By Shivaji Sengupta
Our country is reeling from one crisis after another. In my forty-four years of following presidential debates, I have not seen one so bizarre as the one last week between Donald Trump and Joe Biden. Even as we were scurrying around, trying to make sense of what very nearly was nonsense, Trump caught COVID! This, on top of a badly damaged economy, and a racial unrest across the country, the worst forest fire in California in a hundred years, and two hurricanes. Just think of the combined economic devastation these calamities have inflicted on the United States! Even our statistics-obsessed country hasn’t released the total amount of economic damage we have suffered.
Two other incidents have had a massive impact. One is a first in American history. In a naked display of power, Donald Trump and the Republican Senate are trying to ram through the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to replace the late Ruth Bader Ginsberg as the Supreme Court justice. That too bang in the middle of the presidential elections!
The second was nearly-contradictory tweets. First, Trump instructing his Republican “representatives to stop negotiating” the second stimulus Bill, and “to focus full time on approving my nominee to the United States Supreme Court, Amy Coney Barrett”. Mind you he clubbed the two issues in the same long tweet. This was followed a few hours later by another tweet to “immediately approve 25 billion dollars for airline payroll support, and 135 billion dollars for a paycheck protection program for Small Business.” And then another one: “If I am sent a Stand Alone Bill for stimulus checks ($1,200) they will go out to our great people immediately. I am ready to sign right now!”
Whew! We must remember that Donald Trump is on very powerful medications for COVID-19. One of them is a steroid that can affect the functioning of the brain. Could the rapid-fire contradictory tweets be because Trump is not at all well? The possibility is scary.
If on the other hand he is well, then the tweets tell a very interesting tale of the president’s mind-set. The first tweet, pulling out of the stimulus Bill and ordering the Republicans to approve his Supreme Court nomination, speaks volumes for the President’s preoccupation. It is not with the people of whom more than seven million are ill from the pandemic, and 211,000 dead; the national economy is in shambles; unemployment still at nearly 8%, still over twelve million unemployed. Yet Trump’s overriding concern is with the Supreme Court. Why?
For an answer, we don’t have to go far. Trump himself said in a recent press conference that a solidly conservative Supreme Court may help him out if he challenges the results of the November 3 election.
Even Republicans were stunned by the tweets. Why would the president do this, GOP Congressman of New York, John Katko asked nonplussed. The president could stand to gain from the passing of the stimulus Bill, putting money into people’s pockets.
It is possible that the cries of people like Katko reached Trump, and he reversed his position, tweeting the support for passing the two stand-alone Bills. At the very least, these presidential tweets speak of a wayward Trump, full of contradictions.
Biden can steady the country
In stark contrast, stands Joe Biden. Throughout the pandemic, he has been steady and unwavering over the disease, doing exactly what the doctor ordered. During the debate he was the only one who spoke, through constant Trump interruptions, about his plan for tackling COVID, about his economic plan, often ignoring Trump and speaking directly to the American people.
We have a much clearer idea of how Joe Biden will confront COVID if elected. He will immediately mandate masks throughout the country. The CDC and the Health and Human Services office will be allowed to do their work unfettered and in peace. The Biden administration will follow their orders exactly. We should remember that in the Obama administration, it was Biden who was entrusted with managing Ebola and how he and his staff immediately took charge and worked with the health officials. Like COVID, Ebola originated outside the US, in West Africa. But instead of a blame game that Trump carried on with China, Biden enlisted Susan Rice, then US Ambassador to the United Nations, and with her in the lead, sent army corps volunteers to countries like Congo and Sudan to stop the flow of Ebola abroad. According to Rice, two people in the US died of Ebola, as opposed to 211,000 from COVID. Biden has a proven record in containing deadly diseases.
Economically, a Biden presidency will be safe, if unexciting. The Economist predicts Biden’s first task as president would be to get a massive stimulus Bill, one that would help out everyone from ordinary citizens making less than $80,000 per year, to small businesses, to airlines and essential health industries and health workers, to cities and states devastated by the disease. After that, he will concentrate on replenishing the infrastructure (according to The Economist, the average American bridge is 47 years old), and this would, in turn, create millions of jobs. Biden would adjust some of Trump’s tariffs with foreign countries, especially China, insist on goods made in America, levy steep taxes on American industries operating from abroad, and financially back “green” energy. He would return the US to the Paris Environmental Agreement.
In Foreign Affairs, Biden will reestablish close relations with Western Europe, try to repair the Iran nuclear deal, and take a tough stance against Russia. He might carry forward Trump’s approach in the Middle East, with some revisions (I reviewed Trump’s Middle Eastern policy in these columns earlier). The honeymoon with Kim Jong-un will be over.
Most significantly, America will once again settle down from four years of Trump turbulence.
It is what America needs.
Shivaji Sengupta is Professor Emeritus, a retired VP Academic Affairs at Boricua College, and a regular contributor to our op‐ed columns.