NOTE: This story is part of “Together/Alone,” a column from Spectrum News Chief National Political Reporter Josh Robin that explores life during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In just a couple of weeks, we will mark the four-year anniversary of an august moment in the life of our democratic republic.
I’m talking of course about when Donald Trump tucked into a Trump Tower taco bowl.
“Happy #CincoDeMayo!” the then-candidate tweeted, flashing a grin and a thumbs up above a salad and dollop of sour cream, all ringed by a crispy shell.
“The best taco bowls are made in Trump Tower Grill. I love Hispanics!”
Much of the political commentariat groaned.
Four years later, Trump can summon a taco bowl on presidential tableware.
I bring up tacos in this dismal April of our plague year because if there is a potential silver lining to the pandemic, it’s that we are — hopefully — inclined to follow more important things four years later than our candidates’ culinary habits.
Political pandering (intentional, ham-handed or otherwise) is hardly partisan; almost a year to the day when Trump was crunching his bowl, Hillary Clinton was touting hot sauce on a hip-hop radio program.
Now, we may be cupcake-loading in our quarantines, but we aren’t in the mood for the usual slop we consume during our interminable election seasons. Tiger King aside, life, death, jobs and schools are more likely to be on the brain.
Today, politically speaking, the virus is delaying the political chatter that normally heats up around now. When we do think of politics, we seem more focused on what really matters out of government: what you think of a leader’s ideas and abilities to oversee a vast system.
And COVID-19 is also changing our campaigning. Gone (and good riddance?) for now are the mega-rallies; high-roller fundraisers; diner coffees and canned chats in living rooms.
Instead, President Trump is behind the podium, fielding questions, commanding the airwaves (though not seeing a sustained bounce in popularity). Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, is ensconced in his Delaware rumpus room, plotting a digital strategy that has not been his forte, and also answering reporters’ questions.
President Trump at the kick-off rally for his 2020 campaign in Orlando, June 2019. (File)
There are asterisks next to plans for this summer’s political conventions.
Rules dictate both Democrats and Republicans need to meet to nominate; but rules can change. And conventions need not be the multi-day orgies of self-congratulation that turn off much of the country. The Democrats moved their Milwaukee convention by more than a month, to the week of August 17, a week before Republicans huddle in Charlotte.
“We will not have our public health heads in the sand,” DNC Chairman Tom Perez said in an interview. “I think we can have a robust in-person convention in Milwaukee. And we're planning for that. We're planning for the best, but we're also planning for every other contingency. And that's why we consult with the experts there.”
"Right now, we're not planning on a virtual convention," added RNC Chairwoman Rona McDaniel. "We don't set up our staging and everything until July in Charlotte anyway. So when we get to that point, we'll make a decision. It's much easier to do a virtual convention than an actual convention. So we have to continue planning as if we're going to have an actual convention. And of course, if circumstances don't permit that, then we will change."
Thousands of Democrats at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia in 2016. (File)
I’d like to say that in the absence of canned political events, we’d all be engaged in a high-minded debate about the future of our democracy.
It’s not so bad — there are real conversations about expanding voting, and how much the government should prop up private business.
On the other side, COVID-19 turbocharged an existing trend to digitize our politics, especially on Facebook and Instagram — the subject of a fascinating new story in The Atlantic magazine.
“Facebook’s ad business operates unlike anything else that has ever existed in advertising, and most people have no idea how it works,” one of the authors, Ian Bogost, wrote in an email. “We have a line in the piece about how it’s a bit like day-trading democracy, and that’s not a bad metaphor. Imagine algorithmic trading, but for political advertising, via Facebook’s alien artificial intelligence, which nobody, even at Facebook, can really ever understand.”
While politicking is postponed, and conventions may be curtailed, I hope that debates later this year go on, possibly without a live audience. Months ahead of time, there are two big questions I see:
- Who is best to lead the United States after this crisis, and restore — or remake — its economy?
- Who is best to protect it from new threats, medically and otherwise?
Substantial fare for us all to chew on as we stare at the walls, at least for a few weeks longer.
Virtual Watch Party. This week’s suggestion comes from Christie Zizo, an ace digital media producer in Orlando who has been putting my columns together.
“More people are turning to Zoom to get together, and one way you can do that is with a watch party. Bustle has a great tutorial on how to make this work — choose one person to play the movie by sharing their screen, set your date and time, and gather your friends (follow security protocols and don’t put your Zoom party out on social media for hackers to find).
Classic movie Twitter users have found success with #TCMParty. Turn on Turner Classic Movies, visit the hashtag on Twitter and comment along with others. People share quips, criticisms, trivia and gifs. Lots of gifs. Either way, the best part of a virtual watch party? No fighting over the snacks.”
TRAPPED PARENT TIP
A Pet. No announcement here. Sorry, kids. But a friend got a kitten to add to his gaggle of animals and videos of the little critter may be softening the heart of a certain someone whose 10-year old is often inquiring about a quarantine companion....