Phase One of the destruction of the United States, which started in January and is ongoing, happened under the captaincy of Donald J. Trump:
The self-absorbed denial, the wishing away of what was obviously coming, saying in January it was under control, in early February that the number of cases in the country would soon be zero, then bullshitting on March 16 that “I’ve always viewed it as very serious,” instead of doing what the president of the United States should have already been doing—ordering the manufacture of test kits, readying the country for the hiring of thousands of contact tracers, making sure hospitals had ventilators.
Always remember that under Trump, we went from being the best prepared country in the world for a pandemic to being the single worst country in the world at handling it. Last fall, a Johns Hopkins study ranked 195 countries on 34 metrics of pandemic preparedness. The United States ranked first. First. Now, we’re first at rate of spread.
I spend part of every day wondering what it would have been like if we’d had a real president in January and February. No, it wasn’t a crisis yet, but that’s exactly when a leader prepares people for the possibility of one. That’s what Barack Obama would have done, and his words over the weekend, “absolute chaotic disaster,” are a thousand percent correct. (And by the way, Trump is lying as usual about Obama’s handling of the H1N1 virus in 2009.)
If we’d had a capable president, we’d have been ready with the tests in March and thousands of Americans would be alive today. This is the single most criminally incompetent thing any president has ever done to this country. And Trump will never escape it—he’ll go down in history for a lot of horrible things, but the horrible-est of all will be that he was, through his inaction, directly responsible for the deaths of thousands of Americans.
That’s Phase One. Phase Two of our destruction, which is just now starting, is being led by Mitch McConnell, but really, it involves almost all congressional Republicans, who don’t want to spend the money that needs to be spent to save people’s lives and businesses and jobs. There’s “real bailout fatigue among Senate Republicans,” one source told The New York Times over the weekend.
Are they nuts? Fine, they’ve appropriated a lot of money. But that’s just a down payment. People are suffering. They’re lining up for food. They can’t make the rent or mortgage. The money Congress has passed will run out in a few weeks for a lot of people if it hasn’t already. Making sure that working people the government has asked to stay at home can put food on the table is anything but a bailout.
And by the way, the average net worth of these fatigued Republican senators—and this was back in 2012, the most recent year I found—was nearly $7 million.
This is a war. Fuck the deficit. Yes, at the moment, it’s very high. It’s about 18 percent of GDP, which I agree under normal circumstances would be completely unacceptable. But we are in a war, as Trump himself kept saying, when it sounded good.
The right way to think of this, then, is that it’s like World War II. Nobody cared about the deficit then. We had to win the war. The deficit got as high as 26 percent of GDP in 1943. (In the recent Great Recession, it got nearly to 10 percent.) But we kept building more tanks and feeding more soldiers and borrowing more money. There was little choice. It was that or Hitler. Well, today, it’s that or mass dislocation and our first depression since the 1930s.
And here’s something else we did during the war. We raised taxes on the rich. A lot. We raised them on everybody, a little. Did some people mind? I’m sure they did. But most people understood that the crisis demanded it. Irving Berlin wrote a song: “I Paid My Income Tax Today” (“you see those bombers in the sky? Rockefeller helped to build ’em, so did I!”).
Today? God forbid we raise a little revenue from multi-millionaires to help struggling Americans who are losing their businesses, their jobs, and their homes because of the incompetent horse’s ass sitting in the Oval Office. But it’s just completely out of the question. Even most Democrats aren’t talking about it.
Well, at least they’re talking about more stimulus money—aid to state and local governments, mortgage and rent support, and other items. But people need more. A lot more. Yes, deficits risk inflation, but when job losses are high, that risk is lower. And if we get the economy back on its feet, the deficit will take care of itself over time.
But as we know from hard experience, Republicans only care about the deficit when Democrats are in power. They don’t even really care about it then, except to the extent that it’s a handy club to swing at a Democratic president’s head.
This all goes back to Milton Friedman and the supply-siders and those fantasies about just cutting taxes on the rich and eliminating regulations, which was a con on behalf of rich people from jump street, and letting corporations pursue profit with no thought of their being actors in a broader society where they might have some kind of civic responsibility. Those notions are dead in this country.
And a bunch of millionaire senators have bailout fatigue. They will deepen and prolong the misery of millions of people. And then next year, if Joe Biden wins and Mitch McConnell is still running the Senate, and the president asks Congress for a few trillion more, of course the answer will be: Nope, let ’em die. Think of the savings!
This is sick, atavistic, and corrupt in the way crumbling ancient empires were corrupt. I watch these things happening and just can’t believe they’re happening in the United States of America. But they are. And we’re only two months into this. Where are we headed?