Share

COVID-19 opinion: Who Is Trump really protecting during the coronavirus crisis?

Des King, Andrew Mellon Professor of American Government writes that, as the coronavirus crisis spreads more deeply into Republican homelands, Trump's political future is threatened, along with tens of thousands of lives.

 

In a perspective piece for Public SeminarDes King and co-author Rogers M. Smith (University of Pennsylvania) introduce how Trump has branded himself as the nation's 'Great Protector':

'Since he stormed into politics, Trump has promised to protect Americans against many alleged enemies: immigrants, criminals, secularists, environmental regulators, job outsourcers, unfair foreign competitors, and above all, those corrupt, condescending, incompetent liberal elites.'

Trump's protectionist tariff, trade and immigration policies, have engendered the narrative that Americans need protection against the 'selfish globalist elites'. However, contrary to this, King and Smith suggest that Trump's cuts - to taxes, regulations and public programme spending - and his dismissal of scientific expertise, has fundamentally weakened America’s response to the pandemic and, as a result, cost lives.

Furthermore, in a new research paper from the authors, into 'White Protectionism in America' for Perspectives on Politics, they found that Trump's rhetoric and policies protect traditionalist white Christian Americans more than non-white Americans. In line with this, they say, the latter group can be seen to suffer the health and economic impacts of coronavirus more acutely so far:

'Communities of color and young people are disproportionately jobless, as work in service industries and the gig economy has shut down. The poorer and non-white residents of the nation’s cities have suffered most. Though racial data are available for only about 35% of reported Covid-19 cases, the rate of infections and deaths for African Americans appears to be at least three times that of whites, while Latinx American and Asian American rates are also higher.'

However, as the virus spreads from Democratic cities into Republican countryside,Trump supporters could become more vulnerable to COVID-19. With this, Trump’s
reputation as Great Protector could be increasingly at risk, King and Smith warn:

'As Trump’s critics hammer hard at his handling of the crisis, the everyday experiences of suffering may persuade some of his supporters that this time, not all the criticisms are fake news.'


During the global COVID-19 pandemic the department has decided to share opinion and blog pieces written by members of the faculty, who are bringing their unique research perspectives to engage with the big questions of the day. The views expressed within opinion pieces do not represent the department’s official view, instead they shine a light on the intellectual plurality of our diverse community of academics and scholars.

Professor Desmond King is Andrew Mellon Professor of American Government, Professorial Fellow Nuffield College, Director of Graduate Studies (Politics), Emeritus Fellow St John’s College