By Larry Levine –
Once again, the President of the United States has chosen to stand with racists, anti-Semites, white supremacists and white nationalists. And for the second time he has sounded a dog whistle to those groups, telling them armed and violent actions should be on their agenda.
At so-called protests against stay-at-home orders aimed at combatting the coronavirus pandemic, this week demonstrators carried guns and waved Confederate flags, Trump flags, American flags, and Nazi flags, according to news reports. In response, President Donald Trump tweeted a message that these groups should “liberate” Michigan, Minnesota and Virginia from the stay-at-home orders of their governors.
The governors of those states are Democrats and all three are states Trump’s campaign considers must win to remain in office after this November’s election. Republican governors who also issued stay-at-home orders were spared these demonstrations, even as some extended the orders in recent days.
Trump’s support for these demonstrations, which were paid for and orchestrated by extreme right wing organizations and individuals, is reminiscent of when torch-bearing marchers chanted “Jews will not replace us” as they paraded along the streets of Charlottesville Virginia and Trump called them “good people.” Among those providing financial support for this week’s demonstrations was the family of Trump’s Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos.
This drama is playing out in two separate ways, each extremely dangerous to the health of the nation and its people.
By rushing ahead with a drive to “reopen” the economy against the advice of the overwhelming majority of the medical community, Trump is enabling ill-informed and ill-equipped local and state elected officials – mostly Republicans – just as surely as if he had walked into a drug rehab facility with a suitcase full of narcotics. He has ramped up the political pressure on those officials who are getting advice from doctors and health departments that is contrary to what the federal government is proposing.
In states, counties and cities across the nation business groups are lobbying for a rapid reopening while health departments and medical officials are recommending continuation of stay-at-home and social-distancing orders.
To be sure, people are hurting. Owners of small and medium size business are facing financial ruin. Millions of people have been thrown out of work and are being squeezed beyond their limits. The President’s response: blame Democratic governors, bless the politically partisan demonstrators, give lip service to medical caution and charge ahead with plans health officials advise are risky.
In England, where business owners and workers face the same difficulties, the government stepped in to provide workers with 80 percent of their monthly income up to the equivalent of $4,000 a month. In the U.S. people are being sent one-time-only checks of $1,200. Even that isn’t going smoothly. Some will have to wait months to receive the funds. The checks are being printed with Trump’s name on them, and to get the appropriation of the funds through the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate tax breaks for millionaires were loaded into the legislation.
To get to this point, Trump in his daily televised “briefings” created a false competition: the economy vs. public health. Then he offered false hope that the public health could be protected while we speedily reopen the economy, even as health officials from the federal level to state and local health departments across the nation called for caution.
As he often does, Trump created his own reality and then asked the rest of us to live in it. He promised 27 million tests for the coronavirus would be available by the end of March. As of today, only 3,574,329 tests have been conducted, according to the COVID Tracking Project. Yet, Trump assured yesterday that there are enough tests available to move ahead with his three-phase reopening plan.
The response to all this has been a piecemeal series of contradictory directives from Republican governors and local officials as well as some Democratic governors. There has not been clear and strong leadership in response to this pandemic from the start and there is not now. Instead of calling together a strike force of scientists, public health officials and the medical community to fashion a response to the pandemic in its earliest days, Trump chose first to deny its existence, then understate it and finally to call the shots himself, selectively taking advice from and ignoring the advice of the medical people around him. Publicly trusted Dr. Anthony Fauci became a stooge for Trump, appearing on stage at the “briefings” and quickly apologizing any time he disagreed with Trump. White House Coronavirus Task Force Coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx at times used the “briefings” to shower praise on Trump as a great intellect.
The second danger Trump and his minions are promulgating is at least as real as the threat to the public health. The gun-toting, banner-waving mobs the rightwing forces loosed in the name of opposing stay-at-home orders are marching to a drummer reminiscent of the thugs who marched in the streets of Europe in the 1930s. The Nazi flags they wave are the same as those that flew then. Trump has emboldened these forces. His earlier predictions that there would be violence in the streets if he were impeached or not re-elected was his first dog whistle to those forces. His call to “liberate” certain states is his second. These people will remain emboldened even after the threat of the coronavirus is overcome. One could wonder if it’s Trump’s intent to turn the stay-at-home orders of governors into a latter-day Reichstag Fire to aid his reelection campaign. He resisted those orders, then issued them himself and now urges “liberation” from them.
Finally, Trump’s move to hasten the “reopening” carries a threat to the economy that could turn out more dire than what already has happened. In other nations, there have been reports of resurgences of the disease when officials moved too quickly to relax preventive measures. That governors in the U.S. are moving ahead to reopen beaches, gyms, salons, bars and other gathering places while the daily numbers of infected and dead are still rising poses a possibility that they could unleash a resurgence here. Someone contracting the disease on a beach in Georgia or Florida and then returning home of Missouri or Colorado could start the whole frightening cycle all over again. Sure, it might not happen. Trump’s throw of the dice might come up seven. But if it comes up snake eyes the reaction on Wall Street and in communities everywhere could make what has already happened seem like child’s play for it would signal a new round of lockdowns, closures, business failure and job losses. Confidence in government and the economy would be dealt a blow from which they might not recover.