Over the past weeks, the revelation that President Donald Trump had contracted COVID-19, the virus that is ravaging the United States and the world that has been dubbed the worst pandemic in 100 years, served to expose one of the ugliest and most insidious aspects of modern American politics. Today, it is not necessary to understand policies, people, issues, rules or events, unless they fit into a framed narrative of politicians, political parties, and support their own narrow bases. In short, functional illiteracy may very well be the criteria to become a political leader with the ability to "talk a good talk," lie, obfuscate facts, and have a pronounced and chronic adversarial relationship with the truth. Heck, the bar has been set pretty low these days. All that matter is performance politics. And the present occupant of the White House is a grandmaster of this odious art form.
For example, President Trump sought to use his COVID-19 illness to full political advantage and to launch a "made for television" episode of his time in hospital, first seeming to work from his Walter Reed Hospital digs, then driving around to wave to his supporters outside of the hospital, and removing his facemask when he returned to the White House, then making a Social Media video downplaying the pandemic, and trying to control the national narrative. It was performance politics at its very best by a man who is so egotistical, selfish and self-centered that nothing else matters to him. Politics and policy are things to use interchangeable to extract maximum amounts of public relations and buzz in the evening news and social media spaces. All the while when people, pundits and the media focus on the man and his antics, the real critical issues facing the American people are left in limbo.
And herein lies the real danger for the American people. Performance politics are distractions. Nothing more. It's a cheap minstrel side-show with bad acting designed to elicit only fleeting reactions, and then on to the next edition. Performance politics is both cruel and dangerous. It's the politics of lies and deceit that is hollow, empty and vainglorious. And when performed by an extremely limited, incompetent and petulant man the results can be tragic. President Trump's reckless and selfish performance and pandering to his tribe put many people's lives in jeopardy and instead of showing remorse and apologize for his thoughtless actions the president called on Americans to "don't be afraid of COVID. Don't let it (the virus) take over your lives." Of course, it's easy to dismiss the president's ignorance and insensitivity since performance politics demands that he take no responsibility for anything remotely appearing to be a failure or shows weakness. It was also a clumsy attempt by the president to distance himself from the over 210,000 dead American - and counting - that could have been prevented and is happening under his watch.
And as if to demonstrate the accompanying cruelty that this brand of populist politics spawns, President Trump unceremoniously ended compromise talks and negotiations on a new round of stimulus money - especially crucial to many in his tribe - between his Administration and the Democratic-led House of Representatives. This money is needed to help millions of poor, working class Americans stay in their homes; pay first responders and frontline workers, as well as provide protective clothing to teachers in classrooms. But it does not end there. By telling the American people that he's going to do the stimulus package "after November 3 when I win the election," he trying to blackmail and con voters into voting for him in the elections. It's also a non-verbal admission that he's getting his butt kicked by his opponent. However, the real danger here is that this performance with Trump as the "star" is telling the "story" that he's "winning" and that should the election go the other way, he'd be the victim of some political fraud and wrongdoing by Democrats.
It's pure con-artist politics at its best! But no one should be surprised. This president is infamous for telling one group of people one thing, and saying the complete opposite to another group literally minutes later. Moreover, he's contemptuous of poor, Blacks and Hispanics, as well as the very people who fanatically support him. They have "drunk his Kool Aid" in copious amounts and are addicted to his performance politics. But it's all about him and the power of his performance. Remember the RNC convention? From trotting out a line of fawning, genuflecting people all singing from the same Trump Is Great hymnal, he "starred" every night by doing all kinds of events and actions designed to enhance his "star power" and to bamboozle his supporters at every turn.
For President Trump the all-powerful stock market is the measure of economic success in America. Such a narrow and incorrect interpretation of the country's economic wellbeing means that he cannot fathom any modus of success except the stock market. And since the vast majority of Americans do not own stocks, it's very difficult for him to "see beyond Wall Street" and his enablers and handlers. And who can blame him? The United States Stock Market is a white man's game. 89 percent of white people who own stocks are white compared to 1.2% of Blacks. White millionaires and billionaires who own huge amounts of stocks, also own a whopping 79.2% of ALL American household wealth. Donald Trump is a member of this lily-white, mostly male club.
Moreover, the danger of this brand of performance politics, especially in President Trump's "made for TV" COVID-19 statements, and deliberate downplaying of the pandemic, obliquely and erroneously comparing it to the seasonal flu by stating "don't be afraid of it; don't let is dominate you," not only sends the wrong message to the American people - some who hang on the president's every word - but suggests a covert push to achieve "herd immunity " - by other means. It also is a serious and concerning development when the POTUS continues gaslighting the American people with his mountain of untruths, made-up statements, "alternative facts," and a penchant for conspiracy theories. In the midst of this deliberately orchestrated confusion voter apathy and disillusionment may set in and the natural consequence and outcome is to promote by actions and signals the worst racist impulses of white supremacist elements in the society.