The Slow Death of Democracy – Part Three

Alan Zendell, June 15, 2020

The 2018 Congressional election sent a message to the Trump administration that two components of his base – well-educated independents and suburban white women – had had enough of his race-baiting and divisiveness. As 2020 approached, the nation focused on the upcoming election. Trump had already signaled that his only priority in governing was winning in November, warning that if he lost it would mean the Deep State had rigged the election.  

Although he believed the economy would sustain him, he felt the need to reverse the negative blowback from the trade wars he instigated. Early in November, 2019, he initiated negotiations for a new trade deal with China that was going to be “wonderful.” But by then our intelligence sources were warning him of a dangerous new virus that appeared to be spreading uncontrollably in the Chinese city of Wuhan. They feared the disease could not be contained to China unless immediate quarantining action was taken. No one was certain, but the fear was that a pandemic could infect millions of Americans. 

Trump faced a serious quandary. It was already known that the highly contagious virus had a long incubation period during which infected, but as yet asymptomatic people were likely spreading the disease throughout the city of eleven million. With the high volume of air travel between Wuhan, the United States, and Europe, it might already be too late to prevent it from entering our country. But if Trump declared a National Emergency and tried to isolate America from China, it would derail his trade negotiations, and worse, it would cause panic in the financial markets, which he equated with the economy at large.  

That was Trump’s worst nightmare. He had to choose between his self-interest and the health and welfare of the nation. Forecasts of possible pandemic-related deaths in America ranged from 100,000 to over two million if immediate action was not taken. China withheld critical information from the rest of the world, but its highly visible actions, shutting down an entire province of forty million people, made clear that the virus was out of control. Still, Trump denied the threat calling it a hoax and yet another ploy by Democrats to undermine him.  

Trump’s calculus was that even if his failure to act blew up in his face and needlessly killed countless numbers of Americans, he could blame China and The World Health Organization. Assuring that he had credible scapegoats was more important than assuring the safety of Americans, because all that mattered was staying in power. But Trump and his advisors had failed to anticipate that when the pandemic materialized it would cripple the nation’s economy, elevating Trump’s worst nightmare by an order of magnitude.  

Poor Trump. Try as he might, he would never achieve the autocratic control of events that his Fascist role models did. Whether it was a miscalculation or a failure brought on by his narcissistic personality disorder, his gambled failed. Millions of Americans would likely be infected, tens of thousands were already dying, businesses were failing, and nearly a fifth of all adults had no source of income. Rather than accept reality and allow health care and infectious disease experts to dictate policy, Trump impeded their actions, doubling down on his quest for re-election by insisting on re-opening the economy no matter what the risks were. 

He also ignored the ancillary concern that non-white minorities were being disproportionately hurt by the pandemic, becoming sick and dying in far greater numbers than whites, and losing their jobs at a much higher rate. Again, Trump brought out the Nazi playbook, encouraging right wing militia groups to use their guns to threaten governors who refused to ignore health risks and re-open. By then he had so taken over and intimidated the Republican Party, that only a handful raised an objection. 

It’s a cliché that what goes around comes around.  The question was, as Trump crawled further out on the limb he’d tried to escape on, would it break? Would the politics of divisiveness and us-against-them eventually come back to haunt him? Perhaps it was serendipity, or maybe just the inevitable consequence of his tactic of pitting people against each other, but the decades-long problem of turning a blind eye to misconduct by a small minority of police officers around the country turned Trump’s nightmare into a perfect storm. 

He still had every opportunity to save the situation, but instead he called out his storm troopers, forgetting, again, that he governed 2020 America, not 1933 Germany. A Pew survey yesterday reported that 85% of Americans disapprove of his handling of the Black Lives Matter Protests. His re-election campaign is now in full crisis mode.  

More on this and November’s election in Part Four. 

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