Donald Trump has given the Democrats a gift — if they are brave enough to use it.
Last Sunday, Donald Trump declared on Twitter: "WE CANNOT LET THE CURE BE WORSE THAN THE PROBLEM ITSELF. AT THE END OF THE 15 DAY PERIOD, WE WILL MAKE A DECISION AS TO WHICH WAY WE WANT TO GO!"
This slogan, imported from the libertarian far right, signaled an important shift toward ending social distancing and "reopening" the economy, even as the coronavirus pandemic continues to spread. Trump's mouthpieces at Fox News and elsewhere then began to parrot the same macabre and disturbing argument.
Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a Republican, told Fox News: "Let's get back to living... And those of us that are 70-plus, we'll take care of ourselves."
Right-wing propagandist Glenn Beck told viewers of his BlazeTV show that Americans who are older should just go back to work and prepare to die: "Even if we all get sick, I would rather die than kill the country."
Brit Hume of Fox News told Tucker Carlson that he supported Dan Patrick's view of this potentially lethal transaction:
What we're living in now, this circumstance as we try to beat this virus, is not sustainable — that the utter collapse of the country's economy, which many think will happen if this goes on much longer, is an intolerable result… [H]e is saying, for his own part, that he'd be willing to take a risk of getting the disease if that's what it took to allow the economy to move forward. And he said that because he's late in life, you know, that he would be perhaps more willing then he might've been at a younger age, which seems to me to be an entirely reasonable viewpoint.
What are they really saying? Donald Trump and the Republican Party are now openly willing to sacrifice those Americans they consider to be "useless eaters" — in this case older people, people with pre-existing health conditions and anyone else who may die from the coronavirus pandemic.
On Wednesday, Trump said the quiet part loud, basically admitting on Twitter that his electoral fortunes are tied to the pandemic's impact on the American economy:
The LameStream Media is the dominant force in trying to get me to keep our Country closed as long as possible in the hope that it will be detrimental to my election success. The real people want to get back to work ASAP. We will be stronger than ever before!
To paraphrase the character Ivan Drago in the movie "Rocky IV": "If they die, they die." Or as another famous Russian, Joseph Stalin, is reported to have said: "One death is a tragedy. A million deaths is a statistic."
For Trump and his allies, worsening the coronavirus pandemic, even at the risk of many lives, is of little importance compared to keeping him in office to continue a regime of looting, extortion and massive corruption.
The Democratic Party needs new slogans for the 2020 presidential election. I would suggest these:
- Trump wants you to die — so he can stay in office forever.
- Trump and the Republicans are trying to kill you — for money.
- Are you 60 or older? Have a pre-existing health condition? Donald Trump and his Republican Party don't care if you die from the coronavirus.
- Donald Trump could have stopped the coronavirus. He lied, and people died.
Yes, Trump and the right are embracing and celebrating death. It is ghoulish. It is also one more illustration that the Age of Trump is an American dystopia where what was previously unimaginable (for most decent people) has become "normal."
Yes, Trump and his movement's death impulses are part of a natural progression in which an authoritarian regime maximizes its power by terrorizing the public.
These calls by Trump and his allies for millions of Americans to sacrifice themselves for such abstractions as "the country," "the economy" and "the market" should not be a surprise. Such madness and cruelty are the logical and inevitable results of decades of right-wing strategy and policies.
These plans were never hidden. Indeed, they were clumsily obvious. Since the 1970s, predatory gangster capitalism has been accepted as either "normal" or "inevitable" in the United States (as well as the United Kingdom and elsewhere). To that end, the "free market" was presented by the news media, many Democrats, virtually all Republicans, and most of the educational system as somehow synonymous or interchangeable with "freedom" and "democracy."
This form of predatory gangster capitalism, now often called "neoliberalism," rests upon several basic tenets:
- Profits are more important than people.
- Every part of human life and existence should become a commodity or a financial instrument.
- Society should be organized around the "survival of the fittest," in Malthusian or social-Darwinist terms: Those who cannot survive and prosper under "free markets" will be abandoned, quite likely to die.
- Notions of the collective good, the commons, the social safety net and other aspects of social democracy, as well as the very idea of government and collective action, are to be undermined and eventually eliminated in service to "freedom" and "individual liberty."
- There should be few if any restrictions on the behavior of corporations, banks and the ultra-rich, or on the financier class.
- There are "winners" and "losers" in society, "makers" and "takers" in society. These are natural and almost inexorable categories. The winners are to be subsidized by the state and the public. The losers are to be punished, and if possible eliminated.
- Capitalism and democracy are the same thing.
Of course the harsh realities and negative consequences of predatory gangster capitalism have been effectively concealed from the public, which has come to accept this ideology through the use of anodyne language like "entrepreneurship," "efficiency," "transparency," "accountability," "public-private" and "opportunity."
All claims that this system has been successful are dubious. Serious economists and other intellectually honest policy experts have repeatedly proven that its premises are fundamentally incorrect.
Gangster capitalists exploit system shocks and other crises (sometimes crises they themselves have caused) as a means of advancing their agenda.
Consider the coronavirus relief bill as originally submitted by the Republicans, which proposed creating a $500 billion slush fund to subsidize the richest corporations and wealthiest Americans, with no accountability and no oversight – a fund that Donald Trump and his vassals could loot at will — while handing out much smaller sums to ordinary Americans who are struggling to survive in a moment of economic calamity.
The moral obscenity of that bill even included petty cruelty: The poorest Americans would receive little if any money in direct payments, while money flowed to corporations and the ultra-rich by the billions.
These disparities have been somewhat painted over in the Democrats' counterproposals in the House and Senate. But on a grand scale, the picture is not that different: The largest corporations will still receive at least $500 billion — with minor oversight and a few insignificant restraints — that they will inevitably use to enrich their shareholders at the expense of their employees and the public.
In practice, neoliberalism amounts to socialism for the rich and the powerful and the harsh medicine of the "free market" for everyone else. The coronavirus relief bill is more proof of that fact.
This is the logic of "too big to fail." It's also a function of the moral hazard that allows a plutocrat like Donald Trump to gain control over a so-called democracy with the goal of funneling resources (through tax policies, government subsidies and other laws) to themselves and other members of his class, while denying resources and opportunities to the vast majority of Americans.
Donald Trump's proposed 2021 federal budget is a statement of values. As with the coronavirus relief bill, it punishes the poor and vulnerable by gutting the social safety net and transferring more money, both in the form of tax cuts and direct subsidies, to huge corporations and the richest Americans.
As documented by Dr. James Gilligan in his book "Why Some Politicians Are More Dangerous Than Others," the policies of the Republican Party on issues ranging from health care to guns, the environment and tax policy have shortened the American people's lifespans and caused other forms of physical harm.
Predatory gangster capitalism needs agents and other actors to advance its goals. The corporation is one of the primary means through which this form of capitalism wages its "revolutionary" struggle against a humane and democratic society.
As has been widely noted, if the corporation was a person, it would be a sociopath. This makes the corporation an indispensable part of Donald Trump's coronavirus death cult.
James Gamble, a retired corporate attorney who is now director of the National Center for Access to Justice, offered a warning, in a recent article at Medium, about "the extraordinary power of corporate 'persons' who are legally obligated to act like sociopaths":
Sociopath? Yes. The corporate entity is obligated to care only about itself and to define what is good as what makes it more money. Pretty close to a textbook case of antisocial personality disorder. And corporate persons are the most powerful people in our world.
The "maximize rule" does its damage in two ways. Corporate entities are direct actors in the world. A decision to build a factory in a place with weak environmental laws, low wages and poor worker protection matters. Preferring share buybacks to increased wages or lower prices matters. Lobbying for taxpayer subsidies that transfer wealth from poor to rich matters. They contribute to the problems listed in paragraph one in obvious ways. More damaging: the maximize rule infects real people with tragic faith in the magic of markets.
A recent Business Insider article sheds further light on the corporation as sociopath:
The coronavirus crisis in the United States is only just beginning. But it's not too early for some Americans to flout social distancing and isolation guidelines and return to work, according to some executives.
Dick Kovacevich, the former CEO and chairman of Wells Fargo, told Bloomberg News that healthy workers under the age of 55 should return to work in April if the outbreak is controlled, saying that "some may even die" with his plan.
"We'll gradually bring those people back and see what happens. Some of them will get sick, some may even die, I don't know," said Kovacevich, a current executive at Cisco and Cargill. "Do you want to suffer more economically or take some risk that you'll get flu-like symptoms and a flu-like experience? Do you want to take an economic risk or a health risk? You get to choose."
While this iteration of capitalism sells itself to the public as indispensable to "liberty" and "freedom," its ultimate tendency is authoritarian and fascistic. Such traits and goals make it a natural tool and weapon for Trump and his allies.
While the American people and the world are paralyzed by the coronavirus pandemic, Attorney General William Barr is refusing to let a good crisis go to waste. As reported by Betsy Woodruff Swan for Politico, the Trump regime wants to use the coronavirus to enact a de facto state of martial law where basic legal rights are suspended:
The Justice Department has quietly asked Congress for the ability to ask chief judges to detain people indefinitely without trial during emergencies — part of a push for new powers that comes as the novel coronavirus spreads throughout the United States....
The move has tapped into a broader fear among civil liberties advocates and Donald Trump's critics — that the president will use a moment of crisis to push for controversial policy changes. Already, he has cited the pandemic as a reason for heightening border restrictions and restricting asylum claims. He has also pushed for further tax cuts as the economy withers, arguing it would soften the financial blow to Americans. And even without policy changes, Trump has vast emergency powers that he could deploy right now to try to slow the coronavirus outbreak.
Swan explains that these Justice Department requests "span several stages of the legal process, from initial arrest to how cases are processed and investigated," and appear to have important implications for habeas corpus, "the constitutional right to appear before a judge after arrest and seek release."
According to Norman L. Reimer, executive director of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, this means that "you could be arrested and never brought before a judge until they decide that the emergency or the civil disobedience is over. I find it absolutely terrifying. Especially in a time of emergency, we should be very careful about granting new powers to the government. ... That is something that should not happen in a democracy."
This union of neoliberal gangster capitalism and authoritarianism can result in a society ruled by "inverted totalitarianism." In his seminal book "Democracy Incorporated," philosopher Sheldon Wolin explains how this happens:
Antidemocracy, executive predominance, and elite rule are basic elements of inverted totalitarianism. Antidemocracy does not take the form of overt attacks upon the idea of government by the people. Instead, politically it means encouraging what I have earlier dubbed "civic demobilization," conditioning an electorate to being aroused for a brief spell, controlling its attention span, and then encouraging distraction or apathy. The intense pace of work and the extended working day, combined with job insecurity, is a formula for political demobilization, for privatizing the citizenry. ...
It works indirectly.
Citizens are encouraged to distrust their government and politicians; to concentrate upon their own interests; to begrudge their taxes; and to exchange active involvement for symbolic gratifications of patriotism, collective self-righteousness, and military prowess. Above all, depoliticization is promoted through society's being enveloped in an atmosphere of collective fear and of individual powerlessness: fear of terrorists, loss of jobs, the uncertainties of pension plans, soaring health costs, and rising educational expenses.
Will the American people follow the commands of Donald Trump's coronavirus death cult? Are they willing to sacrifice their lives on the altar of "the economy" and Trump's re-election campaign by returning to work, ending social distancing and ignoring the warnings of scientists and public health experts?
Some will. Trump's cult members will follow his commands without question. They have been systematically programmed by Trump's cult and its disinformation machine. They understand that protecting and defending the cult leader must always come first.
Many Americans who do not have sufficient savings, live on stagnant wages, have little if any job security, are not union members, cannot work from home and are otherwise stuck in a precarious economic conditions may well be coerced into risking their lives, because they lack other options.
If public opinion polls are correct, Trump is becoming more popular because of the coronavirus pandemic and the accompanying stagecraft and spectacle of his lie-filled "daily briefings." Despite his incompetence, a new Gallup poll reports that 60 percent of Americans approve of Trump's response to the pandemic. (Including nearly all Republicans, of course.)
This evidence suggests that Trump, the Republican Party, the right-wing media and their corporate allies are effectively leveraging decades of programming in which most Americans have been taught to believe that patriotism, capitalism, freedom and consumerism are inexorably connected, if not in fact the same thing. In the Age of Trump and his pandemic, such beliefs can kill.