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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 3/13/20

The COVID-19 Epidemic and the Disastrous Federal Government Response: It Ain't Just Trump

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"Either this nation shall kill racism, or racism shall kill this nation." (S. Jonas, August, 2018)

"To announce that there must be no criticism of the President . . . is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public. Nothing but the truth should be spoken about him or anyone else. But it is even more important to tell the truth, pleasant or unpleasant, about him than about anyone else."

Theodore Roosevelt, Editorial in The Kansas City Star May 7, 1918



As is very well-known, we as a nation are now standing at a cross-roads in our history, caused of course by the COVID-19 epidemic. If certain estimates of its eventual scope come true (and to be sure, these estimates are at the far right-hand end of the Bell Curve for the count), we are standing on the precipice of as many as 60,000,000 cases. (Sounds like a lot in raw numbers, and it is, but that number is less than 20% of the U.S. population.) This, if the projected death rate is correct, would produce 600,000 deaths. As is widely agreed to (outside of the Trumpublican © inner sanctum --- see Fox"News" --- of course) the major cause of this horrible potentiality in this country has the been the dreadfully slow response of the Trump Administration to the threat, which has been known since China first announced the outbreak and its then-extent at the end of last year.

This response, or non-response, has a variety of causes. Not necessarily in the order of importance, they include:

* Trump's determination to get rid of any governmental element that had Obama's name on it. So the White House office for dealing with potential global pandemics, formulated after the Ebola-virus outbreak of 2014 (which, as it happened, was contained, with no cases being found in the United States) was closed down.

* Following Trump-principal-policy-adviser-in-the-early-days Steve Bannon's dictum to achieve the "Deconstruction of the administrative state" as one of the top priorities of the Trump Administration, significant chunks of the elements of the Centers for Disease Control were eliminated.

* Trump's response to the early news of the developing epidemic in China was the imposition of a travel ban of certain persons coming from China. Now we all know how much Trump loves travel bans, but this one seems to have had little impact on the spread of the disease in the United States (even though he and Hannity, et al continually boast about it). For if it were so successful, how come the number of domestic cases is rising rapidly, travel ban(s) or no? (Of course, Trump has just announced his Europe travel ban --- for Europeans, not U.S.--- except for the UK [and didn't bother to pre-inform the U.S.'s European allies]). Apparently, he is ignorant of the Eurostar train and the cross-channel ferries, and also that Ireland, an island, is part of the EU, not the UK, but that is another matter.)

* Trump's focus on the chances for his re-election chances and his wish that the impending epidemic would just go away or preferably never get to the U.S., apparently was a major reason why there was no early emphasis on the development of test kits and why the U.S. refused the offer of them from the World Health Organization. Apparently Trump, at least at a gut-level, knew how much negative impact the possible high numbers and their many ramifications could have on his re-election chances. And so, came: blaming everything on Obama; the whole "hoax" thing; and how the Democrats of the "fake news" media were using it, and blowing it up, just to get at it him. (Trump's life-long central essence of victim-hood plays into this big-time.)

* But then, and it is very important to note this, joining this witches brew of failing to deal directly and correctly with the impending disaster of a major epidemic is the long-time, well established Republican (and note here that I am using the word "Republican," not "Trumpublican ©") opposition to anything that smacks of "big government," that is government that can make life better in one way or another for the vast majority of U.S. It goes back to the time of Reagan. For Reagan famously said in 1981, after he was elected President: "Government is not the solution to our problem, government IS the problem."

USS Reagan tipping over, just like the President was doing in his second term (but his was covered up, unlike that of the ship).
USS Reagan tipping over, just like the President was doing in his second term (but his was covered up, unlike that of the ship).
(Image by (From Wikimedia) M. Jeremie Yoder, Author: M. Jeremie Yoder)
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* Following Reagan, but pre-dating Bannon was Grover Norquist, a driver of economic and tax policy for the G.W. Bush Administration, in the 2000s being much less ambitious than Steve Bannon, said: "My goal is to cut government in half in twenty-five years, to get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub."

The result of all of this is a total lack of advance planning on a variety of matters that could possibly have mitigated the spread of the disease and reduced the massive disruptions of civic life that are already taking place. But, to repeat, it ain't just Trump. It's the totally modern Republican "government is bad" mantra. (Of course, they don't mean that ALL government is bad. For example, they are well on their way to criminalizing the matter of choice in the outcome of pregnancy. But that is another matter.)

And so, why these various responses --- ranging from the totally-inadequate to the epidemic-enhancing --- in the face of a potentially overwhelming epidemic, the likes of which have not been seen since the mis-named "Spanish flu" of 1918-19? Part of it is Trumpen-matter. Like the visceral, racist, hatred he has for anything with Obama's name on it. Part of it is Trump's abnormally abysmal state of knowledge about, for example, history, science and health-disease. (By the way, he knows how limited he is, which is why he is always telling us how smart he is, often due to the achievements of some relative.) Part of it his complete lack of comprehension of how U.S. Constitutional government is supposed to work, based on the written document as well as on well-established norms and customs. And part of it is the fact that in his businesses (many of them failures) he has never been responsible to anyone but himself, his beliefs, and his fantasies.

BUT, and yes, it is a big but: part of the cause of where we stand now in the face of this potentially overwhelming epidemic the results of which cold pitch the nation into a prolonged, completely avoidable recession (Depression[?]) is the history of the modern Republican Party and its road to Reaction. (To trace that, I am in this column returning to sections of a column on this subject that I originally published in this space on Dec. 20, 2018. It was entitled "The Repubs. and the Rightward Imperative: Gets Them to Trump --- And Then?").

From Hayes to Eisenhower

For most of its existence since the end of Reconstruction following the election of 1876, the Republican Party has been the party of reaction in the United States. In fact, the only reason that Rutherford B. Hayes, the GOP candidate in that disputed election, won, was that he agreed to end Reconstruction, essentially turning over the Southern states to the former slaveholders and the Ku Klux Klan. There was one bright exception to this rule, Theodore Roosevelt. There were two other exceptions, although not on the scale of the great reformer (and imperialist too). One was Dwight D. Eisenhower, who, at the end of World War II did not know to which party he belonged. In fact, Harry S. Truman tried to recruit him to be the Democratic nominee in 1952. "Ike" chose the Republicans and defeated the traditional Republican right-winger, protectionist, anti-labor (see the Taft-Hartley Act [1947]), isolationist, anti-New Deal Robert Taft for the nomination.

Whatever his faults, Eisenhower made no efforts to go after the central elements of the New Deal. In fact, he supported the high marginal tax rates on the wealthy which partly fueled the greatest growth that the US economy has ever had. He also created one of the largest public works programs the US has ever had, the Interstate Highway System. On leaving the White House, Eisenhower also famously warned of the military-industrial complex, not-so-famously also warned of a "small group of Texas oilmen" who, if they took over would do great harm to the country, and also said in no uncertain terms that the atomic bomb should never have been dropped on Japan.

From Nixon to Reagan

But then, first in the 1960 Presidential election, came that bundle of contradictions, Richard Nixon. He was an avatar of Joseph McCarthy, a virulent anti-communist abroad (who nevertheless opened the door to China) as well as an expander of the war on Viet Nam. And he was the inventor of the Republican "Southern Strategy" openly moving into the Southern racist politics that the Democratic Party had left behind when it got behind the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. But he was also the promoter of massive environmental protection legislation and, if it hadn't been for Watergate, would have ushered in a true National Health Insurance program in his second term.

But then came Reagan. In 1976, Ronald Reagan lost the Republican Presidential nomination to Gerald Ford, who, believe it or not, was a "moderate" Republican like in many ways (noted briefly above) Nixon was. But Reagan, running against another "traditional Republican," GHW Bush, in 1980, drove to the Right and won the nomination. Drove to the Right, you might ask? Well, for one thing it was Reagan who began the open alliance between the Christian Right and the Republican Party (although to be sure Nixon had flirted with it). For another he came down even harder in using the Southern Strategy (with code words --- "dog whistles") than Nixon had.

And so, Ronald Reagan truly initiated the modern historical stream of GOP-led right-wing reaction which we now see in front of us, every day, most significantly upon the role of government.

But why did this happen and why has the Party been moving inexorably rightward since the Reaganite takeover? Why are they now a party that runs on racism, homophobia, religious bigotry (on the matter, for example, of religious belief in when life begins), creationism, sexual repression (abstinence only), and etc.? Don't they have real policies concerning the economy (other than cut taxes, cut taxes, cut taxes, and deregulate), the health care system, and education?

Yes, of course they do have real policies on the latter subjects. The problem for them is that they can hardly run on them. The GOP represents major sectors of the US economy: the extractive industries, the military industrial complex, the prison-industrial complex, corporate agriculture, the "health" insurance and pharmaceutical industries, and so on. But they could and can hardly run on a platform of "let the oil and coal companies do whatever they want to," "we want the rich to get richer, donchaknow," "we want to export as much American capital overseas where it can make larger profits than it can here, so we really want to de-industrialize our country," "we don't care about the health of the American people but we do care about the profits of the health care industry," "we would like to have permanent war if we can get it," "we want to convert the US economy from industrial capitalism to finance capitalism," and so forth.

From Reagan to Trump

And so, what I have called "The Rightward Imperative." If you cannot run on what you are really about and win, you've got to run on something else. In both the Republican primaries and the general elections, you have to attract voters. And the Republican Right have become past masters of mastering the use of the "gut" issues that their potential voters, first in their own party, will respond to.

And so here, eventually, came Donald Trump. He may be poorly educated, poorly informed, and possessed of little knowledge about how the extremely complicated U.S. government actually works, but he is a great huckster, the ultimate Con Man. He also understood well the Rightward Imperative. Whether or not he consciously set out to employ it, he has proved himself (by lucky instinct) a master of the craft, beginning of course with the "Birtherism Hoax" of which he was the leading perpetrator in the run-up to the 2012 election.

To be sure, he is not himself personally much with the underlying dogmas of the Religious Right, but he surely has known how important it is to get there in appearance if you want to get the Repub. nomination. And so, he did, starting with his Liberty University speech. He did it so well, that he swamped the collection of true Religious Rightist Dominionists who had entered the primaries, which included Ted Cruz, Ben Carson, Mike Huckabee, and Marco Rubio.

And then, once clinching the nomination, Trump took the Rightward Imperative to the next step: running openly, without the usual "dog whistles," on racism, xenophobia, religious determinism, religious prejudice, Islamophobia, and authoritarianism ("I am the only one who can solve the nation's problems"), and, especially if it has Obama's name on it, "Big Government." In his quest for the Republican nomination, as a totally unqualified person with no experience in government, a very shaky history in business (for example, despite his apparent wealth, he has been unable to obtain US bank loans since 1996 or so), and a notoriously small knowledge-base, he almost singlehandedly took the Rightward Imperative from a tactic and strategy that almost always had "deniability," to one that he put forth openly, beginning, of course in 2011 with "birtherism."

Image Deleted Because Wiki Page Empty or Removed Image

It has worked so far. But now all of a sudden, Trump is caught between a rock and a hard place. In the face of the corona virus, his total focus on re-election, plus his significant "deconstruction of the administrative state" (Bannon), plus the traditional antipathy of both the Republicans and the Trumpublicans for "big government," has brought them to a very tough place indeed.

Trump may somehow figure out how to wiggle out of it, as he has so many times before. But this time neither Deutsche Bank (literally) nor Putin (figuratively) can bail him out. Nevertheless, considering the number of serious obstacles that would have overwhelmed anyone else --- from to ---- that he has overcome, I wouldn't count him out yet, even if a very considerable number of U.S. lives are lost in the process. After all, the Goebbels propaganda machine kept Hitler going with an increasingly smaller number of Germans (so many were killed) right up until the end of the war, in the rubble of virtually every major German city. Why could not Trump and minions --- led by the propaganda quartet of Hannity and Limbaugh up front and Miller and Kushner behind the scenes --- pull this one off.

(Article changed on March 13, 2020 at 20:10)

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Steven Jonas, MD, MPH, MS is a Professor Emeritus of Preventive Medicine at StonyBrookMedicine (NY). As well as having been a regular political columnist on several national websites for over 20 years, he is the author/co-author/editor/co-editor of 37 books Currently, on the columns side, in addition to his position on OpEdNews as a Trusted Author, he is a regular contributor to From The G-Man.  In the past he has been a contributor to, among other publications, The Greanville PostThe Planetary Movement, and Buzzflash.com.  He was also a triathlete for 37 seasons, doing over 250 multi-sport races.  Among his 37 books (from the late 1970s, mainly in the health, sports, and health care organization fields) are, on politics: The 15% Solution: How the Republican Religious Right Took Control of the U.S., 1981-2022; A Futuristic Novel (originally published 1996; the 3rd version was published by Trepper & Katz Impact Books, Punto Press Publishing, 2013, Brewster, NY, sadly beginning to come true, advertised on OpEdNews and available on  (more...)

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