Accounting for the Count: COVID and the Vote

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 8, No. 11, November 2020

President Donald J. Trump, joined by Vice President Mike Pence and members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, announces a national emergency to further battle the Coronavirus outbreak, at a news conference Friday, March 13, 2020, in the Rose Garden of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Tia Dufour)

S.C.M. Paine
U.S. Naval War College

Republicans argue that the presidential vote numbers are so close that they should be reconfirmed. Yet the much reviled Hilary Clinton conceded with even closer margins and with less secure voting machines. These are the wrong numbers to track.

In contrast, the numbers are not close concerning American deaths on Donald Trump’s watch. He is scheduled to lose more Americans in a single calendar year than all American deaths in World War II. Very shortly we may be losing each day, the number of Americans we lost on 9/11. China is a threat, but it is not killing hundreds of thousands of Americans. Trump’s incompetence is.

As a China specialist, it was obvious that there was an ongoing epidemiological disaster in Wuhan by late December or early January, when we should have shut down all travel to and from China, called on our allies to do likewise, invoked emergency measures to produce protective gear, and educated Americans about the rationale for the restrictions to come. One would think that the U.S. consulate in Wuhan provided information at least a month earlier unless it was asleep at the switch. Imagine the difference if we had shut our borders in November and put the full-court press on virus containment. Hundreds of thousands of Americans might have survived 2020. Yet Bob Woodward has Trump on record minimizing the problem in April.

The politicization of mask wearing has been criminal. The scientific data on mask wearing is definitive. Trump’s lying on the subject is continuous. His pandemic paralysis has been unfathomable. This alone is more than sufficient reason to have voted against him.

We are about to flood our hospitals with COVID patients, which will lead to thousands more avoidable deaths because there are not enough medical personnel to provide treatment. These deaths will include not just COVID patients but lots of other patients too. The sheer volume of deaths is traumatizing doctors and nurses who have never seen so much carnage as people very audibly suffocate to death before their eyes. They are being forced to choose whom to treat and whom to let die, choices that will surely haunt them. They are our heroes.

Governor Kristi Noem of South Dakota went forward with the Sturgis motorcycle rally and now has the second highest infection rate per capita. As a rural state, there is no way she has the hospital beds to deal with the consequences of her pooh-poohing of social distancing. In neighboring North Dakota, which does have the highest infection rate per capita, Governor Doug Burgum’s solution is to keep COVID-positive healthcare workers on the job.

Red states are now trapped by their choices. The in-person church services and Thanksgiving meals will leave smaller families come Christmas. Tsar Nicholas Romanov of Russia, a devout Orthodox Christian, believed that God would protect him. He and his family wound up executed in a basement instead. Our country used to respect scientists, not spam them with death threats for accurate bad news. Our politicization of science has gotten us to where we are.

COVID deaths are the numbers to watch not the bad sportsmanship over a lost election. Our country has a unique maritime position that allows us to close down our coastal borders, which was the route the virus took on its way in: Seattle, San Francisco, and New York City. Trump failed to shut down those borders when he needed to. How ironic, the man obsessed with border security failed to shut down the borders when the real existential threat arrived.

S.C.M. Paine, William S. Sims University Professor of History and Grand Strategy, U.S. Naval War College, Newport, RI. These views are the author’s, not necessarily those of the U.S. government, the Department of Defense, the Navy Department,  or the Naval War College.