Since its advent, Coronavirus has been creating social, economic, and political havoc around the world. In this, US has been most adversely impacted. More than 100,000 Americans have died, a larger number than any other country. The economic impact is still unfolding and more than 41 million have lost their jobs. As expected, the lower stratum of the society was acutely impacted, including minorities. However, up to this point it had not taken on a racial dimension.
The death of two black Americans, Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia, and subsequently George Floyd in Minnesota, have now transfused the economic impact of COVID-19 along racial lines. Inequality, poverty, and racial tensions are a consistent part of the American social landscape that boil over from time to time, but in the COVID-19 atmosphere they pose a unique concern and risk. And while the racial tensions have a unique setting in the US, many other nations are likely to face similar stresses and riots if the economic downturn continues.
The messaging from President Trump appears to be further complicating race relations. Then there is the polarization developing from the policies adopted by the Republican and Democratic Party to deal with the pandemic and in preparation for the upcoming elections.
In the COVID-19 environment, President Trump is appealing to the right wing white supremacists and big businesses, while the Democrats want to harness the minorities and the small businesses. This is creating a volatile political environment. Moreover, President Trump is against electronic voting that may have to be implemented if the Coronavirus related circumstances prevail. For this, Trump recently ran in to a quarrel with Twitter – on being factually incorrect.
For all intents and purposes, March to May represented the first phase of the pandemic in the US. The businesses were shutdown and the society went into a lockdown. The government provided needy citizens and businesses direct financial assistance to deal with the dire economic consequences. However, as lockdowns are being lifted in phases, many of the assumptions being made are likely to be tested in the next three months i.e., from June to August. For example,
1. Will the opening up lead to increase in the spread of the disease – and will the health care system be able to deal with it?
2. Will the business activity recover quickly enough, which is key to the viability of many businesses?
3. With millions out of job and looking for assistance, will they continue to be able to get government assistance if the crisis prolongs?
4. Will the government continue to suspend evictions from homes and rental properties due to non-payment?
What steps the government takes to address the present and upcoming challenges, carry high stakes as protests continue. While the Democratic Party wants to offer a new economic assistance package for the impacted Americans, the Republican Party appears to be delaying it stating that they want to observe how the earlier stimulus package was utilized. Under pressure from big businesses, the Republic Party wants to lift lockdowns and have also attempted to safeguard businesses from liabilities if a person acquires Coronavirus at work.
On the other hand, by involving the military to calm the situation President Trump wants to appear strong and for law and order, while the Democratic Party leaders have criticized the move to involve the military. Albeit a few, most members of the House of Representatives and Senate are conspicuously missing from the media and debate related to the racial tensions, and the matters have mostly been relegated to the Governors, Mayors, and Police Chiefs. With the elections fast approaching, the politicians are aware of the sensitivity and don’t want to get caught on the wrong footing.
Delivering a statement on Twitter, Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill stated, “We cannot allow any Commander in Chief to put our Armed Forces’ reputation as the last institution Americans can trust and respect at risk by using them unlawfully and putting them in a position of exacerbating the divisions driving our union apart. … Threatening military force and imprisonment against Americans exercising their Constitutional rights is not Presidential, it’s tin-pot dictatorial.”
If the riots spread further, they are likely to incorporate other long entrenched economic and social grievances and upset the multicultural setting of the US. Already there are signs; some elements want to aggravate the riots and confrontation for their own political ends – that would escalate the anti-globalization and anti-immigration agenda.
Thus the politics of Coronavirus can convert inter-racial tensions in to an ideological tussle between the haves and have-nots. The political parties will have to adapt to the new reality. The masses, the proletariat, will need more assistance than usual, and the Republican Party will not be able to continue toeing the corporate line – and at the same time maintain the system. And with the decreasing tax base, it’s unclear how the government would continue to provide social services and safety nets for its citizens. And in this context, the whole social contract is at stake in the US and around the globe.