As COVID-19 deaths hit record numbers, Trump oversees a historic wealth transfer to the super-rich

As usual, communities of color are hit hardest by the economic collapse overseen by Trump and his fellow oligarchs

Published July 3, 2020 8:00AM (EDT)

Some billionaires having a good time, and the common folk affected by the pandemic (Getty Images/Salon)
Some billionaires having a good time, and the common folk affected by the pandemic (Getty Images/Salon)

Where you or I would see misery, the super-rich see opportunity. (That includes the billionaire president.)

Indeed, amid a pandemic with a six-figure death toll, America's wealthiest capitalists are consolidating their unprecedented gains realized thanks to the spread of a deadly virus, which their chief protector Donald J. Trump is working overtime to spread. The coronavirus news cycle was a perfect cover to mask what has really been happening.

Thus, as Trump's so-called policies kill tens of thousands of Americans, he's making the richest even richer.

Even as the death toll mounts, including any number of essential workers, the downdraft of Trump's Depression is kicking in. Remember all the hot air about premium pay for the essential workforce? According to the latest monthly Bureau of Labor Statistics, hourly earnings for private non-farm payroll shrank by 35 cents and hour, while nonsupervisory workers lost 23 cents an hour.

Based on the President's actions, it appears that he subscribes to the dubious herd immunity theory that almost killed Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Trump has publicly articulated his strategy of "slowing testing" while not providing tests for the Federal workforce, and he's found insidious ways to cripple the states' response to the virus.

And Trump's strategy has produced truly malignant results. The states that followed his errant advice pressed ahead with re-opening. Now, 30 states report an increase in COVID-19 cases, putting many hospitals in dire straits.

With his campaign recklessly criss-crossing the country, Trump is the ringmaster of the nation's largest super-spreader events. Meanwhile, the lobbyists he's appointed to dismantle the regulatory state that oversee occupational health, labor, public health and the environment continue on their pre-COVID project of remaking the state in the image of big business.

And let's not forget Trump's pressing the Supreme Court to undo Obamacare just as millions of Americans are cut adrift from their employer-linked health care and fret over the financial and care access implications of surviving a bout with COVID-19.

Sick and impoverished

The accumulative result of this multi-faceted assault on the American population, particularly communities of color, has been stunning particularly when it comes to the rapid transfer of so much household wealth to the richest while the poor suffer under the weight of the pandemic-spurred recession.

As we saw during the so-called recovery from the Great Recession, Wall Street's parasitism of the national economy hit those same neighborhoods of color hardest.

And it is happening all over again.

A analysis from the Americans for Tax Fairness (ATF) and the Institute for Policy Studies – Program on Inequality (IPS) documented that in the span of three months, "the U.S. added 29 more billionaires while 45.5 million filed for unemployment."

The Washington Post reported that on June 14, the Federal Reserve estimated that "more than $6.5 trillion in household wealth vanished during the first three months of this year as the pandemic tightened its hold on the global economy…. roughly equivalent to the economies of the United Kingdom and France combined."

As Chuck Collins, Director of the Program on Inequality and the Common Good, observed, "since  March 18th, the US Billionaire class has seen their wealth increase by 20%, or $584 billion, since the rough beginning of the pandemic."

Panic profits

As has always been the case in stressful times, predatory capital feeds off the panic from something like the coronavirus. In times of great instability, like just before war breaks out, people — out of fear and the need to get out of harm's way — sell off whatever meager assets they own to those who have the liquid capital to buy them. 

Similarly, in a recessionary pandemic there is great profit to be made of off scarcity, such as selling N-95 masks to the highest bidder. Indeed, the sky's the limit for what you can get for ventilators when tens of thousands of people are gasping for air in hospitals where the dead are being stacked like cord wood.

This radical reversal of fortunes for American households in just 90 days threatens to gut whatever remains of the middle class, who may not yet fully appreciate just how dire things are. Remember, before the Trump flash depression/mass die-off event, the Federal Reserve reported that 40 percent of Americans could not scrape together $400 without borrowing it. 

Gig serfs and per diems

No doubt well over half of Americans are likely in that boat now, setting the stage for the New Age kind of Feudalism — where the oligarchs, who were already running things, can consolidate their domination of our political system.

Back on June 10, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said we were experiencing "the biggest economic shock in the U.S. and in the world, really, in living memory" going from "the lowest level of unemployment in 50 years to the highest level in close to 90 years, and we did it in two months."

The implosion of our national economy that working people rely on has happened so quickly our standard measurement tools are failing to capture the dire nature of our current circumstance. Imagine you are in a plane that's hurtling to the earth so fast your altimeter is pinned in position. You don't have a sense of the rate of decline, just that you are going down.

What pandemic?

In some ways we have been here before, where our commander-in-chief used his power to prevent the electorate from protecting itself from a deadly virus. Last time, it was out of concern for successfully prosecuting a world war. This time, the subterfuge is intended to grease the skids for Trump's re-election.

It was President Woodrow Wilson who actively suppressed word of the so-called Spanish Flu in 1918-20, because it would have hampered the U.S. World War I effort. At least 675,000 people died in the United States and 50 million around the worldwide. More American soldiers died from the Spanish Flu then were killed in combat.

And yet in a spin job even Trump would envy, the global scourge would be forever named for Spain, not because it was the point of origin, but because word of it surfaced in the press there —as their country did not have the effective war time press censorship we had here.

The long slide

Long before COVID-19 struck, there were signs of just how much things were deteriorating for the nation's population with three years of declining life expectancy. Increased rates of suicide, alcoholism and drug abuse all played a role. 

These data points were reported as individual trendlines and never contextualized as the clearest signs of the abject failure of 21st century capitalism and the ravages of unbridled greed.

It was that willful blindness by the elites, the media and much of the top leadership in both political parties that set the stage for the catastrophic rise of Trump.

He blended the grapes of ripe resentment in the Rust Belt over being abandoned by multinational corporations, and he mixed it with the bitter white grievance that fingered immigrants "who were getting everything for free" as the culprit for their slide. 

Now, throughout the pandemic and the civil unrest sparkled by the murder of George Floyd, the economy and its unprecedented unraveling has been relegated to the "C" block on cable news. 

We will get the occasional aerial view of thousands of cars lined up for a bag of groceries, but those images could easily be mistaken for lines of cars waiting for COVID-19 testing. 

Then, after we have gotten the official COVID-19 numbers from the news anchors, which the CDC recently conceded may only be reflecting 10 percent of the actual ravages of the virus, we will get stock quotes on which corporations are the best at maximizing their profits in our time of national emergency.

All of this useless information is bookended with commercials from corporations telling us "we are all in this together." Hardly.

By Bob Hennelly

Bob Hennelly has written and reported for the Village Voice, Pacifica Radio, WNYC, CBS MoneyWatch and other outlets. His book, "Stuck Nation: Can the United States Change Course on Our History of Choosing Profits Over People?" was published in 2021 by Democracy@Work. He is now a reporter for the Chief-Leader, covering public unions and the civil service in New York City. Follow him on Twitter: @stucknation

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Commentary Covid-19 Donald Trump Income Inequality Oligarchy