By Max Elbaum
As the COVID-19 crisis has deepened, the political landscape has changed.
Trump and his enablers look at the crisis solely through the lens of politics: how does it affect prospects for Trump’s re-election and further entrenchment of their racist, reactionary, minority rule?
After an initial crisis bump, Trump’s approval rating has gone back down. GOP strategists are reported to be gripped my “mounting concern over the threat the economic meltdown triggered by the lockdowns poses to the president’s re-election prospects.” Even the Wall Street Journal writes that the crisis “could complicate Trump’s path” in key battleground states.
So the President and his team are moving in ever more extreme ways to energize their base, try to pull more people onto their side, and suppress and intimidate the opposition.
In mid-April Trump went from winking at to egging on armed militias in anti-lockdown protests funded and organized by top GOP donors and lawyers. On May 7, the Justice Department, now led by Trump’s top mafia-type consigliere, dropped all charges against Michael Flynn, These two moves sent an unmistakable message: acts of violence and lies in defense of Trump get the green light, and if you are caught, the White House has your back.
Simultaneously, Trump’s narrative that all COVID-19-related problems are the result of a Chinese attack on this country — abetted by people (of color) who are not real Americans and traitorous Democrats at home — has hardened. Trump, Pompeo, and others have implanted the idea that the “Wuhan Virus” was created in a Chinese lab. But even if it wasn’t, they insist China must be held accountable. Another unambiguous message: this is a “Pearl Harbor” moment, the appropriate response is confrontation if not outright war, and all who demur or think this country’s problems are “made in the U.S.A.” are un-American and traitorous.
TESTING MAKES US LOOK BAD?!
As for the crisis itself, Trump has signaled that he wants to move quickly to “reopen the economy” and relegate COVID-19 to just another normal cost of doing business like the flu or the weather. Continuing majority concern about reopening too soon has so far prevented him from being able to fully forge ahead. But his preferred direction is clear, as is the GOP’s stance toward public health and well-being.
As people starve, Republicans support cutting food stamps. As people get sick and die, the administration presses to end Obamacare. As millions face immiseration and eviction, Trump proposes tax cuts. As the pandemic raises issues about another if slower moving public health emergency – climate change – Trump’s henchmen continue their rollback of environmental protections.
Regarding COVID-19 testing, necessary to save lives and shape a safe reopening, Trump says, “In a way, by doing all this testing we make ourselves look bad.”
He is sending a third unmistakable message: It’s all about politics. Better for thousands to die than for me to lose in November.
All this builds on threads present since Trump’s first presidential campaign. Each strand has escalated in fits and starts; one outrage has followed another so regularly that all seems to fade into a general blur. But in the context of COVID-19’s threat to Trump’s re-election prospects, with Trump’s having succeeded in gaining total control of the Justice Department and being on the verge of the same with the National Intelligence Service and the important-for-the-election Post Office, a tipping point has been reached.
This is not just his racism, reaction and bullying as usual. Keeping power “by any means necessary” has gone from a just-over-the-horizon threat to the operational program of the administration and the thoroughly Trumpified Republican Party.
There is no bottom to where they will go if they are not stopped by a political force large enough, clear-eyed enough and determined enough to stop them.