FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno (The Philippine Star) - October 31, 2020 - 12:00am

This is an unusual presidential election in the US.

The pandemic is spreading much more widely than it has ever been. Last Thursday, nearly 90,000 new cases were detected – the highest over a 24-hour period. Over the next few days, new daily cases could climb to over 100,000.

Experts have warned that the spread of infections will worsen as the colder months set in. It is only autumn. Americans are in for a terrifying winter.

The peril of infection notwithstanding, millions of Americans have endured long lines to vote early. Millions more have mailed in their votes. In some areas, early and mail-in votes surpass total voting numbers in the 2016 elections. The 2020 elections will smash all voting records by the time all this is done.

Should a sea-change happen after the votes are counted, ordinary Americans defying the odds to cast their ballots will have performed something truly heroic. After the sheer insanity of the Trump years, America will be back on the rails of civility and modernity.

After months of downplaying the pandemic, Trump shifted his tune yesterday. He is now urging people to wear masks and observe distancing protocols. But as he does so, his rallies are crammed with people not wearing masks. Studies have demonstrated that Trump’s reckless political rallies have become a major factor contributing to the recent spike in infections.

With 100 hours left before voting ends, his opportunistic shift in tone comes too late. It will not conceal the fact the Trump administration was a colossal failure in managing this pandemic. The numbers speak loudly.

This colossal failure has been due principally to Trump’s underplaying the peril posed by the coronavirus to serve what he thought were his political goals. Now the spike in infections has become the major reason Americans will deny him a second term. This is the supreme irony.

It is a painful and costly irony. Tens of thousands of lives were lost because of Trump’s mismanagement and disdain for science. By his weekend, the US COVID-19 caseload will pass 9 million. It will continue to exceed that through this terrible winter. Infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci says the US will be able to return to some semblance of normality by 2022 despite the availability of a vaccine.

The US presidential elections and the ugly spike in infections cannot be decoupled. Both will have great implications for the rest of the world.

If Trump loses this electoral battle, as the opinion polls strongly indicate he would, much of the rest of the world will heave a sigh of relief. He has upset America’s closest allies, undermined international institutions and inflicted a sense of chaos on everything from trade agreements to humanitarian cooperation.

But even if Trump loses, the US will continue to be a swirling epicenter of the pandemic. The severity of the current spike in infections will undermine America’s economy and produce volatility in the global equities market.

The imminent arrival of a vaccine will not end the pandemic quickly. Administering the vaccine to billions of individuals (most in two doses) will be the most massive logistics operations in history. Some of the vaccines being developed are only 30 percent effective. We have no idea how long the immunity they confer will last.

The world will have to cope with fluctuating rates of infection into the foreseeable future. Europe and the US, given the current outbreak, will probably take longer to return to normality.

American response to the pandemic will likely be better with someone other than Trump at the helm. It is hard to imagine any other leader doing worse than this incompetent and cruel man.

This is why this election is vital. For Americans, it is a choice between chaos and sober management. The nation has never been more divided than it has become with Trump at the helm. Only a united nation can beat this pandemic.

For the rest of the world, the end of Trump will mean we can rebuild our institutions for international cooperation. Without those institutions, humanity will find it difficult to climb out of this hole of economic contraction and a deadly disease.

We will know in 100 hours.

Opinion polls so far give Joe Biden an overwhelming lead. But we are haunted by the outcome of the 2016 elections. Trump managed to defy the opinion polls and stage a strong finish, winning several battleground states with thin margins.

It does not seem this will happen again. The pollsters have corrected for their wrong predictions four years ago. In fact, they might have overcompensated to magnify the size of Trump’s voting base and understate Biden’s.

At any rate, the Democrats are not taking any chances. They are chasing down every vote they could possibly win. They are encouraging, against Trump’s voter suppression efforts, all qualified citizens to go out and vote.

Pop stars and famous athletes have used their platforms to bring out the vote. A high voter turnout in US elections generally favors the Democrats. We hope the long lines of determined voters accomplish what we all need: the end of Trump.

No one knows how the infantile Trump will handle electoral defeat. If the numbers are close, he will likely deploy an army of lawyers to slow down the count and contest the results.

For the first time in American history, there is a real possibility partisan violence could break out in the wake of elections. We all hope sobriety prevails and democracy triumphs in the US.

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