The world is changing drastically as we speak. With each new day, Covid-19 brings a new set of problems for our world leaders to tackle. Some, like Boris Johnson, are fighting their own personal health crisis’, while others like Donald Trump are dealing with the devastating consequences of a delayed response.
With America quickly becoming the epicentre for the coronavirus pandemic, we take a look at what this might mean for the upcoming Presidential election. Meanwhile, I share my own experience in US politics, including attending a Trump rally earlier this year.
What it’s like to attend a Trump rally
“I do wish they would build the wall. I don’t have anything against immigrants but you need to do it legally” – Karen, 54.
At the start of this year, when coronavirus panic was still just a whisper, I travelled half way across the world to spend two and a half weeks in the middle of nowhere: Iowa, USA. If you’re a politics buff, you’ll probably know exactly why I was in Iowa. But if you’re not, let me give you a quick run down.
Iowa is one of the forgotten states of America. Their economy is powered mostly by corn. They grow it, they sell it. They repeat this process until they die. If it’s not corn they’re growing, its soy beans. When I told people where I was going, most people assumed I meant Ohio.
But something magical happens every four years in humble Iowa that bleeds through the entire state. Iowa holds the distinction of being the first state to vote in the caucus/primary portion of the US presidential election. It was there that Barack Obama first made an impression, surprising everyone by winning the Iowa caucus. The momentum from a win in Iowa can catapult you to the top. Aside from perhaps New Hampshire, it is seen as the most important state to win.
Which is why I was there, braving the blistering cold Midwestern snow. I’d been sent there by my university to experience it all. I shook hands with Biden, Bernie, Buttigeig, Warren. You name the democratic candidate and I probably saw them speak. I even met Joe Walsh, a crazy republican running against Trump. Walsh is perhaps best known for appearing in Sacha Baron Cohen’s This Is America, where he infamously agreed that kindergarteners should be armed for their own protection.
But none of this could prepare me for what it was like to attend a Donald Trump rally. The only way I can describe the atmosphere is, it’s what I imagine a NASCAR event to be like. The bootleg Trump merchandise stalls were set up from about a kilometre away from the actual event. Food trucks lined the edge of the road, including ironically, a Mexican one. For some reason there was a heavy smell of smoke in the air. I couldn’t tell if it was coming from the people who were smoking or from the grills of the food trucks. There was also the smell of alcohol and I noticed people were drinking bourbon from a can. It was well below 0° but there were so many people that it was hard to navigate. At one point, my friends and I got caught in a mosh and were getting pushed from every side. It was genuinely scary.
Trump does this thing where he overbooks his events, just to show how popular he is, effectively leaving a large number of his supporters out in the cold. And boy is he popular. His supporters are far more passionate about him than democrats are about Biden (who looks to be the democratic nominee). The stadium his event was held in at Drake University has a capacity of 7,000 people. There was at least another thousand who couldn’t get inside. Instead they watched from the outside on the gigantic screen in the snow. I was one of them.
Even though I had booked my ticket to the event a week in advance, I didn’t make it in to the actual stadium. Nobody warned me that I had to start lining up more than a day before he arrived to get my chance.
There was a great sense of camaraderie even in the overflow. People were excited to be there, talking to their neighbour in true Midwestern spirit. When asked about what they were most and least impressed with in the Trump administration, the answer was the same.
“His twitter. Him being on twitter really kind of irritates me. I wish they would just kind of take his twitter away” – Cody, 23
“He’s a good President, he just kinda [sic] needs to keep his mouth shut” – Nathan, 30
But when asked what his supporters were most impressed with, they could never just name one thing. From his tax cuts for the middle class to his stonewalling of China in the trade wall, in their eyes he could do no wrong. One supporter, Karen, just liked him because he was different.
“He isn’t the typical politician, he’s determined to get something done”.
On the outside, as an Australian, I had a preconceived perception of what a Trump supporter looks and sounds like. Of course, there were some crazies who stood out. One man wore a jumper that said GOD, GUNS & TRUMP. He then proceeded to tell me about how Australian women were “babes”. There were the boisterous supporters who, fuelled by alcohol, would make comments loud enough to be heard above the crowd. But for the most part, I saw ordinary Americans. People who had been left disenfranchised by the changing world.
What coronavirus could mean for the US election
Since my trip to America at the start of this year, the world has changed drastically. We all know about the devastating affect Covid-19 has had globally. Life as we know it will not be the same for a long time. So with many of the world’s economies tanking and countries forcing their citizens into lockdown, what does this mean for the impending 2020 US Presidential election?
The answer to this question is still being figured out. Nobody knows just how long this pandemic will hold the world hostage, and with America quickly becoming the most infected country in the world, it will no doubt take a long time for them to recover.
There is a lot of speculation on the internet that the election may be cancelled, but this is very unlikely. If anything, it may be delayed, but that also seems unlikely to happen. Biden recently commented on this, stating
“We cannot delay or postpone a constitutionally required November election.”
So if the election is to go ahead on November 3rd, what will it look like? Last week, Nancy Pelosi predicted that the country would probably be moving towards voting by mail for the remainder of the election season. Considering that elections already see a number of postal votes anyway, it makes sense as to why Pelosi would suggest this route. There is already a system in place to sort these votes, and it would only need to be expanded- rather than the alternative option of devising a whole new system. It would not be unlike Australia’s own postal plebiscite in 2017.
Already we have seen that the current system of in-person voting just isn’t going to cut it. On Tuesday, Wisconsin hosted their democratic primary. It is the first primary to take place in three weeks, and the first to be held since coronavirus crippled America. The democratic Governor tried to delay the vote because of the pandemic, stating “there’s not a sufficiently safe way to administer in person voting”, but the decision was blocked by republicans in the Senate.
Dear @realDonaldTrump and Republicans…look at what’s happening in #WisconsinPrimary today. Democrats hate you so much that they’ll risk their lives to vote you out. You will NOT steal this election… #Trump pic.twitter.com/uRgLMmvyF0
— Andy Ostroy (@AndyOstroy) April 7, 2020
I waited 2.5 hours today in rain and hail (and a mask and gloves) to vote in Milwaukee because @wisgop and @scotus would rather risk lives than have a fair election. Instead of 182 polling sites, we had 5. #VoterSuppression #WisconsinPrimary pic.twitter.com/9F8xKwciOX
— Trudy Harwood (@TrudyandPierre) April 8, 2020
Polling locations were reduced in an effort to contain the situation, however this just lead to longer lines than usual. In Milwaukee, the largest city in the state, there were only five polling places open. The New York Times stated that they believe this primary election is almost certain to be tarred as illegitimate, as holding in-person voting equates to voter suppression. We will not know the results until April 14 (Australian date), but it’s a safe bet to assume voter turn out was lower than usual.
Aside from the crucial activity of voting, there are other significant ways that coronavirus can affect the election. Trump’s campaign is seeing both advantages and disadvantages from the required social distancing; he has lost his rally advantage, though he is far more successful at utilising social media then his competition. For Biden, who hasn’t even officially been named the democratic nominee yet, the lack of certainty surrounding the democratic convention is undermining his impeding victory and stifling his momentum. Not to mention the fact that he is restricted from doing what he does best, which is interacting with voters on a personal level.
Another important challenge that the presidential contenders face; they’re old. We know that Covid-19 is more likely to effect the elderly, and with Biden and Trump both above the age of 70, there is a very serious risk to their health. The powerful are not immune to this disease, as UK PM Boris Johnson’s recent admission into intensive care unit can attest.
These are just some of the challenges America is facing amid one of the biggest health crisis’ they have ever seen. The presidential election may seem trivial in the face of 12,000+ national deaths, but it’s outcome is still important. Politics and health are not divorced, and the next leader of the USA will be instrumental in guiding them out of this disaster.
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