The Politics of Coronavirus: Some Not-So-Obvious Questions

As the Spirited Reasoner pens this week’s installment, we have learned of the first death caused by the coronavirus on U. S. soil. It occurred in Washington State and involved a person who was not known to have traveled recently. Several more cases are pending in California, Oregon, and Washington, all arising from as yet unknown sources.

Takeaway message: There is no way for this nation to quarantine carriers or potential patients unless we are prepared to confine all United States citizens to their respective bedrooms. What’s that, you say? You need to go grocery shopping? Sorry. You might encounter another human being at some point during the process. (But, you correctly point out, who would enforce that quarantine? Wouldn’t police officers catch the disease themselves if they use bodily force to push people back into their homes?)

Our President’s response, so far, has been a combination of gobbledygook and finger-pointing.

“We haven’t lost anybody, so far,” he said yesterday, before the death in Washington State was reported. “A lot of that is attributable to the fact that we closed the borders.”

Um. Right.

“We’re ordering a lot of supplies. We’re ordering a lot of elements that frankly we wouldn’t be ordering unless it was something like this. But we’re ordering a lot of different elements of medical.”


Meanwhile, Vice President Pence, the point-man anointed by President Trump to lead the nation’s response against the coronavirus outbreak, used his time on the Rush Limbaugh radio show to characterize the risk of the disease as “low.”

Guess we should all stop worrying. But you know how pesky Spirited Reasoners can be. They still have a few interesting questions.

How might the coronavirus impact campaign rallies? Might we not see the prospect of smaller crowds in weeks ahead, as potential attendees exercise an abundance of caution? Might we see candidates cancelling rallies in certain regions? If so, will those candidates be criticized for being overly timid? Or, if the same candidates choose to go ahead with their rallies, will they be criticized for being reckless?  

What happens if one or more candidates (including the President) displays symptoms of a respiratory illness? How might voters react if their favorite candidate happens to come down with the illness? (Note the strong possibility of this happening to at least one candidate, given their constant handshaking, hugging, and other face-to-face interaction.)

What economic consequences could rear their ugly heads as unforeseen political issues? There is not space enough to list all the popular spring sporting events that draw huge crowds, not to mention the number of colleges whose students can be counted on to swarm tourist destinations over the next few weeks. Will any of these events be cancelled?

How many companies will begin laying off workers due to trade and travel now being cancelled as a result of the disease? What will candidates say about that? Where will medicines, component parts, and other essential goods be found if the primary source of those products happens to be China or some other virus-affected region? Is there a political response that could make a difference at this late date?

Spirited Reasoners ask spirited questions. Let’s hope the answers offered by our nation’s leaders and prospective leaders are founded not upon 24-hour news cycles but rather upon the wisest long-term public health and economic policy.