Self-deception and hidden agendas during the pandemic

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Wikimedia Commons/Gage Skidmore

The pandemic is challenging governments around the world. However, the Trump administration’s response stands out as monumentally incompetent and corrupt. There was plenty of advance warning, and the U.S. government spends billions on disaster preparedness. 

In previous health crises, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) was the most prominent voice of the federal government. Now it is sidelined while Trump confuses everybody with misinformation, lies and bullshit.

Now Trump speaks of the pandemic in the past tense and says the economy should “re-open” while public health experts express serious worries, if not alarm. The media reports both viewpoints equally. That’s a problem. Jason Linkins, deputy editor of The New Republic, notes:

“… If this pandemic were happening somewhere else — confined to a foreign country or a computer simulation — the media would likely treat the matter with factual clarity. But the moment the coronavirus hit our shores, it got subsumed within our dumb politics, and from there, into a media infrastructure that’s built on the notion that the best way to cover ‘politics’ is to retreat to a neutral point of view, disregard the idea that there are objectively correct and incorrect positions, and instead, through an absorbing interest in ‘optics’ and ‘messaging,’ choose winners and losers.”

The Rev. William J. Barber II says the Trump administration is engaging in “public policy mass murder.” He is a cochair of The Poor People’s Campaign, a progressive grassroots group that is urging resistance to or noncooperation with state plans to “re-open” the economy. 

The campaign is calling on Congress, the president and state governments to follow the advice of public health experts to protect the many employees who can’t work from home. They are disproportionately uninsured, low-wage laborers. Even before the pandemic, the campaign demanded that the government provide health care and paid sick leave for all.

Glenn Kirschner, a former federal prosecutor for three decades, believes that Trump will have to face a number of gross negligence suits once he leaves office. “I actually think he will see charges brought in each jurisdiction in which people have died as a result of his gross negligence,” Kirschner argued in a Deconstructed podcast interview. 

Trump’s lawyers argue that he has total immunity from both investigation and prosecution while he is in office. So he is fighting as hard and as nasty as he can to be re-elected. He and his cronies are embroiled in a mindboggling number of scandals, which could land them in prison.

The stench of fascism is in the air.  Around the country, heavily armed militias threaten elected officials in Democratic states while Trump cheers them on. It is important to stress that they represent a tiny portion of the population. But their mobilization is coordinated by right-wing tycoons and organizations. The most powerful figure in Congress, Sen. Mitch McConnell, is furiously filling the federal judiciary with young far-right judges. Trump is determined to put federal law enforcement (like the FBI and the Justice Department) and the intelligence agencies under his personal control rather than allow them to be subject to Congressional oversight or any public pressure. He has even overturned the military’s courts-martial of war criminals.

In her 2007 best seller, The Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein described how corporate elites frequently use “the public’s disorientation following a collective shock — wars, coups, terrorist attacks, market crashes or natural disasters — to push through radical pro-corporate measures.”

She showed how University of Chicago economist Milton Friedman and other free market fundamentalists used crisis (natural and engineered) to shred the social safety net, impose austerity economics and bust labor unions. Her stories include the U.S.-supported military coup in Chile, the war in Iraq, refugee crises, market crashes and climate catastrophes.

In Capitalism and Freedom, Friedman wrote, “Only a crisis —actual or perceived — produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the right-wing is pushing its least popular policies and more hidden priorities while we are struggling to survive. The Trump administration has rolled back environmental regulations. The National Labor Relations Board suspended all union elections and is making it harder for workers to unionize and to keep the unions they have. Republicans are trying to suspend the payroll tax, which could bankrupt Social Security, providing the GOP the excuse it needs to slash or privatize it. Abortion opponents are using the pandemic to close clinics. Trump and McConnell are threatening a desperately needed stimulus package for the U.S. Postal Service.

Meanwhile, Democrats are cautious about “reopening” the economy due to public health concerns. Wendy Schiller, a political science professor at Brown University, told The Guardian that this creates a dilemma for the Democrats. She said: “Trump will run on a message of hope from now until November, and he’ll basically dare the Democrats to prove him wrong. And then he’ll say, ‘You don’t believe in America. You’re betting against America.’”

The April 13 issue of The Hill has an op-ed entitled “Could the coronavirus reelect Trump?” by Keith Naughton who is a co-founder of the consulting firm Silent Majority Strategies. It is an intriguing view from the right-wing.

Naughton notes that Trump has been criticized for being optimistic. Democrats and many in the media have “talked doom and gloom” and mused about a new Great Depression. He says: “…There is no doubt that the country is going to go into a significant recession of undetermined length and casualties will be high.

“However, the bar for ‘success’ has been set very low — not just by Trump, but primarily by the media outlets he disdains. Every end-of-the-world report depresses public expectations. Since politics is all about perception, the anti-Trump media have done the president an immeasurable service in their criticism. Trump doesn’t have to do a good job against the coronavirus — he just has to do a barely competent job to exceed expectations.”

Will a daily death count of thousands become the “new normal”? Trump will, as usual, create massive confusion, play the victim and get into nasty fights with the media, China and the World Health Organization. A new reality TV shitshow every day.    

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