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It’s the economy, stupid,” a phrase popularized by Bill Clinton campaign strategist James Carville in 1992, underlines a basic political reality — that economic factors heavily influence reactions and outcomes in presidential elections.

In looking at the current campaign carnival, it is entirely possible President Trump believed “the economy” might provide a safety valve or fall-back position for his reelection bid. That strategy might have a chance to work if the economy is running strong. And elements of the financial markets have had some good days, even surprisingly good. But the overall economic picture is shaky, particularly when such important components as unemployment are taken into account. The most recent unemployment rate declined to 13.3%.

Being unable to rely on the economic fall-back has reinforced Trump’s tendency to either ignore problems or distort reality or lay blame on others while operating from a base of misinformation and bias.

So it becomes “politics, stupid.” And we have pandemic politics and an absence of clear strategy from the Trump administration. Almost everything becomes political, including suddenly controversial face-covering masks. Much of the world looks on in dismay as we pass grim milestone after another and the spikes and tolls keep mounting.

In the midst of this tragic state of affairs, we have a petty political debate about masks, whether they should be required, mostly required or not required. The president and vice president appear to have had serious cases of mask-phobia. After an absence of many weeks, Vice President Mike Pence and the coronavirus task force presented a briefing last week. It was rather unconvincing as Pence praised what he called “truly remarkable progress” and spoke of a “beautiful surprise” ahead, although with little evidence to back this up.

With little else to stand on, and with racial tension and protests and the quest for social justice intertwined or combined with politics, Trump retreated to the arenas he is most comfortable with — such as the BOK Arena in Tulsa, normally home to large audiences for sports events or entertainment. In the recent case, this was to be supplemented by massive outdoor staging. However, the numbers in attendance never rose even remotely close to the Trump campaign’s much-ballyhooed projections. That left Trump and associates in the campaign gutter, sniping away at those who question or contradict his ego-maniacal politics and his mono-maniacal views.

Some have reversed course after earlier bold assertions about opening and have now clamped down on bars in a clear retreat. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott ordered all bars closed, while Florida banned alcohol at such establishments. The two states joined the growing list of those either backtracking or putting further openings of their economies on hold because of a comeback by the virus, mostly in the South and West. Abbott had pushed for an aggressive opening schedule, not only resisting requirements that masks be worn, but also refusing to let local governments take such steps. Public health experts say a significant number of cases are being seen among young people, who are often going out without wearing masks or not observing other social-distancing rules. “It is clear that the rise in cases is largely driven by certain types of activities, including Texans congregating in bars,” Abbott said.

Those intent on quick openings and who don’t want to bother with masks and social distancing, are inviting a continuation of what plagues us. We currently live in a kind of parallel universe. Some of us function in a relatively normal manner. Others become part of those horrific and deadly statistics we see in the media. For months, the Trump administration had insisted that the pandemic was winding down. But increasing cases in some larger states indicate that the contrary is the reality.

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s approach can appear baffling at times. He has urged citizens to wear a mask, saying that it is critical. “So as we reopen the economy and people return to work, I urge you to wear a mask. This is critical as we continue to reopen our economy, and Arkansans return to work.” Hutchinson has gradually inched his way toward a stronger, clearer stand on masks, but has left himself some wiggle room.

Nearly all of us have reasons for wanting to reverse the strength of covid-19. It may involve family or business or professional or social reasons.

For many, it has been a time of quarantine or home confinement they would like to end soon.

Any real success in stanching the strength of covid-19 depends on individual behavior and responsibility. And doing so may well affect our individual plans and interests, particularly as a result of a European travel ban.

I’ve attended many events at the BOK Arena in Tulsa. I have good memories of the Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, Stevie Nicks, James Taylor, Bonnie Raitt, hockey and NCAA basketball. I’d like to have the option to see such events again soon.

In these highly politicized times, instead of a unified national effort, we get blaming, denial, and avoidance.


Hoyt Purvis is an emeritus professor of journalism and international relations at the University of Arkansas. Email him at [email protected] .

Print Headline: Pandemic politics

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