BY NIKHILA NATARAJAN
New York, June 10 (IANS) Americans wearing face coverings, in sharp contrast with the US president’s style, are taking their first steps back into their bruised cities amidst a perfect storm of coronavirus deaths, unrelenting public protests against police brutality and a presidential election less than 150 days away.
All this comes at a time when eight in 10 Americans feel America is spiralling “out of control”, according to a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll.
Within the context of the 2020 election, this sentiment is increasingly becoming about leadership in crisis, not race and gender like in 2016 or the economy.
Against this backdrop, three trends promise to roil presidential politics: Head to head poll numbers, jobs numbers and the big public health test of reopening the economy during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
First, US president Donald Trump is trailing his Democratic rival Joe Biden in a growing number of polls, including in the battleground states.
Americans disapprove of how Trump is handling the pandemic and the protests after George Floyd’s death. The color of protests has changed, the multiracial coalition that has come into clear view during the George Floyd protests will test Trump’s political brand and his ability to move white voters.
Trump’s readiness to weaponize race to fire up his base worked in 2016. After Floyd’s brutal death too, Trump continues to swing for the fences but his own party has begun cringing at the clumsy photo ops and rage tweeting. Trump is eager to get back on the campaign trail, with his signature brand of boisterous rallies.
Meanwhile, White House insiders have begun speaking on background about internal polling showing that support for Trump is slipping among precisely those groups who were Trump’s staunchest supporters.
Second, for every American who is out of work, there are currently a shade less than five job openings, underlining the huge catch-up looming ahead. The unemployment rate is officially 13.3 per cent, which is higher than in any other downturn since the second world war. The number is a lot higher for those who have scaled down to part time work. US employers let go 7.7 million workers in April alone as businesses shuttered.
Young people in America — especially millennials and Gen Z are not seeing the kind of income growth their earlier generation did. The economy is reopening slowly but everything’s going to remain muted until Americans resume life and work like they did during the pre-coronavirus time.
Economists from the National Bureau of Economic Research announced this week that the US economy entered a recession in February, ending the longest economic expansion on record. After the crash of 2008, it took a full eight years for the unemployment rate to return to pre-downturn levels. People are hurting from the economic bloodbath. Even Floyd, whose death sparked the protests was out of work when he died.
And finally, all eyes will be on New York City which reopened this week after losing 21,000 to the coronavirus in just three months. Given its population — 8.3 million, New York City is the biggest test of the US reopening phase.
Unsure how the results will turn out, locals remain fearful that reopening could spark a second wave of the virus as people begin resurfacing in public spaces. The death rate from the coronavirus is hovering at around 38 per 100,000 people in the US. The United States now accounts for one-fourth of global deaths, with more than 111,000 Americans dead out of a total of around 404,000 worldwide.
(Nikhila Natarajan is on TwitterA@byniknat)