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Is Bipartisanship in America on Life Support?

A commentary on 2020, Trump, Coronavirus, and American discourse by Kavya Nivarthy

The events of the past few days have seemingly put the threat of the coronavirus out of America’s purview. The killing of an African-American man named George Floyd by a Minneapolis policeman was followed by both peaceful protests, and violent riots and looting in some of America’s biggest cities, notably Minneapolis, Atlanta, Houston, and Brooklyn. Stores have been burned down, small businesses ransacked, and cities destroyed. Make no mistake, the injustice of Floyd’s death is certain, but senseless, violent protest, which has hurt law-abiding and contributing members of society, many of whom are African-American, is not justified.

Regardless, an atmosphere of fear and more importantly, division looms. The politicization and division trigged by Floyd’s murder is not an isolated occurrence in this country. The extremism of our leaders and their inability to show restraint, tact, and humility is discouraging. President Donald Trump, for example, spent the past week encouraging conspiracy theories regarding the death of a congressional staffer under then Republican Congressman Joe Scarborough, a decision that has faced condemnation from GOP lawmakers as well as right-leaning news outlets.

His likely 2020 opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden, however, provides apt competition with his own slew of gaffes and fudged interviews. His recent message, “You ain’t black,” to black voters who vote for anyone but him, his “poor kids are just as bright as white kids” comment, and his inability to defend his support of the 1994 crime bill (which has since been known to contribute to the disproportional and racially-motivated incarceration of African Americans) paired with his evident inability to comprehensively get through even a single interview makes him a difficult candidate to defend, even among the Democrats. The support garnered by former Democratic contender and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, a self-described “democratic socialist,” among young voters and the progressive wing of the party already indicated the growing divide within the Democratic Party.

Of course, it is difficult to make the case for President Trump as a neutral or diplomatic alternative. Fueling the left’s narrative of his irrationality and racial bigotry, Trump continues with tweets such as “when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” and his aforementioned promotion of conspiracy theories, the President does himself no favors when it comes to his overall popularity.

While George Floyd and the national protests presently dominate headlines, kicking coronavirus to the periphery, voters will likely still consider the administration’s response when they vote in November. In that regard, I believe Americans have the right to be angry and to believe they deserved better. Over 100,000 deaths in a nation that is among the most well equipped medically should be unacceptable. Will voters blame President Trump?

Trump’s base, for one, is largely intact. The president has continued to appeal to the growing populist right in the midst of the pandemic, largely through his anti-China position. Though justified, in that China’s failure to warn the world in time, their silencing of journalists and doctors, and their manipulation of the WHO and subsequently the global community in spreading inaccurate and misleading data regarding the spread of the virus all contributed to the severe damage inflicted on the United States and other nations; the anti-China position has nevertheless worked as an effective political tool for Trump, maintaining the support of the same white, working class GOP voters that made up Trump’s base in 2016.

Despite the evident preservation of his base, it cannot be ignored that Trump’s overall approval ratings did decrease in response to the coronavirus.

Between February 16 and May 31 of this year, though the President’s approval ratings only suffered a 3.8 point blow, dropping from 46.8% to 43.0%, his disapproval more than doubled from only 26.5% to 53.4%.

Support among Republicans however, did not take much of a hit during the pandemic, and approval ratings among Independents and Democrats steadily decreased in those months.

Not only is Trump’s base largely intact, but he has the advantage of enthusiasm. His likely opponent, Joe Biden, finds himself in a party that increasingly values activism, rhetoric, and engagement – better termed as “progressivism.” With a record on criminal justice and race, war, and even economic policies that make the progressive, “Bernie Sanders” wing of the

Democratic Party shudder, Biden fails to attract enthusiasm overall. While the Democratic establishment may argue that Biden is “more electable” than Sanders (meaning he appeals to centrists, independents, and even Republicans more), the graph to the left should make them worry. According to an ABC News poll, only 24% of Biden supporters described themselves as “very” enthusiastic about casting their vote for the former Vice President. President Trump, on the other hand, has more than double that percentage, at 54% of his supporters claiming to be “very” enthusiastic. In my view, they have good reason to be. Of course, Trump’s character, his language, his “presidential-ness” cannot be defended.

But many Trump supporters feel as if a vote for Trump is not a vote for all of his regrettable attributes, but rather an enthusiastic vote against the liberal elite. It’s an easy term to dismiss on the left, but it’s omnipresent – in our mainstream media, which unfairly covers anyone who disagrees with their agenda, in privileged liberal circles where the white working class are openly mocked, among weak and partisan Democrat politicians in Congress who stalled for weeks and put “corporate diversity requirements” and “risk-limiting audits of results of elections” above supporting small businesses and the unemployed amid the pandemic.

This isn’t to say Trump is completely innocent and not a part of the problem. In fact, to return to the title, the President’s rhetoric does drive partisanship in America. We need leaders, on the left and right, with the courage and fortitude to condemn the President when he’s wrong. After all, political factions or hyper-partisanship were exactly what our founders feared when creating a liberal democracy and a two-party system. To quote our first president, George Washington:

“The effects of such a division are pernicious to the last degree, not only with regard to those advantages which they give the common enemy, but to those private evils which they produce in the heart of almost every particular person…it sinks the virtue of a nation, and not only so, but destroys even common sense… The effort ought to be, by force of public opinion, to mitigate and assuage it.”

Let’s hope the American “public opinion” shows its strength once again.

The above article is an opinion piece. Any views or opinions represented in this op-ed are personal and belong solely to the author, and do not represent the views of The Contrarian. No views or opinions are intended to malign any religion, ethnic group, club, organisation, company or individual.

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