In the coming days we will ask Schar School experts to weigh in on the COVID-19 crisis as it pertains to their field of study.
Jeremy Mayer is an expert on the U.S. government and politics, elections, foreign policy, and media politics. His book, Running on Race: Racial Politics in Presidential Campaigns 1960-2000, was named one of Washington Monthly’s best political books of 2002.
Mayer regularly speaks to State Department groups from all over the world and has spoken on behalf of the Department of State in Moldova, Germany, and Mexico. From 2002 to 2013, he trained diplomats for the Foreign Service Institute. Mayer uses his insider knowledge and academic research through offering political commentary for major networks including World News Tonight, BBC, and PBS NewsHour to name a few.
What does COVID-19 mean for the political narrative?
Mayer: This is the moment when expertise matters more than anything. The attacks on government bureaucrats and scientists as “Deep State” have no place anymore. To quote the movie Independence Day, this is when we look at the scientists and say, “We’ll see if you’re as smart as we all hope you are.” To the extent that policymakers—in China or the U.S. or anywhere—can be shown to be overruling expert advice for political reasons, they could pay a very high price.
How should U.S. leadership be responding to this crisis?
Mayer: The credibility of our leaders matters right now. If one mayor tells us to shut down all gatherings above 50, but the neighboring city’s mayor says “Nah, no big deal, it’s all fake news,” we are going to have to choose based on their past records of honesty. Political reputations could be ruined or constructed in the next three months, impacts that could last long after the virus has been defeated.
Some people are fearing that the virus will shut down our health care system. What will this mean for the average American?
Mayer: If the worst happens, and it shuts down our health care system, everyone needs to understand that their health is at risk, regardless of age, health, or income. You may be thinking, “Ah, this virus is only lethal for people over 50 or with weak immune systems or lungs, and I’m 35, rich, and super fit!” First of all, if you think that, you’re a narcissistic fiend, but also—you’re very wrong. You may not be affected by the virus directly, but if the hospitals get jammed with the victims of this scourge, the quality of care for people who get hit by buses or contract leukemia could go way down.
After new cases start to decline, what does all of this mean for us as a nation?
Mayer: This virus is going to remind us again that, in the end, we are all in this together, one way or another.