‘The Pandemic Party’ and COVID-19; Politicising a crisis

(Image Source: Andy Feliciotti on Unsplash)

Given its dominance over the headlines of late, coronavirus requires little explanation. Essentially, coronavirus triggers a new illness called COVID-19, which affects lungs and airways. Most people who get the virus will have relatively mild symptoms, but those with underlying health conditions and/or weaker immune systems may see greater risks.

Cases of the virus are being identified worldwide; a New York Times tracker has identified confirmed cases in well over 100 states. Worldwide responses have varied significantly, with countries worse-hit forced into more extreme measures; for example, in response to a steep uptake in cases, Italy has locked down much of its country, declaring part of its Northern regions as ‘red zones’.

The American response to the virus has been significantly more confused. Dr Antony Fauci, of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has claimed the testing system in the US is failing to tackle the spreading virus. Statistically, Fauci has a fair point; estimates suggest the US has so far tested between 8,000-12,000 people. In comparison, South Korea has tested well over 210,000 people, with around 20,000 new tests daily; the UK has tested around 30,000 people, with an additional 1,000 per day. Testing has been stagnated as the US rejected a recommended test by the WHO in favour of a CDC-designed one; but given there were manufacturing defects with many of the earlier tests, a lot of results were ruled inconclusive.

Non-governmental spheres have made the government response look even worse. In sport, the NBA, NHL, and MLS have suspended their seasons, while the MLB has delayed their season opener. In the markets, the Dow and S&P 500 were hit by their steepest daily falls since 1987. Travel companies have seen some of the biggest falls in their shares, since President Trump announced a 30-day travel ban on people coming from the 26 countries in the Schengen Area to the US.

The ban does not affect the UK, US citizens in Europe, or Ireland. The move has been criticised by the EU, as officials called for cooperation and not “unilateral action”. The government response has been made significantly more problematic as intra-American debates develop over the politicisation of the crisis.

Both sides of the political spectrum have been criticising the each over the perceived partisanship at play in what is deemed a national – and global – crisis. Conservative commentators have been staunch in defending the President’s response to the virus, labelling the Democrats as the ‘Pandemic Party’. Democrats have been criticising the President’s handling of the crisis, whom called their criticisms their “new hoax” at a campaign event in South Carolina.

Democrats have not simply taken this flack either. In an impassioned series of remarks, Representative Gerald Connolly (D-Va.) accused the Republicans of ‘gaslighting’ over the politicisation debate. In a Congressional hearing on the 11th of March, Mr Connolly argued that Democrats will not be “lectured” over politicisation. He also he highlighted how when the President visited the CDC he wore a campaign hat despite being “in the middle of a crisis”.

Mr Connolly’s remarks provide an interesting contrast to the President’s recent Oval Office address – only his second ever – where he called for “unity” over the crisis. The call for unity was aided by his personal symbolism; instead of his often-preferred sharply-GOP-coloured red tie, the President was dressed in a striped blue tie. Whether a conscious choice or not by his team, it still marks an interesting contrast with his usual appearances, and one more suited to the tone of the message.

The crisis is one that the media is keen to portray as escalating, and the administration’s actions are under constant scrutiny from both intra- and extra-governmental observers. It is unclear what steps will be taken going forward, but it is clear that the crisis is rapidly becoming a political event on both sides of the aisle.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and may not represent the views of The St Andrews Economist.

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