Social distance. Flatten the curve. Quarantine. Wear a mask. Lockdown. Bubble.
Six phrases and words that would have made zero sense six months ago. Now, we hardly hold a conversation without using every last one. The only thing spreading faster than coronavirus are conversations about coronavirus. And with them, fear.
In February of this year, Time reported that more than 41,000 English-language articles mentioned the word “coronavirus.” Compare that to 1,800 when “Ebola” was spreading in 2018. Along those same lines, in the middle of March, coronavirus articles from 3,000 high-traffic sites made up 1% of published articles but 13% of all article views.
There is no lack of coverage or conversation surrounding coronavirus. And that’s as it should be. People need to know that status of the virus as well as how to stay safe. It’s important for the media to keep people informed.
But in an election year, everything is politicized. And in 2020, Joe Biden and Donald Trump have more than enough news headlines (far more than any of us would have ever wanted) to slam their opponent and/or bolster themselves. Coronavirus is no exception.
So, at the risk of appearing both pessimistic and cynical, here’s how both candidates can be hurt and helped by the unrest caused by a global pandemic.
Biden’s Blame Trump Covid Strategy
The ways Covid helps Joe Biden are obvious. Coming into the election, Trump’s main claim to success entering the final year of his first term was the state of the American economy. Any sort of positive slant on that topic has basically gone out the window these past six months.
GDP shrunk 9.1% in the second quarter of 2020 (it only dropped 3% at the worst of the 2008 recession). The unemployment rate has hit 14.7% (comparable to The Great Depression) with over 20 million American jobs lost. And household spending decreased drastically at the start of the pandemic, causing small businesses all across the country to close as their revenue dried up and lockdowns forced many into unsustainable situations.
Expect Biden to hammer Trump on the economy and blame his poor response to the pandemic as the source for economic meltdown. Considering Trump touted his business acumen as a reason to elect him, this hole will be a tricky one to dig out of.
Trump’s Covid Comeback
But Trump isn’t without a leg to stand on. The ways he can positively politicize Covid for his own campaign are less obvious and statistical than Biden’s, but no less effective. What fueled Trump’s rise in 2016 was an emotion that politicians have used forever — fear.
Trump realized in 2016 that many people were afraid of the direction the D.C. establishment and liberal media were taking the country. There’s no doubt that a lot of people entered voting booths in 2016 nervous and uncertain about the country’s future. That’s where Trump stepped in and offered himself as a savior for all those who were worried that America’s best days were behind her. Despite experts declaring he had no shot, Trump’s Make America Great Again campaign won him a resounding Electoral College victory.
Don’t be surprised when he does the same thing again. Are you scared about the civic unrest you see around you? Are you nervous about Biden’s ability to lead us out of these terrible dueling crises that no one could’ve predicted or avoided? Fear not. Trump helped guide us through the pandemic, and he’ll continue to steer us toward full recovery. (That message, of course, will be countered by the Democrats and mainstream media, who have tried to pin the whole pandemic on the president.)
As for the social unrest, as Trump has emphasized in recent weeks, his solution will be largely economic: improve the financial situation for minority communities and many of the problems we’re seeing explode on the streets will go away.
Another possible plus for Trump: Biden’s economic angle for the pandemic is getting weaker, something the president can exploit. Despite hitting a high of 14.7% unemployment at the peak of the pandemic, it’s dropped precipitously since then, dropping to 8.4% in August. Trump can point to that dramatic improvement and promise more of the same if he remains at the helm.
The Media Bias Factor
Look, it feels a little wrong to talk about how two men are “benefitting” from such a terrible and tragic event. Hundreds of thousands of people have died all around the world. It’s been a horrific past few months. Let’s not belittle that.
But let’s also not pretend that the news outlets presenting us with information on Covid are unbiased or detached from what’s about to happen in November. This is the time of year where narratives are shaped and told. And the coronavirus pandemic is still partly a lump of unformed clay in the hands of two political giants.
What they will do with that is yet to be seen in full. In the meantime, let’s keep our eyes and ears open. Know what you’re listening to and who you’re hearing it from. The source matters. And so too does the political candidate who may be manipulating you in ways of which you are not yet aware.
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