At some basic level, Americans do seem to agree that the coronavirus is a major threat. Despite attempts to politicize and divide us on the pandemic, we are at least united in anxiety. In September, a survey of almost 4,000 Americans found that only 12 percent disagreed with requiring masks in public. Fully 70 percent wanted the government to do more to protect people, and only 8 percent wanted it to do less.
Since then, though, the government under President Donald Trump has done less. The U.S. has suffered the most documented coronavirus deaths in the world, by far. The Trump administration has continued to downplay and ignore the virus as its spread has accelerated in almost every region of the country. On Wednesday, the U.S. shattered the world record for daily coronavirus cases by topping 100,000 for the first time—only to break the record again each subsequent day until a Saturday high of 128,000. Field hospitals and makeshift morgues are appearing around the country. Daily death counts have risen to more than 1,000.
It may have been reasonable to expect, then, that the leadership vacuum at the core of these numbers would decide the presidential election. Polling indicated extensive support for former Vice President Joe Biden, which buoyed speculation that the vote tallies might amount to a decisive repudiation of Trump’s disastrous handling of the coronavirus. The president has variously lied by his own admission, denied the severity of the disease, and promised false cures, all as the death toll shot into the hundreds of thousands.