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General News    H3'ed 4/7/20

Tomgram: Karen Greenberg, A Victory Parade in the Coronavirus Moment

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Think of Donald Trump as a revolutionary when it comes to the alphabet. How many presidents have spent so much time on the basic ABCs the way he has? After all, since the moment he arrived at the White House, he's been laser-focused on eliminating four letters in any association whatsoever from that alphabet. You know which four they are -- A-B-O-M -- which, curiously enough, are the very ones you would need to spell the name of the previous president of the United States: OBAMA (as well, of course, as A-BOMB). But don't for a second think that The Donald's desire to do so derives faintly from animus or, for that matter, racism. It just reflects the president's urge to simplify, focus, and clarify all our lives, especially given the way, as he pointed out in early March, President Obama botched the response to the coronavirus.

In his latest move to eliminate his predecessor from our American world, he and his administration have made good use of the coronavirus moment. Only recently, for instance, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Transportation rushed out a rule to rollback Obama-era fuel-efficiency standards. That will mean, in the long run, that American cars will emit about a billion tons more of carbon dioxide, heating the planet further (and, by the way, polluting the air more). As a result, future vehicles may be somewhat less expensive, but the cost to American car owners overall will actually increase, given the extra gas they'll have to pay for. Still, the letters A-B-O-M will be ever less present, which should be considered a triumph in itself.

And this represents only the latest presidential effort to do so. As Coral Davenport of the New York Times points out, he has, for instance, "made rolling back environmental regulations a centerpiece of his administration, moving to erase Obama-era efforts ranging from landmark fuel efficiency standards and coal industry controls to more routine rules on paint solvents and industrial soot."

But enough of the good news! Let me get just a tad grimmer now by urging you to check out the latest piece by TomDispatch regular Karen Greenberg, author most recently of Rogue Justice: The Making of the Security State, on the many ways in which what may be a pandemic for the rest of us is proving to be the perfect moment for The Donald when it comes to promoting his own policy dreamscape. Tom

While Rome Burns
Trump Gets What He's Always Wanted
by Karen J. Greenberg

Last month, Donald Trump retweeted a doctored photo of himself playing the fiddle that was labeled "My next piece is called: nothing can stop what's coming." It was clearly an homage to the Emperor Nero who so infamously made music while Rome burned. To it, the president added this comment: "Who knows what this means, but it sounds good to me!"

Whether Trump is fiddling these days or not, one thing is certain: in a Nero-like fashion, he continues to be irresponsibly unresponsive to the crisis caused by Covid-19. One reason may be that, however inadvertently, the arrival of the pandemic has helped green-light plans and projects he's held dear to his heart and that had, before the crisis, repeatedly encountered opposition.

Here are six examples of how the coronavirus, like a malign magic wand, has helped cast a disempowering spell over that opposition and so furthered Trump's long-term goals.

1. The Southern Border: Since the day he entered the Oval Office, Trump has been focused on closing and sealing the border between Mexico and the United States. Incrementally, his administration had moved from incarcerating upwards of 50,000 migrants and asylum seekers attempting to enter the United States at that border to -- in the wake of the coronavirus -- closing it completely to nonessential traffic and anyone trying to claim asylum. Migrants who enter the U.S. illegally now will be returned to their native countries illegally. "Border security is health security," the president claims.

In his persistent determination to close the border and punish migrants and asylum seekers alike, Trump has long allied with the Department of Justice to clear a path for his policies. Attorney General William Barr's department has, for instance, fought battle after battle to counter legal challenges to the prolonged detention of both migrants and asylum seekers, to prevent aid to sanctuary cities that offer protection to such migrants, to overrule Board of Immigration Appeals decisions, and to withhold bail from detained asylum seekers. Until the coronavirus pandemic hit, however, the courts had increasingly been blocking some of these policies or putting them on hold.

Now, although judges, lawyers, and legal organizations have urged that immigration courts be closed until the pandemic lifts, they have generally remained open even, in some cases, after people in them had tested positive for the virus. The danger, not to say inhumanity, of all this, should be undeniable, but it does reflect President Trump's ongoing immigration urges.

In addition, the administration has doubled down on an existing policy of denying medical services to detained immigrants. This past winter, for instance, doctors were prevented from delivering flu vaccines to those in immigration detention camps. Now, with more than 37,000 men, women, and children confined, the dangers of the virus spreading among them are obvious and inevitable. As a former acting director of ICE puts it, the crowded conditions of detention, "which are designed to have people remain in close contact," are "the opposite of the social distancing that is needed to save lives."

2. The Census: The census has long been a source of contention for this president. He waged a campaign to exclude non-citizens from participating in it only to be stalled in his efforts by the justices of the Supreme Court who decided that they needed more information to make a final decision on the subject. The issue at hand is that census results are used to determine how many congressional seats (based on population) are to be given to each state. If immigrants, both legal and undocumented, are not counted -- and estimates are that roughly 6.5 million people fall into those two categories -- then fewer politicians and less federal funding will be distributed to areas with more sizeable populations of them.

Originally, Trump responded to the Supreme Court's decision by advocating that the census simply be put off. Eventually, the administration backed down and the census was not delayed. Now, however, the sands have shifted. Covid-19 has turned the largely door-to-door gathering of census information into so many online, phone, and mail responses. The consequences of an inaccurate census could indeed prove dire. As National Public Radio's Hansi Lo Wang reported, citing data collected by the Urban Institute, the 2020 census could result in "the worst undercount of black and Latino and Latina people in the U.S. since 1990." According to one local San Francisco paper, "If the Census count is artificially low, the ramifications in this and every city will be real. It is estimated that each undercounted person costs his or her municipality $2,000 in federal resources." Funding for public schools would reportedly be severely hit by such cuts in federal funding.

3. Global Conflicts: In his three years in office, Trump has escalated tensions with numerous powers, China and Iran in particular. In the period leading up to the global spread of the virus, China had already taken on special enemy status. In January, the president imposed yet more tariffs on that country's products while sanctions on $370 billion worth of Chinese imports were left in place even though his administration claimed to have successfully concluded what he called "phase one" of a future trade deal.

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)

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