By Gwynne Dyer
An ‘October Surprise’ in the United States is now almost inevitable.
‘October Surprise’ is the American political term for a fake crisis, usually involving foreigners, that is ‘discovered’ by a president trailing badly in the polls in the last few weeks before an election. All other issues are forgotten, Americans rally around the flag, and the incumbent wins on a surge of patriotism. Or that’s the theory, at least.
Donald Trump will need something like that because otherwise the coronavirus is going to kill him politically. This was not true as recently as early June, because up until then the United States was not performing especially badly in dealing with the pandemic.
It LOOKED a lot worse because of Trump’s bizarre behaviour, but US Covid-19 deaths per million people were still lower than in all other big Western countries except Germany and Canada. Until recently, if you were a Trump supporter, you could still believe he was doing a good job.
It was Trump’s rush to end the lockdown that did the real damage. He believed that he would lose the election if the economy didn’t revive, but by opening up too fast he managed to revive the pandemic.
This week America will record its 160,000th death from Covid-19. That’s almost a quarter of all the coronavirus deaths in the world. Moreover, US deaths are still going up while deaths elsewhere in the developed world have fallen steeply.
Take Canada, for example. It’s very similar to the US in economy and demography, but different in social and political terms. Canada has universal health care and a much less drastic divide between the rich and the rest, which probably explains why America’s cumulative death rate per million is 484, while Canada’s is only 237.
The history, therefore, is an American Covid-19 death rate twice as high as Canada’s: not great, but structurally inevitable. By now, however, Canada has managed to get its deaths down to ten a day, whereas America is back up around a thousand a day.
Even allowing for Canada’s much smaller population, that is ten times worse. This is what coming out of lockdown too early did to the United States, and it is all down to Donald Trump.
The pandemic is raging again in the United States, and there may be a quarter-million deaths by election day in November. US ‘deaths per million’ are going up three per day, so the US will overtake Italy (582 now) in a month, Spain (609) in five weeks, maybe even the UK (682) by election day.
Most of those newly dead Americans will be over 60, so probably Trump supporters. Their relatives and friends are bound to notice eventually. Joe Biden’s lead over Donald Trump in the polls has already widened to 10%. How could Trump turn that around in the remaining ninety days?
His only hope is to manufacture an October Surprise: a restaged ‘Tonkin Gulf Incident’ with China, perhaps, or a terrorist ‘threat’ so humongous that it gives him a pretext to declare martial law nationally. Or maybe he will arrange the premature certification of a Covid-19 vaccine so he can roll it out just before the vote. If it kills a lot of people later on, who cares? He won.
Trump knows that if he loses the election he will spend the rest of his life in court, possibly even in jail. He will do whatever it takes to win. It isn’t over yet.