Donald Trump May Not Be Herbert Hoover
A Graduation Speech for an Age of Collapse
By Tom Engelhardt
Class of 2020, wherever you are, I had planned to address you on this graduation day. But how can I?
Yes, I know that former President Obama, Oprah Winfrey, and Tom Hanks all took part in elaborate online graduation ceremonies, offering commentary, advice, and encouragement in our now campus-less world, but I'm a hapless old guy with a flip phone from another age. And, of course, you're not here on this glorious, sunny graduation day. There's no verdant campus. No gowns. No caps to toss in the air. No gate to walk out of into a future that many of you mortgaged your lives to be part of. Nor is there a crowd of joyous parents and grandparents, some of whom may even have grown desperately sick and possibly died in these last months thanks to the Trump administration's catastrophic response to a global pandemic.
Nor are there other more eminent speakers to give you hope or inspiration. Just me. Just here. Just now. All alone in this room -- and you there, wherever you are, perhaps alone or with family, brooding about a world that may never be, about a future that, it seems increasingly likely, can't be and won't be.
Your future, as previously imagined, is -- not to put too fine a gloss on it -- no more. In a sense, it has already become my future and since, at almost 76, I really don't have much of a future, that's a terrible thing for an old man to have to say.
The Pandemic Shock
Still, since I'm here and you're there, let me address you in my own way by starting with the obvious: You deserved so much better than this. I'm ashamed, deeply so. Every adult in this country (except perhaps the front-line caregivers and workers who have sacrificed so much in this pandemic moment for the rest of us) should be similarly ashamed.
And that brings me to one obvious question: Why aren't so many of us, especially those in that deeply loyal base of Donald Trump's, more ashamed of the world they're preparing to leave you, even as their own worlds crash and burn around them?
In the end, we could be talking about nothing less than the destruction of the planet as we humans have known it for thousands of years. To put matters bluntly, that base helped elect, and continues to support, a president who aims to be nothing less than a planet destroyer. That's been an obvious goal of Donald Trump and his Republican allies and sycophants since his election. It's what they were clearly dedicated to (however they explained it to themselves) even before the coronavirus arrived to offer such a helping hand.
But let me say this: at my age, I'm still shocked by what's happened in these last months. It wasn't that I didn't know about the Black Death and the destruction it wreaked on Medieval Europe or China in the fourteenth century or even the devastation and death caused by the Spanish Flu barely a century ago. Still, never for a second did I actually imagine this happening to us in the here and now, with the dead and dying, the sick and desperate, jobs lost by the tens of millions, businesses destroyed. I never thought that such a pandemic would descend on us or that it would do so with such a president and crew in power in Washington.
I mean, what else do you need to know about our world at this moment than that a series of countries led by democratically inclined women (Denmark, Finland, Germany, Iceland, New Zealand, Norway, and Taiwan) have more or less suppressed the coronavirus (at least for now)? Meanwhile, in the viral sweepstakes presently engulfing parts of the Earth, the three leading lands when it comes to record numbers of cases are Donald Trump's America, Jair Bolsonaro's Brazil, and Vladimir Putin's Russia. In other words, it's no happenstance that three autocratically inclined right-wing "populists" who give more of a damn about themselves than anything else imaginable are winning the race to hell.
There's something about our world growing ever worse amid a Covid-19-induced instant Great Depression that makes you -- that is, me -- feel so small, so inconsequential, which is, of course, exactly what I am, what just about any of us is in this coronaviral moment. But why me or you and not him? That question's been preying on my mind -- and you know just who I mean.
In these last weeks, only Donald Trump's most devoted followers, those at the heart of his base, could really do anything they wanted in public, because, following him as they did, they didn't believe in shutting themselves in, social distancing, wearing masks, or anything else that the scientists tell us might help slow down this deadly virus or bring it under control. So they've felt free to mix and match and destroy (themselves above all).
The question is: how did we get here? How did we make it to such a leader and such followers in such a crisis? We're talking about a man who, unlike President Herbert Hoover, may usher us into a true Great Depression and possibly not suffer a staggering defeat at the polls in November, as that president did in 1932. (Of course, to put things in perspective, Joe Biden isn't exactly Franklin Delano Roosevelt, is he?)
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