Alan Zendell, August 9, 2020
Donald Trump has two outstanding skills, creating chaos and perceiving (and shamelessly exploiting) other people’s vulnerabilities. That makes it easy to get lost in the weeds of his relentless attacks. If we pay too much attention without filtering out the chaff, we’re trapped in a never-ending game of Whack A Mole. If we fail to pay attention we could wake up one day to discover the America we grew up in no longer exists. Our Constitution and values are being assailed on so many fronts simultaneously, it’s hard to know when to stand and fight.
I stepped back to clear my head for a few days. With the static gone, a pattern re-emerged, confirming what we already knew: our president doesn’t give a damn about average Americans, except inasmuch as it influences how they vote. It began when he announced his cabinet. For Secretary of Education he chose billionaire socialite and friend Betsy Devos, whose only interest in public education is replacing it with a system that prioritizes profit over quality education, as her dismal record with charter schools demonstrates.
Trump’s first Environmental Protection Administrator, Scott Pruitt redefined his agency’s role as ending activities that could prevent further deterioration of an already seriously ailing planet to enhance corporate profits. Pruitt resigned amid growing scandals around personal misuse of government funds. He was replaced by coal industry lobbyist Andrew Wheeler, who was supposed to end regulations that were allegedly killing coal mining, though even his best efforts couldn’t resuscitate an outmoded industry that has no viability in 21st century America.
Add to the list Secretary of Health and Human Services, Alex Azar, whose long-time career goal was to undermine and privatize Social Security and Medicare. Both have been the subject of political gamesmanship since the passage of the Social Security Act. There’s no real evidence that the people who depend on those programs would benefit from privatization. The only people who clearly would are investors in the for-profit companies that were awarded the contracts.
Preventing a massive transfer of wealth through federal taxes that support so-called entitlements programs and increasing corporate profits are the only priorities of the Trump administration. That and the need to provide constant ego stroking for an insecure, narcissistic president who has no interest in governing.
All that was true before COVID-19 threw a serious monkey wrench into Trump’s re-election plans, which depended on sustaining a strong economy and a bull market. For seven months, there has been a virtually unanimous chorus of medical researchers and infectious disease experts warning of a pandemic that could only be halted by prudent testing, personal distancing, and masks. The chorus included our CDC and NIH, counterpart bodies in European and Asian countries, and the World Health Organization.
While no one got it exactly right for the first few months, American politics devolved into a polarized argument between two highly divergent points of view. Quarantine, isolation, and massive testing for the virus, which implied a temporary shutdown of much of our economy would save hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of American lives. But putting those lives at risk by keeping all businesses and schools operating, and denigrating the need to identify who was infected would keep the economy robust, improving Trump’s re-election chances.
Public health officials argued that that was a false choice, because keeping everything open would result in so much sickness and death that ultimately the economy would suffer far more harm than it would from a temporary shutdown. But with primaries and conventions looming, Trump’s best chance to win lay in gambling that a crash caused by re-opening could be held off until after the election.
It was Trump’s golden opportunity to demonstrate what he was made of and silence his critics, to govern and show empathy for average citizens, especially those of color. Instead, he contradicted his own COVID task force at every turn and refused to set up a central federal authority to help states manage the pandemic. When most Americans were unwilling the send their children to school with infections spreading, he threatened to bankrupt school systems that failed to re-open. And when it became clear that the only way to allow most Americans to vote safely in November was by mail, our president showed how venal he is.
Instead of assuring that the USPS had the resources it needed to process 150 million ballots, he appointed a new Postmaster General. Louis DeJoy, a wealthy Republican fundraiser, was tasked with crippling the postal system so it could be privatized. Not incidentally, that would likely create enough chaos that Americans would lose confidence in the election. Also not incidentally, DeJoy and his wife own a nearly $100 million stake in the companies best positioned to take over when the USPS fails.
Remember that pattern I mentioned? Greed, profit, and power at the cost of countless American lives, and very possibly, the integrity of our election process. Pure Donald Trump.