The Centre for Public Policy Research (CPPR) hosted a webinar with Mr Raymond Vickery, Senior Associate, Wadhwani Chair in US-India Policy Studies, Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) on May 7, 2020, focusing on the present scenario of the US Presidential Elections and the reaction of the US administration to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.  The discussion took a question and answer mode for one hour where Mr Vickery answered some of the questions from Mr Gazi Hassan, Senior Research Associate, CPPR, who moderated the session. In the later part of the session, the floor was open for questions from the audience.

Mr Vickery started off the discussion by emphasising on one of the characteristics of the pandemic which is the unevenness of it and explained the current situation in the United States. To the question, “Whether the administration’s response to the pandemic was adequate or was it more than adequate?” Mr Vickery answered that the response was uneven and there has been a leadership deficit at the federal level. He talked about how the rallies have been impossible in view of social distancing. He said the response has been variably different according to two standards—urbanisation and agricultural pursuits, especially in terms of healthcare and infrastructure. This has caused problems, with states competing with each other and competing against the federal government for protective equipment. He said that it has political implications in terms of the competition and the unevenness of the response. If one belongs to an area that is not an urban hotspot, one tends to think that the restrictions are not required and this combined with the President’s initial response, in terms of blaming others for making too much out of it, that it was just like the flu.

When asked about the stark difference between the Trump and Obama administrations, while one has been protectionist and isolationist and the other has had a multilateral approach, Mr Vickery responded that the current administration’s main goal has been ‘America first’. He went on to explain how the United States has been instrumental in setting up some of the fundamental international institutions like the United Nations, IMF, etc. He elaborated on how the United States has been the architect of the Security Infrastructure of the world. He also stressed on why India and the USA should work together. 

Focusing on the United States’ electorate, he said that it is extremely divided and this divide seems to be deepening by the coronavirus. In such a divided electorate, everything is politicised and when elections are held in such a situation, the impact will be on the policies that are formulated on both the domestic and international fronts. Mr Vickery appreciated the wisdom of CPPR for calling it the Presidential ‘elections’ as it is not just one election.

Answering a question on how the situation could have been dealt with the presence of a Democratic President, Mr Vickery said that the Obama administration had taken an international approach while dealing with a pandemic like Ebola. This shows that the approaches of both the administrations in dealing with epidemics and pandemics have been different. While one has taken an international approach, the other has struck off fundings to disaster management as unnecessary.

Talking about swing states, Mr Vickery mentioned that the electorate is not very democratic at this point and reminded how minority Presidents like Mr Donald Trump and Mr George Bush were elected.  The discussion also touched upon how and why the role of Russia in the US elections has probably now shifted towards China. Mr Vickery concluded that the Trump administration cannot ignore its inadequacies just by pointing out China’s faults.

The report is prepared by Abhirami B research intern with CPPR-Centre for Strategic Studies.

Click here to watch the video recording of the session

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