I’m starting to have serious doubts about that.
It’s very tempting to imagine that the country is a disaster right now because of the somewhat freakish set of circumstances that led to Donald Trump’s election. In particular, it’s easy to slip into the comforting fantasy that the COVID catastrophe in particular is largely if not solely a product of the fact that Donald Trump, or, less optimistically, the Republican party, is in control of the federal response.
But it’s far from clear that the COVID catastrophe would be less catastrophic if Hillary Clinton were president. My friend Mike lays out why:
The federal response is obviously a thousand times better. We would have had a testing regime in place much sooner. There would have been a concerted effort to get PPE in bulk. She would be appearing in a mask and would be encouraging everyone to wear them.
And yet, things could be significantly worse for the following reasons:
1. Right wing media would rebel against everything Hillary does to fight the virus. Maybe they hype up the virus and claim that the deaths are her fault. Maybe they claim that the virus is a hoax designed to allow the federal government to take control of our lives.
2. Republican governors take their cues from Fox News and the base, rebelling against public health measures. You end up with outbreaks in those states and then overflow effects as people travel to other states.
3. Republicans in Congress refuse to pass any stimulus, as their ideological priors (government aid to anyone other than the rich is bad) match their short-term incentives (helping to alleviate the situation makes Hillary more likely to get re-elected). The economy tanks and the electorate blames Hillary.
And thus, we could be in an even worse place despite better Presidential leadership. The conclusion is that we will be a third world country as long as we have a two-party system where one of the parties lives in its own curated bubble where science, expertise, and truth are an anathema.
I think that’s basically right, but actually understates the problem. The problem ultimately isn’t Donald Trump, or even the current state of the GOP, but rather that for the past half century our culture and our political system have both evolved more or less inexorably toward total dysfunction.
If you have a country where 40%+ of the population is made up of a combination of white evangelicals, white supremacists, and Randian greedheads — obviously there’s significant overlap in regard to the membership in these groups — and these people are systematically over-represented in the political system, and that political system is now, because the two major parties have become ideologically much more internally homogenous, displaying all the historical dysfunctions that Juan Linz argued have been endemic to presidentialism, and you have a media environment dominated by malignant actors making enormous fortunes by exploiting all these factors, then you are, to use what I believe is most salient technical political science term, totally screwed.