by placing blame on the entirety of the democratic party, Trump is rejecting their authority to the public eye and making himself and his fellow Republicans look better by comparison.
By proposing to free certain states of staying home, Trump seems to rely simply on herd immunity to keep people safe. However, achieving herd immunity requires roughly two-thirds of the population to be immune to the coronavirus. Given that there is yet to be a vaccine or other preventative measure against this pandemic, two-thirds seems to be an impossible number to reach. His message essentially indicates his disregard towards the safety of his citizens as well as his utter inability to properly lead a country.