Trump vs Biden: And the winner is…?

Marwan Bishara

Marwan Bishara

The coronavirus pandemic and the Trump presidency that preoccupied the United States and much of the world this year have finally met face to face over the weekend.

With his life and his presidency on the line, the president has put on a brave face, fighting to beat the virus with the same vigour he fought to downplay it.

If the polls are anything to go by, Trump is trailing behind his Democratic rival Joe Biden – at times by double-digit numbers with less than a month to go before the elections.

But since the pollsters were so wrong in their forecast of the last election results, many believe the incumbent will eventually pull ahead, as he did in 2016.

Moreover, the pandemic is casting long shadows over the elections, with its twists and turns affecting almost all citizens in the country. This was all too clear in both the presidential and vice-presidential debates.

In fact, the contrasted approaches of the candidates to the pandemic and its effects on the nation may well echo their overall approaches to the presidency and determine the winner of the elections, one way or the other.

He has wrapped himself in the image of an honest, considerate and compassionate leader, worried about the health and wellbeing of the country. He projects the image of a wise elder statesman, who could save the country from a reckless presidency that brought it to its knees.

Biden wants you to know he is no Donald Trump, that he is indeed pained and alarmed by the rising rate of COVID-19 infections that have already taken the lives of more than 200,000 Americans.

He wants to be the national healer, who puts “United” back in the United States of America.

He is also anxious about the US’s deteriorating standing in the West and around the world as its nemesis China garners ever more power and influence.

For his part, Trump has cultivated the image of a bold warrior who does not recoil, rest or retreat.

His COVID-19 diagnosis may have played into Biden’s hands, but he moved quickly to spin the ordeal as a blessing in disguise. By showing the public he is fighting hard to get back to work as soon as possible, he tried to demonstrate his unmatched tenacity and his determination to turn misfortunes into fortunes.

Trump’s coarse style of leadership may have alienated many at home and abroad, but it also convinced his supporters that he is an indispensable fighter for the nation, and made them believe his loss would be America’s loss come election day.

As the commander-in-chief, Trump has chosen to reassure not alarm the country about the pandemic and its related economic downturn, promising to beat the virus and get the country back on the road to greatness.

In theory, this may be the right approach. Statesmanship during a national emergency requires calming the panic and projecting confidence in order to reach sober decisions and implement urgent policies.

In reality, however, more and more people believe Trump’s mulling is as egregious as his motives are egotistical.

Either he does not think the pandemic is a national emergency, as his persistent disregard of scientific evidence and the comparisons he made between COVID-19 and the ordinary flu indicate, or he does consider the pandemic a national disaster, but chooses to downplay the threat it poses in order to preserve confidence in his presidency during an election year.

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