Three factors make this election so important: Coronavirus, health care insurance and the economy. Joe Biden said that this election is about “the soul of the country.” Donald Trump wants to return America to its burgeoning economy before the pandemic. But unless we all have a clear-eyed perspective of the three factors most critical to us – our health, health insurance and the economy as it affects the middle class – our voting (or even the lack of it) may be misdirected.
By Shivaji Sengupta
A generation is a long time, over fifty years. For me, the period between the end of the Second World War and now, constitutes a generation. Eisenhower was the first post-WW president. Since then we’ve had eleven presidents in sixty-eight years. I have been following presidential elections keenly since 1968. I can say honestly that there has never been an election that is likely to affect almost 350 million American people more than this one.
Three factors make this election so important: Coronavirus, health care insurance and the economy. Joe Biden will say that this election is about “the soul of the country.” I will discuss that. Donald Trump wants to return America to its burgeoning economy before the pandemic. And I will discuss that. But unless we all have a clear-eyed perspective of the three factors most critical to us – our health, health insurance and the economy as it affects the middle class – our voting (or even the lack of it) may be misdirected.
So let’s begin with our health. It’s a mystery to me why despite over eight million of us being sick with COVID, over 220,000 dead, with no concrete time-table for the public consumption of a vaccine in sight, there are still people – mostly from the sixty million Trump supporters – who do not believe that we are in the middle of the worst health crisis since the Spanish Flu over a century ago. Even though our president tamps it down, for mostly political reasons, why should his supporters adopt this sort of callous attitude toward the disease when someone they know, among family and friends, has been affected by the Virus? Numerically, among the sixty million solid Trump supporters, thirteen in every hundred have caught the virus; i.e. roughly thirteen people in every 25 households (assuming a family of four).
One needs to acknowledge though that among Republicans, almost half believe that the president’s methods of confronting the Virus is working. So, if I urge my Republican friends to vote with the Virus in mind, they emphatically tell me they do, that is why they are voting for Trump. That’s when I stop arguing. If after seeing the COVID casualties, and listening to scientists, doctors and health experts say how important it is to wear masks to protect themselves and others, they still follow the president’s example, and refuse, there is little anyone can do. After all, people may remember how, in 1993, Waco, Texas, over eighty followers of the cult hero, David Koresh of Branch Davidians committed suicide, with their spouses and children, because Mr. Koresh urged them to do so. He was a leader of a small group; Mr. Trump is the president of the United States.
I have more confidence in the professionalism of Joe Biden in the way he has described confronting the Virus. His strategy is both governmental and personal. From the federal government, he plans to continue Trump’s policy of speeding up the release and public consumption of vaccines. He plans to pour money into getting hospitals and healthcare agencies equipped and ready for the present and future health crises because according to scientists they are bound to happen again. And Biden intends to pour in money to small businesses, raise salaries of first responders, schools and community health centers so that we, the people, can go back to work, our children to school, and small businesses open up without fear. On the personal side, he will urge people to wear masks, follow social distancing, and use their self-preserving instincts before joining mass gatherings, including in churches, temples, mosques and synagogues, not to mention beaches, theaters, restaurants and bars.
On the health insurance front, Trump first wants to dismantle Affordable Health Care as we know it by having the Supreme Court declare it unconstitutional. He says he will then replace it with a “much better and much cheaper” health insurance which will protect patients with preexisting conditions. But, as has been pointed out so often, he has never announced a comprehensive or even a cogent plan for the new health insurance. Meanwhile, if the Supreme Court strikes down Affordable Care Act, more than 20 million will lose insurance over night, almost 60 million senior citizens, most with preexisting conditions, may have to pay considerably more for their insurance. Those under twenty-six years of age can no longer be under their parents’ medical insurance. All together, there will be chaos, especially during this pandemic. He has not explained how he will pay for his “much better and cheaper” health insurance. Given his beliefs in free market, he will not reach out to governmental coffers. Republicans won’t let him. Without government resources, he will have to steal from Peter to pay Paul. He may tamper with Social Security. If he does that, those who, like me, live on social security, will be in dire trouble.
Biden, on the other hand, openly says that, for now, he will depend on the government, to haul the country back to health by making it pay for both health care and health insurance. This will, no doubt, send the national deficit soaring into trillions of dollars. However, the pandemic is leaving us little choice. There is also another downside to the Biden plan. The sharp increase in the federal government’s production of money runs the risk of inflation. But people will have jobs although everything will cost more. Industries of various kinds will thrive; the environment will get the attention it needs.
All this brings us to a fundamental difference between the two leaders. In yesterday’s final debate, when asked about their vision of America, Donald Trump trumped up the economy before the pandemic. He wants to return us to economic prosperity, his philosophy being that sound economic health will bring back unity in the country, something he is often blamed for breaking. Joe Biden, on the other hand, spoke of returning us to the way we used to be, characterally. He wants us to be decent, caring of others, empathic and value relationships. He says he will lead us to restoring “the soul of America.” To Trump, as he scoffed in yesterday’s debate, that’s all political hogwash. The real issue is the economy.
But it’s not to be dismissed so flippantly.
The notion of the soul in American body politic goes back to the earliest discussions among the founding fathers like John Adams and Thomas Jefferson who struggled, intellectually and emotionally, between their deep faith in Christianity and their enlightened outlook on the social significance of human beings. They had realized that, as easy as it was to swear by God in order to justify political action, it was not enough. There was something more to social and political action that simply cannot be explained away by invoking God. As Milton declared in Paradise Lost, one has to “justify the ways of God to Man.” Thus, when Biden makes “the soul of America” the breastplate of his campaign, it tells me that he is thinking about the one class of people, varied across race, creed and culture – the lower middle class. It is the one class that, not since Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, none of the ensuing presidencies, have been able to protect. He is thinking about the cries of the people – “I can’t breathe” – of Black Lives Matter, and of the empty beds and chairs in families who have lost someone to the deadly disease. From Reagan to Trump, capitalism has not been able to deliver for this group. By the time Trump took over as president, the plight of the lower middle class has hit almost rock bottom. That, I would say, is the greatest failure of modern capitalism. By ignoring the lower middle class and the poor it has abandoned the country’s soul.
America needs government to reenergize its economy, to return Americans to health and economic well-being and political stability. Hopefully, as we recover back to general prosperity, capitalism, free market will once again be the front and center of American life, the way it was during Eisenhower.
So, who will win the election? I hope Biden wins although, after what happened in 2016, I am nervous. I am bracing myself for another Trump come-from-behind. Biden and Kamala Harris’ lack of public in-person appearance, contrasted with Trump’s daily gatherings of five to six thousand raucous and cheering supporters, worry me. I saw Barak Obama’s public address in Pennsylvania, and Kamala Harris’s speech in Florida. The crowds were thin, the cheers, muted. I recognize that the Democratic approach to canvassing is consistent with the health requirements of protection from COVID. But I hope that the difference in approaches, and the “draw” in yesterday’s debate, do not end in a Trump win. I am worried that the “hidden voters” that did not participate in any poll in 2016, are once again going to do the same thing, and vote in droves on Election Day, without participating in any poll. Pollsters are supposed to have factored in the impact of “hidden voters” in their calculations. But a little over a week before the elections, Biden still has a wide lead. Is it because of the in cooperation of “hidden voters”?
Let us all do our civic duty and vote for one of the two candidates. Voting for a minor party candidate, or writing in someone’s name, will amount to a vote for the other guy.
So, please, don’t waste your vote.
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(Views expressed in this article is author’s personal)