Can decency beat depravity?


Every 80 seconds, someone in America dies from COVID-19. Across the world, people are horrified by the American response to the pandemic. Beppe Severgnini, a columnist for Italy’s Corriere della Sera, remarked: “Trying to get into Donald Trump’s head is more difficult than finding a vaccine for coronavirus. First he decided on a lockdown and then he encouraged protests against the lockdown that he promoted. It’s like a Mel Brooks film.”

Recently, Vanity Fair published a shocking article by award-winning investigative journalist Katherine Eban about how Jared Kushner, top White House advisor and Trump son-in-law, was developing a large-scale national testing strategy that began by consulting bankers and billionaires more than public health officials. Then suddenly the plan disappeared.

Eban reports that this was after a member of Kushner’s team said, “that because the virus had hit blue states hardest, a national plan was unnecessary and would not make sense politically. ‘The political folks believed that because it was going to be relegated to Democratic states, that they could blame those governors, and that would be an effective political strategy,’ said the expert.”

This article provoked many to call for Kushner’s resignation. Matt Duss, foreign policy advisor for Bernie Sanders, tweeted: “Imagine the administration had intel on an imminent terrorist attack that would kill over 100,000 people, and chose to do nothing because it was politically easier.” I have to update Duss. As I write this, the death toll is about 176,000. About a thousand people in America die every day from COVID-19. At the very least. 

How depraved can Trump and his party get? Well, do you have a couple of hours? The depravity was well chronicled during the virtual Democratic National Convention. You had climate chaos, gun violence, racial bigotry, little migrant kids in cages. In an unprecedented talk, Barack Obama warned that if Trump is reelected, democracy might die. Commentators have frequently had to use the word “unprecedented” while talking about Trump. Not in a good way.

The convention offered a message of hope and compassion. It was an appeal to “the better angels of our nature” as Lincoln put it. Bernie Sanders said, “In Joe Biden, you have a human being who is empathetic, who is honest, who is decent. And at this particular moment in American history, my God, that is something that this country absolutely needs.”

In a “normal” time, Democratic and Republican conventions feature talk of bipartisanship with some speakers from the other party. The idea is to appeal to swing voters watching on TV. This year, it seems the Democrats promised a return to some sort of “normality” after all of the Trumpian noise. But there was also a promise of transformational change which was defined vaguely in order to accommodate the party’s various factions. There were more Republican speakers than usual, which made many of the more progressive Democrats nervous or angry.

The idea of bipartisanship sounds good in the abstract. The mainstream media tends to blame both parties for partisan polarization. That’s not true. Back in 2012, Thomas Mann of the center-left Brookings Institution and Norman Ornstein of the center-right American Enterprise Institute argued that:

“The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.”

They wrote that, “In the first two years of the Obama administration, nearly every presidential initiative met with vehement, rancorous and unanimous Republican opposition in the House and the Senate, followed by efforts to delegitimize the results and repeal the policies.” Things got worse.

The Republicans’ behavior resulted in “something closer to complete gridlock than we have ever seen in our time in Washington.”

In a recent New York Times op-ed, Adam Jentleson, who was deputy chief of staff to former Senator Harry Reid (D-Nevada), argues that Trumpism is the GOP’s “natural state.” He notes that in the 2016 election campaign, Trump took a polling lead within a month of entering the primaries and maintained his popularity with Republican voters.

He cites the work of Mann and Ornstein and says more recent studies confirm their view. Pippa Norris of Harvard compared the Republican Party with major parties in other developed countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and discovered that the GOP is like “far-right European parties” that flirt with authoritarianism, like the Polish Law and Justice Party or the Turkish Justice and Development Party.

This is the most important election in modern American history. Joe Biden needs to win by a landslide and the Democrats need to win both the Senate and House. As Rep.Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez puts it,  “November is about stopping fascism in the United States.” After the election, we progressives will fight for our full agenda such as Medicare for All and the Green New Deal. 

This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.