From The Guardian
Under leaders as callous as these, the ravages of Covid-19, economic disaster and systemic racism can only get worse
Fate has been unkind to the United States. The nation is grappling simultaneously with a pandemic that has claimed the lives of more than 130,000; the most severe economic downturn since the Great Depression; and mind-numbing police brutality, which has generated the largest outpouring of grief and anger against systemic racism in memory.
Perhaps America's greatest misfortune is that these crises have emerged at a time when its leadership is too incompetent to respond to them, if not maliciously dedicated to worsening them.
Donald Trump has not only refused to contain Covid-19 but is actively pushing Americans into harm's way, demanding the nation "reopen" while cases and deaths continue to rise. Meanwhile, he's siphoning federal money intended to dampen the economic crisis into the pockets of his cronies and family. And he is deliberately stoking racial tensions to energize his "base" for the upcoming election.
As if this weren't enough, Trump continues to attack the rule of law, on which a democracy depends in order to deal with these and all other challenges.
But he could not accomplish these abhorrent feats alone. Senate Republicans are either cheering him on or maintaining a shameful silence. Trump's biggest enabler is the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell.
McConnell's response to Trump's overt appeals to racism? "He is not a racist," says McConnell. His reaction to Trump's failure to contain Covid-19? "President Obama should have kept his mouth shut" rather than criticize Trump. McConnell's take on Trump's multiple attacks on the rule of law, including Friday's commutation of former Trump campaign aide Roger Stone's prison sentence? Utter silence.
But McConnell has been a vocal opponent of the Heroes Act -- passed by the House in early May to help Americans survive the pandemic and fortify the upcoming election -- calling it a "liberal wishlist." In fact, it's a necessary list.
McConnell and his fellow Senate Republicans don't want to extend the bill's extra-$600-a-week unemployment benefits, enacted in March but due to expire on 31 July. They argue the benefits are higher than what low-income workers are likely to earn on the job, so the money is a disincentive to work.
Baloney. Few jobs are available to low-income workers, and most are in so-called "essential" work rife with Covid-19. Besides, the US economy can't be revived unless people have extra money in their pockets to buy goods and services. Even before the pandemic, nearly 80% of Americans lived paycheck to paycheck. Now many are desperate, as revealed by lengthening food lines and growing delinquencies in rent payments.
Yet McConnell and his ilk are happy to give away trillions of dollars in bailouts to Wall Street bankers and corporate executives, on the dubious premise that the rich will work harder if they receive more money while people of modest means work harder if they receive less. In reality, the rich contribute more to Republican campaigns when they get bailed out.
McConnell and Senate Republicans quietly inserted into the last Covid relief bill a $170bn windfall to Jared Kushner and other real estate moguls. Another $454bn went to backing up a Federal Reserve program that benefits big business by buying up debt.
And although that bill was also intended to help small businesses, lobbyists connected to Trump -- including current donors and fundraisers for his re-election -- helped their clients rake in more than $10bn, while an estimated 90% of small businesses owned by people of color and women got nothing.
McConnell's response? He's willing to consider more aid to "small business."
But McConnell urges lawmakers to be "cautious," warning that "the amount of debt that we're adding up is a matter of genuine concern." He seems to forget the $1.9tn tax cut he engineered in December 2017 for big corporations and the super rich. Is he willing to roll it back to provide more funding for Americans in need?
The inept and overwhelmingly corrupt reign of Trump and McConnell will come to an end next January if enough Americans vote this November. Trump's polls are plummeting and Senate Republicans seem likely to lose at least four seats, thereby flipping the Senate to Democrats and consigning McConnell to the dustbin of Capitol Hill.
But will enough people vote during a pandemic? The Heroes Act provides $3.6bn -- for states to expand mail-in and early voting but McConnell isn't interested. He's well aware that more voters increase the likelihood Republicans will be booted out. (Which is also why Trump is claiming, with no evidence, that voting by mail will cause widespread voter fraud.)
If there is another coronavirus bill, differences between McConnell and the House will have to be resolved within two weeks after Congress returns from recess on 20 July. McConnell says his priority will be to shield businesses from Covid-related lawsuits by customers and employees who have contracted the virus.
If he had an ounce of concern for the nation, his priority would be to shield Americans from the ravages of Covid, and American democracy from the ravages of Trump.
Robert Reich, former U.S. Secretary of Labor and Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley, has a new film, "Inequality for All," to be released September 27. He blogs at www.robertreich.org.