NEW YORK CITY, near America
Fundamental to the citizens of Trumpistan is cultish deference to Dear Leader’s every vile tweet, every ludicrous lie, every malignant boast, every odious blast of oral flatulence from Dear Leader’s kewpie doll lips—the more racist the blast the better.
In this time of global pandemic, in which the United States has surpassed the health and economic devastations of China and Italy, more and more Americans are homebound, voluntarily or by legal order. We flip on our television sets each day in search of governmental and emotional leadership, only to see performances by Donald Trump, backed by a Greek chorus of government satraps and political flunkies.
The shambolic shows are broadcast live, and touted by the White House as helpful “briefings” to a nation under increasing lockdown that have come far too late to seriously address The Plague of 2020. Still, we watch Mr. Trump and listen to him, in hopes against hope that somehow we might detect some spark of intelligence, or at least empathy.
Fuhgeddaboudit, as we say here in New York. The orange punk has punk’d the nation.
The president claims his “White House Coronavirus Task Force,” headed by his fawning vice president, Mike Pence, will affect an end to The Plague by Easter, two weeks hence. Meanwhile, Mr. Trump’s halfwit son in-law, Jared Kushner, busies himself as an unpaid “senior advisor” and head of a hush-hush task force backstage at the White House: a posse of plutocrats and oligarchs whose capitalist ventures are affected by The Plague. They are panhandlers for corporate socialism via bailout funds courtesy of the public purse.
—Goodness, but young Mr. Kushner’s portfolio is full: In addition to running his shadow group, he is officially charged with these duties: supervision over construction of a medieval wall at the border with Mexico; governmental policy development on criminal justice reform; ongoing negotiations on a trade pact with China; restructuring of federal agencies; and peace in the Middle East. None of which seems to have been accomplished.
Mr. Trump’s TV shows are a day-by-day parade of his greatest hits: personal insults, especially aimed at women; scorn for his predecessor, President Barack Obama; self-praise for the “fantastic job I’m doing”; effusive praise from Mr. Kushner and fellow bobble-heads flanking the president during his performance (some of them with enough integrity to appear embarrassed); a barrage of half-truths and bald lies; medical nostrums, e.g. ingesting the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine, which thus far has killed a man in Arizona, hospitalized his wife, and inspired an outbreak of life-imperiling overdoses in Nigeria; and, of course, denunciations of journalists—“enemies of the people,” as he calls us, à la Hitler and Stalin.
Editorial pages of the New York Times and Washington Post politely lambaste the Trump administration’s too-little-too-late bungled and bungling response to The Plague—and consequent damage to the national economy—as incompetent, at best. Micah Uetricht, managing editor of the New York-based democratic socialist magazine Jacobin, was truthfully impolite: He said the conjoined crises are “really laying bare the extent to which we are ruled by completely craven psychopaths.”
And yet, television networks persist in taking Mr. Trump’s fatuous briefings seriously enough to provide him live coverage. Why? Ignorance is amusing for a passive audience of undiscerning ears and unseeing eyeballs; mass amusement produces fat advertising profits. Plus, there is the matter of TV in service to the faithful.
One day soon, I expect the president to pose a question that would seem perfectly natural for him to ask: “Who do you believe, me or your lying eyes and ears?” To which I expect Trumpistos and Trumpistas across the fruited plain to naturally and lustily answer, “You, my Lord and Savior! You!”
I am sorry to report that a foul haze of stupidity wafts over the United States at this time, as insidious, in its way, as The Plague itself. Which among other evils is a disease giving cover to a den of thieves: a vainglorious White House dotard, his lunkhead lackeys, and ultra-rich folks unable to think beyond next Tuesday—a confederation aided by comrades in a crypto-fascist media cartel that Joseph Goebbels would have envied.
In short, Mr. Trump and his den mates are stealing what is rightly ours to share, right out from under our un-smelling noses.
According to a study released in 2018 by the Washington-based Institute for Policy Studies, the three richest American individuals—Warren Buffet, chief investor in the disgraced global bank Wells-Fargo; Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft; and Jeff Bezos, titan of Amazon, Inc.—own collectively more wealth (real estate, investments, vehicles, household valuables, cash) than the bottom fifty percent of the United States, population 327.2 million, according to Census Bureau figures from 2018.
Further from the Institute study: Twenty percent of the citizenry has zero or negative net worth, and the situation is not improving. As Josh Hoxie, one of the study’s authors, put it: “If left unchecked, wealth will continue to accumulate in fewer and fewer hands.” At the expense, of course, of more and more working- and middle-class Americans. Not to mention the 12.3 percent of Americans living in poverty, according to Census estimates.
Most Americans are hardly affluent. We have a little, or a bit more than that, or not much at all. But most of us, save for true-believing Trumpers, are at least a dab smarter than gunsels of the current White House mafia.
One horrible weakness of American society is that we confuse amoral shrewdness with intelligence. Another weakness: our reluctance to apply the S-word to the rich and powerful. We fail to appreciate that Mr. Trump and his well-tailored syndicate are capital-S stupid, just as we failed, until quite recently, to use the L-word in calling out the president for what he is: a capital-L liar.
In fact, Mr. Trump and his moneyed ilk are not intelligent. They are, however, as shrewdly single-minded as slurp-gobbling hogs at the trough. The rest of us—“losers,” as Mr. Trump would say—are left to survive in supplicancy.
Witness the epidemic of homelessness in urban America, and ask yourselves, What would the celebrated Son of God say? More than likely, the late Jewish preacher and rabbi known as Jesus of Nazareth (4 B.C.-30 AD), born homeless in the land of Judea, would classify such epidemic as a grave social crime. His charitable worldview is why billions of people around the world honor and revere him with the name Jesus Christ.
Today, here in what many in many Republicans call a “Christian nation,” thousands of humbled wage earners are unable to afford rents in many cities—New York and Baltimore included, where Mr. Kushner is a prominent slumlord and a defendant in multi-million dollar pending lawsuits. The humbled, along with the jobless, may be seen by night sleeping in their cars at Wal-Mart parking lots from coast to coast. Untouchables sleep by day in the streets, lest their shoes be stolen in the dark. My own neighborhood on the west side of Manhattan is dotted with beggars; of late, one hears in the streets an old Dickensian cri de cœur, “Alms for the poor…alms for the poor.”
Down in Washington, Mr. Trump and his Republicans ask that Congress create something called the “Exchange Stabilization Fund” to alleviate plague-related financial sufferings among the usual prosperous suspects. The fund would distribute $500 billion (€465 billion)—a half-trillion—to needy corporations and industry combines demanding government stabilization, free of the bother of customary congressional oversight.
Congressional wrangling between Republican and Democratic Party factions in Congress brought compromise on the little matter of oversight: assignment of an “inspector general” responsible for reviewing the dispensation of taxpayer money to Mr. Trump’s pals in Big Business. But like the Wall Street bank bailout of 2009, review does not mean enforcement of illegal manipulations, which happen.
“Now it’s a slush fund with reporting requirements,” said Joseph Cirincione, a veteran congressional aide. “Trump will blow right through any [real] oversight.” Indeed, the president is every bit as shrewd as he is orange and stupid.
Mr. Trump gave assurance to few when he made it clear in one of his briefings, “I am the oversight.”
It is unlikely that a single penny of the half-trillion dollars at question will be spent to stabilize the lives of those sleeping in cars, or in the streets—crimes in Jesus Christ’s view.
Speaking of crime, it was only last December when the Donald J. Trump Foundation was found by Justice Saliann Scarpulla of the New York State Supreme Court to be a fraudulent enterprise for the purpose of paying Mr. Trump’s business and political expenses. The president—along with his adult sons Eric and Don Jr., and daughter Ivanka—were forced to acknowledge wrongdoing, close the foundation forever, and pay restitution of $2 million (€1.84 million).
Exactly how stupid must a man be to overlook the fallout of fraud, such as an especially repulsive incident Justice Scarpulla enumerated: As fiduciaries of the Trump Foundation, the president and his charming offspring stole money intended for cancer-stricken children? Exactly how stupid must a man be to commit charity fraud only three years after another judge in another New York courtroom declared his Trump University a fraud, ultimately settled by closure of the make-believe campus and restitution of $25 million (€22.9 million)?
The question now: How on earth can we trust Donald Trump with a half-trillion bucks of our money?
During the first year of his presidency, Mr. Trump’s Republicans controlled both chambers of Congress. Accordingly, wealthy corporations and individuals were gifted with the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. According to “The Triumph of Injustice,” published last year by economists Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman of the University of California at Berkeley, most millionaires and billionaires now pay a tax ratio on income at a lesser rate than schoolteachers and office secretaries, and corporate tax liability was radically reduced. The result, according Robert Reich, economist and former labor secretary under President Bill Clinton: an aggregate tax cut of $5.8 trillion (€ 5.39 trillion).
These are the trillions stolen from us, along with millions more stolen by cuts to government programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. Not to forget cuts to SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), which translate to stealing food from the mouths of the poor.
Professors Saez and Zucman reveal in their book a disintegration of the American social compact—the so-called American dream. An exponential bulwark of their own prosperity, the dream is under single-minded attack by the shortsighted rich, riffraff doubtless unfamiliar with the English poet William Blake (1757-1827) and his famous warning: “A dog starv’d at his master’s gate/Predicts the ruin of the state.”
As the late English ironist George Orwell might say of this awful chapter of the American story: Stupidity is brilliance.
Now comes the “Chinese virus,” as Mr. Trump calls it, inspiring physical assaults against Asian Americans in New York and elsewhere. Now at a time when his regime is seen, at least by some, as a shakedown racket whose capo di tutti capi not only admitted to stealing from children in December but was impeached in the same month by the U.S. House of Representatives, controlled by Democrats, only to be rescued from being run out of town by the Republican-clogged Senate.
And now a disturbing number: an averaging of major opinion polls in the third week of March found that nearly half the American electorate—nearly half—approves of what they see in and hear from the president. Exactly how stupid must voters be?
Let us consider a very few of Donald Trump’s mouthings since assuming the presidency—on crisis subjects such as Puerto Rico’s hurricane catastrophe in September 2017, the ongoing civil war in Syria, climate change, evidence of his smelly association with the Kremlin, his self-proclaimed magnificence, impeachment, and now The Plague:
- “[Puerto Rico] is an island surrounded by big water.”
- “This is a tough hurricane, one of wettest we’ve ever seen from the standpoint of water.”
- “I know more than the generals.”
- “Climate warming is a total, and very expensive hoax.”
- “The Democrats are politicizing the coronavirus. One of my people came up to me and said, ‘Mr. President, they tried to beat you on Russia, Russia, Russia.’ That did not work out too well. …They tried the impeachment hoax. …[T]his is their new hoax.”
- “I take no responsibility at all.”
- “I have a very big, uh, brain.”
Mr. Trump is hardly alone in the arena of asininity. There is, for instance, the mindset of one Tommy Tuberville—popular Alabama college football coach, pugnacious Christianist with a Deep South drawl, and perhaps the Trumpiest of Trumpers. In seeking the Republican nomination to become his state’s next member of the U.S. Senate, Mr. Tuberville has declared the following in television advertisements and at campaign appearances:
“God sent us Donald Trump because God knew we was in trouble. …They told me we got more Middle Easterners comin’ across the [southern] border than we do Mexicans…I said, ‘What are you talkin’ about?’ He said, ‘They’re comin’ all over the Middle East. They’re comin’ across the border, and they ain’t leavin.’ They’re comin’ for a reason. Folks, they’re takin’ over…It’s a terrible thing our Christianity is under attack…[I]f we don’t open our eyes, it is gonna be over with.”
The Heaven-sent president has enthusiastically endorsed Mr. Tuberville’s campaign, casting aside the footballer’s rival candidate—the Alabaman appointed by Mr. Trump as U.S. attorney general, one Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III. Upon sacking him relatively soon after appointment, the president denounced Mr. Sessions as “mentally retarded” and a “dumb southerner.”
Other mates aboard the U.S.S. Trump ship of fools include:
- The aforementioned Vice President Pence, who calls his wife “Mother,” aborted a 2016 run for reëlection as governor in his native state of Indiana. Instead, he joined Mr. Trump as number two man on the national Republican ticket that November. The written platform for Mr. Pence’s abandoned gubernatorial campaign contained a baseline stupidity in support of his bigotry: “[We] oppose any effort to recognize homosexuals as a discreet (sic) and insular minority entitled to the protection of anti-discrimination laws…Resources should be directed to those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior.”
- Stephen Miller and none other than Jared Kushner authored the text of a disastrous March 11 presidential address from the Oval Office on the subject of The Plague. Even Max Boot, a conservative Republican newspaper columnist, found the address chock full of lies and risky medical advice, concluding that Donald Trump is America’s “biggest threat to national security.”
- Sean Hannity, a dull man and shining star of Fox radio, a propaganda organ of the Trump administration, echoed the president in declaring the coronavirus pandemic a “hoax.” Also like the president, Mr. Hannity denies ever having used such descriptive. Although he’s worked in broadcast media since 1989, Mr. Hannity is apparently too dumb to know from audio tape, which recorded him saying on March 9, “[T]his scaring the living hell out of people…I see it, again, as like, oh, let’s bludgeon Trump with this new hoax.”
- Lou Dobbs is another dullard of the Trump propaganda machine and an admirer of the anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant, homophobic Texas evangelical minister Robert Jeffress. Last year via one of his Fox TV shows, Mr. Dobbs said of the Trump-addled Texan, “Pastor Jeffress always talks about this president. God sent this president. He is a person of providence.”
- Diamond and Silk—the pseudonymous YouTube stars and Fox TV hosts whose real names are Lynette Hardaway and Rochelle Richards—are sisters from Raeford, North Carolina, where their parents peddle dubious herbal pills via Christianist TV. Despite the Washington Post’s tally of almost seventeen thousand lies or wildly misleading statements babbled by Mr. Trump from January 2017 to January 2020 (when the exhausted fact-checkers gave up counting), the Hardaway-Richards sisters believe devoutly in their hero. Speaking for both sisters on the topic of Mr. Trump’s self-said “big, beautiful wall,” supposedly under construction along the entire three thousand mile (km 4,828.03) U.S.-Mexican border, Ms. Hardaway explained, “He’s tryin’ to keep people from comin’ into our country to chop off our heads.” She added, “My president never says anythingstupid. …[W]hat’s wrong with you left people, you always want to be so politically correct? Well, he’s not politically correct, he is earnest and we love him…There is nothin’ my president can do that makes me feel sore. He makes us happy, we love him.”
- Three dopey blonde women have leading rôles in the malignant cartoon that is Donald Trump: 1) the leggy Fox TV host Trish Regan, first to claim the coronovirus world pandemic is a “liberal scam” meant to drive the president from office; 2) Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president who specializes in correcting media with what she calls “alternate facts”; and 3) Mrs. Melania Trump, née Melanija Knavs of Slovenia.
- Unlike her husband’s first two wives, who left him in disgust, the current Mrs. Trump stands by her man. Never mind the audio recording wherein the president boasted of his various sexual assaults, or the news about his affair in Las Vegas with blonde pornographic movie star Stormy Daniels (during Mrs. Trump’s pregnancy), or Mr. Trump’s descriptions of women he dislikes as “dogs,” “slobs,” or “fat pigs.
- Texas Senator Ted Cruz, a rival of Mr. Trump’s for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, could not muster enough ordinary pride of family to object when Mr. Trump inferred that Mrs. Cruz was ugly and that the senator’s father might have been involved in the 1963 assassination, in Texas, of President John F. Kennedy.
- In late February, bloated right-wing radio and TV ranter Rush Limbaugh characterized The Plague as a seasonal wave of the “common cold.” Back in 2006, he surrendered to police in Palm Beach, Florida when charged with illegal possession of synthetic heroin—despite having ranted against drug use as a crime that is “destroying the country,” whose destroyers “ought to be convicted and sent up.” In January, Mr. Trump awarded the longtime ranter with the Congressional Medal of Freedom—an honor dating back to the Kennedy administration and bestowed on the likes of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Pope John XXIII, Buckminster Fuller, Sidney Poitier, Vladimir Horowitz, Walter Reuther, and Martin Luther King Jr.
Dear readers: You would be wrong to think of the foregoing characters as frippery in the fabric of Donald Trump’s White House. They are the people he listens to; they are the people he consults on matters of science, as opposed to bona fide scientists.
These people are the president’s brain trust.
It is now high time for that asterisk at the top of this essay.
Let us remember a tune from the classic movie of 1939, “The Wizard of Oz,” wherein the loveable Ray Bolger (1904-1987) played the scarecow and sang his dream of intellectual acumen—
Oh, I could
while away the hours
Conferrin‘ with the flowers,
Consulting with the rain;
And my head I’d be a-scratchin‘
While my thoughts are busy hatchin‘
If I only had a brain.
ev’ry riddle for ev’ry
In trouble or in pain
With the thoughts that you’ll be thinkin‘
You could be another Lincoln
If you only had a brain.
I—could tell you why
The oceans are near the shore
I could think of things I’d never
And then I’d sit down and think some more.
would not be just a muffin‘,
My head all full of stuffin‘,
My heart all full of pain;
And perhaps I’d deserve you and be
Even worthy of you
If I only had a brain.
It is March 25 as a write, a cool and cloudy afternoon in Manhattan. Because of my age, and a somewhat compromised medical condition, the governor of New York State has ordered me, and those like me, to remain indoors.
We here in New York City—the American epicenter of The Plague, and financial center of the world—are acutely aware that the history of this young century will forever be divided: before and after The Plague, and the plague of Donald Trump.
Later today, Mr. Trump will perform his “briefing,” once more exposing his incompetence for all to see and hear. F or some in his brain trust to gloss over, for his worshipful cult to ignore. Today, the World Health Organization counts more than sixty-one thousand Americans testing positive for COVID-19. Today, the nation has shot past the one thousand mark in COVID-19 deaths.
The newest well-known American names on the positive list: John Besser, husband of U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar; Harvard University President Lawrence S. Bacow and his wife Adele. Per emergency hospital protocol, Senator Klobuchar may not visit her husband at bedside as he continues to cough up blood. In Florida today, the legendary playwright Terrence McNally died from complications of COVID-19.
I suddenly remember something recently said by Congressman Adam Schiff as he reflected on the fact that America is now the world epicenter of coronavirus devastation: “Incompetence kills.”
So does stupidity.
—Thomas Adcock is America correspondent for CulturMag