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AMY GOODMAN: The death toll from the coronavirus pandemic has topped 6,500 with at least 170,000 confirmed cases worldwide and 77,000 people now recovering. In the United States, amidst an unprecedented national crisis with 3,600 reported COVID-19 cases, there are 61 deaths so far, 33 states closing schools, and mass shutdowns in major cities Los Angeles and New York City.
Democratic presidential candidates Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders faced off in their first one-on-one debate Sunday night. They clashed on how to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, Medicare for All, the climate crisis, Joe Biden’s record and whether or not the U.S. needs a revolution. Practicing social distancing, that would have been unimaginable even a week ago, the candidates did not shake hands; they touched elbows when they greeted each other. They stood six feet apart at the CNN-Univision debate, which was held with no audience in Washington, D.C., instead of Phoenix, Arizona, due to concerns about the pandemic.
In the course of the two-hour debate, Joe Biden promised his running mate would be a woman. Bernie Sanders said, in all likelihood, so would his running mate be. Much of the night was dedicated to the coronavirus pandemic. The two also faced off on immigration, authoritarianism around the globe, and appealing to African-American and Latinx voters. They did not discuss the upcoming primaries in Arizona, Illinois, Florida and Ohio this Tuesday, where elections will go on despite all four states having confirmed coronavirus cases. Georgia and Louisiana have already pushed back their primary dates due to the pandemic. Puerto Rico has also said it plans to postpone its primary to next month.
We’re turning now to two guests to respond to last night’s debate and the situation we’re in today. Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor is with us, and Michael Eric Dyson joins us, as well.
Professor Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor is assistant professor of African-American studies at Princeton University. She’s the author of Race for Profit: How Banks and the Real Estate Industry Undermined Black Homeownership and From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation. She has endorsed Senator Bernie Sanders for president. She just wrote a piece for The New York Times headlined “Why Sanders Isn’t Winning Over Black Voters.”
And Michael Eric Dyson joins us. He is a Georgetown University professor, political analyst and author. He endorsed Vice President Joe Biden for president. His books include JAY-Z: Made in America and What Truth Sounds Like: RFK, James Baldwin, and Our Unfinished Conversation About Race in America.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! We originally scheduled you both for studios in Philadelphia as well as Washington, D.C., but you’re both at home now because of this pandemic. I was wondering, before we even respond to the presidential debate last night, if you could just talk about your thoughts right now about yourselves, your family and the community. Let’s begin with professor Michael Eric Dyson. And, Professor Dyson, thanks so much for joining us and taking this time, speaking to us from your home.
MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Ms. Goodman, always great to be on with you and, of course, with the equally brilliant Professor Taylor. Yeah, it is a devastating pandemic that we’re confronting. There’s no question that the besieging of our resources as a result of this pandemic has exposed flaws in our system, has forced us to not only socially distance ourselves from situations and circumstances that cause us harm, but also the reality is that we live in a culture where those who are least able to afford a sustained distancing of themselves from their workplaces face dire consequences. And as —
AMY GOODMAN: Professor Dyson, we’re going to go over to Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor because we’re having a little trouble hearing you, and we’re going to fix that situation. Professor Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, you’re talking to us from your home, as well. Talk about what we’re facing today. I mean, we are certainly not in normal circumstances right now. In fact, I would venture to guess that the majority of people who are watching and listening to this broadcast or going to be reading it are now at home.
KEEANGA–YAMAHTTA TAYLOR: Yeah. Thanks, Amy, for having me on. I’m glad to be able to talk to you guys under these strange, surreal circumstances. I mean, this is completely unprecedented, that — a situation that is affecting every single person in this country, some more than others. I think, you know, for myself, my child’s daycare ended on Friday for — you know, everyone is doing everything in two-week intervals. I think most of us know that the situation is going to get probably a lot worse before it gets better. This will not be resolved in the next two weeks. So we’re dealing with that. I have an underlying respiratory condition, which means that I am being particularly mindful and alert in staying at home. And so, you know, my wife and I are both working from home, parenting our child. And —
AMY GOODMAN: And Princeton University is now online only?
KEEANGA–YAMAHTTA TAYLOR: Yeah. We have spring break this week, and then Princeton resumes next week. But, you know, administrations across the — college, university administrations across the country had to improvise. And I think that we’ll see how it works. I’m not sure how it’s going to work. I just got an email from a student of mine this morning from Tokyo, who was in Princeton, New Jersey, last week and now is in Tokyo asking me how is he supposed to tune in to the class. So, these are unprecedented situations that we’re going to have to try to figure out. But I think the main thing is that it really is pointing to the complete absurdity and dysfunctionality of entire aspects of our society that we have to begin to deal with in a serious way.
AMY GOODMAN: And, Professor Michael Eric Dyson, I believe we have you back right now. We’re going to go to break in just one minute, but if you could pick up where Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor left off? Disagree on your choice of presidential candidate in the Democratic Party, but, overall, the situation we’re in right now with this growing pandemic?
MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: No question about it. There is the reality, as Professor Taylor said, about the dysfunctionality and absurdity of vast reaches of our public sector, that have failed fundamental — the fundamental rights of citizens and put us at greater risk. It has exposed gaping holes in the logic of supplying needs for those most vulnerable, shredding the safety net, and those who are most able to retreat into our wombs of protection reveal that there are economic disparities that need to be addressed, so that the healthcare crisis that has been revealed through the pandemic also reveals a crisis of capital, a crisis of conscience and a crisis of provision for those are the most vulnerable. There’s no question about that. And our choice of different candidates here is a matter of strategy and pragmatism, not about the philosophical commitment to the reconstruction of American society along lines that would benefit the most vulnerable.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to go to break, and then we’ll be rejoined by our guests and play clips from the Democratic presidential primary that was held last night in a CNN studio, instead of before a live audience, with the candidates Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden standing six feet apart from each other for safety reasons in this coronavirus pandemic. Stay with us.