How serious are different political moods on COVID-19 pandemic in Canada and the United States?

Mar 28th, 2020 | By | Category: In Brief
At the Ambassador Bridged between Windsor, Ontario and Detroit, Michigan, March 18, 2020. Rebecca Cook / Reuters.

Andrew Cohen’s “Why Canada’s response to COVID-19 is so different from that of the US,” from the Ottawa Citizen this past week, won applause from many Canadians.

Zach Carter’s “Coronavirus Is A Defining Test And American Government Is Failing It … It’s not just Trump. Our politics are unfit for this calamity,” from Huffington Post, seemed to confirm the argument from the American side.

It could simply and not entirely inaccurately be said that the United States has a more diffuse political system, especially at the federal level. Canada’s parliamentary democracy is more focussed.

Or the US system (by quite deliberate design of the 18th century founders) makes it harder for government to do things. The Canadian system (more like the UK and Western Europe) makes it easier for government to act when a parliamentary majority wants to.

“Facial Recognition # 9” by prize-winning Toronto artist Michael Seward, March 2020.

At the same time, the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic may be at least somewhat more complex. The Economist magazine’s special intell unit has just predicted that “nearly all G20 nations will be pushed into a recession by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The latest Economist estimates of GDP this year suggest three different groups. In the first GDP declines by -7% in Italy, -6.8% in Germany, -5.4% in Mexico, and -5% in the UK and France. In the second group it declines by -2.8% in the US and only -1.3% in Canada. In the third group it actually increases by +1% in China!

Pete Evans at CBC News yesterday reported in more detail on “How bad will Canada’s COVID-19 recession be? … 2 million jobs could be at stake, and the economy could shrink by more than it did in 2009.”

(Note as well that the Canadian dollar, hovering around 76–77 cents US from the fall of 2019 to the end of January this year, fell to just below 68 cents US this past March 21, though it had risen back to 71 cents US by March 27.)

It is also worth noting, I think, that according to the Gallup organization, for all President Trump’s palpable foolishness on the COVID-19 pandemic, his approval rating has risen from 44% of US adults March 2–13, 2020 to 49% March 13–22.

Moreover, Gallup also suggests : “Trump’s response to the novel coronavirus pandemic may be behind his higher overall approval rating. Americans give the president generally positive reviews for his handling of the situation, with 60% approving and 38% disapproving. Ninety-four percent of Republicans, 60% of independents and 27% of Democrats approve of his response.”

“Facial Recognition in Paint” by Michael Seward, March 2020.

My own sense is that Trump’s recurrent scepticism about the ultimate wisdom of health officials and medical professionals in their views on how to best combat the COVID-19 pandemic still strikes a responsive chord with much of the US public.

I do myself finally prefer our Canadian political leaders’ broad support for the health experts’ strategy (“go home and stay home” as Justin Trudeau has advised all of us who are not working in some essential service). This is the most prudent path to follow in our current circumstances. But it does also seem to me that much remains uncertain about current public policy on all fronts.

Trump is voicing this uncertainty. And until it becomes altogether clear that following what the health experts are saying very rigorously and absolutely really will mean more lives saved, there will no doubt be an appetite for President Trump’s scepticism among many Americans.

At the same time again, as someone over 70 with an underlying respiratory condition from too many (now bygone) years of smoking, I am increasingly finding TV reports about COVID-19 from medical professionals on the front lines in, eg, New York City, disturbing. There are clearly much better ways of dying.

Born-in-Canada US comedian Samantha Bee, from her home during the coronavirus crisis : “I feel like Sam Bee from 14 days ago is a completely different person from Sam Bee today … I don’t even feel particularly certain that an election will happen.”

I take heart from such current news as “101-year-old Italian man released from hospital after recovering from coronavirus.”

And I was at least agreeably amused by a joke an artistic friend passed along via email yesterday morning : “Well, it’s come to the point where I’m giving up drinking for a month … That came out wrong … I’m giving up! Drinking for a month.”

Finally, I should duly note, of course, that virtually no one in the USA today is really interested in what Canada may or may not be doing differently, about COVID-19 or anything else.

As the “strategic adviser to the US government,” Edward Luttwak, nicely explained in a recent London Review of Books, there is always “the inherent self-absorption of all very large polities” to take into account.

Canada has not quite 38 million people today. The United States has more than 327 million. (Even if Canada is actually slightly larger than the USA geographically — and is in fact the second largest country in the world geographically, after Russia!)

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