North Chatham, New York — U.S.A.
Last time in this space, we dealt with the theme of stupidity as complement to incompetence—both forces kill—and how the world’s leading example of this deadly synthesis comes in the person of Donald J. Trump, dedicated to ignoring science and empowered by a supine Republican Party and backstage oligarchs.
Ever since, Mr. Trump’s ineptitude and ignorance, seeds of his anger and amorality, has metastasized in ways too numerous to mention—preventing any rational or coherent national strategy for dealing with America’s greatest medical crisis since the Spanish Flu epidemic a century ago, and the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
Consider the latest in current presidential leadership:
• A person from Texas named Brian Harrison, commercial breeder of Australian Labradoodle puppies with zero background in epidemiologic science as concerns non-dogs, was appointed by the president to head the Trump administration’s day-to-day efforts to combat the coronavirus pandemic, known as COVID-19. Such efforts are sorely ineffective. By far, the United States is first among nations in the number of COVID infections and deaths. As I write, on April 29, more than a million of my fellow Americans suffer from the disease, and some 61,000 have died—a rising number, already more than the 58,000 U.S. soldiers lost in the Vietnam War.
• Meanwhile, Mr. Trump saw to the humiliating demotion of Dr. Rick Bright, the nation’s top vaccine expert as director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority. Dr. Bright’s sin was refusing to endorse Mr. Trump’s dubious claim that the anti-malarial hydroxychloroquine was a “game changer” in treating COVID—a claim based on counsel from corporate pals who saw a potential windfall of profits in increased manufacture of the drug, untested for COVID application and likely to have fatal side effects.
• Donald Trump’s “game changer” de jour is a suggestion that toxic household cleaning products such as Clorox bleach might save the day. During a televised press conference, he said, “I see the disinfectant where it knocks out [COVID] in a minute. One minute! And is there a way we can do something like that by injection inside, or almost a cleaning because you see it gets in the lungs and does a tremendous number.”
When three of the president’s ardent admirers—among his cult are many who are certain he was sent by God to lead America—were hospitalized for guzzling disinfectants (with advisory labels against ingestion, per government regulation), Mr. Trump said, “I can’t imagine why they would do that,” and echoed a previous disclaimer in the event anyone might heed his medical advice: “I take no responsibility.”
• In the annals of American irony, there is nothing much darker than the president as a champion of insurrection. Which is what Donald Trump is, and continues to be: a cheerleader for rightwing goon squads. Financed by his über rightwing multi-billionaire Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos of Michigan, Mr. Trump’s brownshirts assemble at state capitol building to loudly demand “liberation” from local governmental stay-at-home orders and business lockdowns during the COVID pandemic. They arrive with fascist accoutrement: semi-automatic assault rifles, banners emblazoned with swastikas, and Civil War-era Confederate flags that memorialize slavery and treason.
During a recent White House briefing—daily events that Fintan O’Toole of the Irish Times called “recurring horror shows in which all the neuroses that haunt the American subconscious dance naked on live TV”— Mr. Trump declared some of those orders and lockdowns “too tough.”
At dawn that same day, before his morning ritual of watching television until noon, the president fired off a round of all-capital tweets: “LIBERATE MINNESOTA!…LIBERATE MICHIGAN!… LIBERATE VIRGINIA!”
…Related to the foregoing is a growing movement of heavily armed white racists—to a man, Trump voters—itching for what they call the coming “boogaloo,” a once innocent term for a jazzy dance now appropriated by American fascists, à la Hitler’s prostitution of a once innocent cultural symbol in the Sanskrit language. The “Boogaloo Boys,” as they call themselves, are hell-bent on fomenting a second U.S. Civil War, with themselves the scourge of the usual suspects: Jews, African Americans, Muslims, Latinos, white liberals, and intellectuals of all colors and creeds.
Of even greater irony is a flourishing optimistic bet on the part of reasonable Americans—there are more of us than it may seem: An avalanche of Trumpian incompetence and stupidity, and the president’s abject failure to lead in this time of plague, has inspired us to embrace the wisdom of a Swedish teenage girl with golden braids who has much to say about how things must soon be—if we wish to survive.
“Whether we like it or not, the world has changed,” Greta Thunberg said in a YouTube virtual meeting to mark the fiftieth anniversary of Earth Day. “It looks completely different now from how it did a few months ago. It may never look the same again. We have to choose a new way forward.”
Ms. Thunberg added, “If the coronavirus crisis has shown us one thing, it is that our society is not sustainable. If one single virus can destroy economies in a couple of weeks, it shows we are not thinking long-term and taking risks into account.”
In the now completed preliminary contests for a Democratic Party candidate to opposed Donald Trump in November’s presidential election, the political of American voters not much older than Greta Thunberg was septuagenarian Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, runner-up to presumptive nominee Joe Biden of Delaware, vice president under Barack Obama.
“Simply opposing Mr. Trump will not be enough,” Mr. Sanders wrote in an April 20 essay for the New York Times. “We will need to articulate a new direction for America. …In the midst of the twin crises of the coronavirus pandemic and the meltdown of our economy, it’s imperative that we re-examine some of the foundations of American society, understand why they are failing us, and fight for a fairer and more just nation.”
First among new understandings, in Mr. Sanders’ view (and mine), is to acknowledge the “absurdity and cruelty of our employer-based, private health insurance system…As tens of millions of Americans are losing their jobs and incomes as a result of the pandemic, many are also losing their health insurance. That is what happens when health care is seen as an employee benefit, not a guaranteed right. As we move forward…we need to pass legislation that finally guarantees health care to every man, woman, and child.”
Second, “[We] must undertake a massive construction program that provides affordable housing to all. It must reduce pollution and help us lead the world in combating climate change…I get very tired of the politicians and the pundits who tell us how difficult it is to bring about fundamental changes in our society. Let’s get work and get it done.”
Aside from the hopeful sentiments of Greta Thunberg at one end of the generational spectrum and Bernie Sanders at the other, there is a gnawing regret for national glory passed, and the chance of more seemingly squandered. Not only is the regret American, it is shared by others throughout the world. Germany’s ambassador the U.S. from 2006-2011, Klaus Scharioth, is among the latter.
In an interview with New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg, and with reference to the advent of U.S. hegemony in the wake of World War 2, Mr. Scharioth said:
“If you look at why America rose so much after 1945, it was because America attracted the best scientists in the world. America attracted expertise. You had the feeling that all governments, be they Republicans or Democrats, they cherished expertise. I would not have imagined that in my lifetime I would see [devolution of] that.”
Should you be in need of comic relief during this period of pestilence, look no further than a man in the White House wearing orange clown makeup. The other day while decrying “dishonest” journalists employed by “fake news” outlets, he demanded that reporters forthwith return their “noble prizes,” apparently meaning Nobel prizes.
Of possible interest to a president who likes to eat what he calls “hamburders” is this: The Nobel committee has no prize category for journalism.
This a certifiably godawful time in America, which has four percent of the world’s population yet thirty-two percent of the world’s COVID-19 infections. It is an especially godawful time in New York City and suburbs, the epicenter of my country’s share of world plague. It is a godawful time in New York State and its population of twenty million; if the state were a nation, it would be second only to America’s gruesome statistics.
This is a time of preventable crimes against humanity.
Nevertheless, we hear political voices that inspire the aforementioned optimism. As an antidote to Mr. Trump’s obnoxious and mendacious White House briefings, for instance, there are alternatively uplifting briefings each morning from New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, whose own brother has tested positive for coronavirus.
“New Yorkers are smart,” the governor assures us. “New Yorkers are resourceful. New Yorkers are united. New Yorkers are tough. We are all in this together, and we will get through this together.”
We are all New Yorkers now. With an eye to a Trump-free near future, this New Yorker urges a formula for necessitous change:
Insist on reform.
Persist in the foregoing.
Thomas Adcock is America correspondent for CulturMag
Additional photo credits
Brian Harrison — the federalist.com
Rick Bright — statnews.com
Clorox bottle — clorox.com
“Liberation” protestors — salon.com
Boogaloo Boys — reddit.com
Greta Thunberg — en.wikipedia.org
Bernie Sanders — nationalreview.com
Klaus Scharioth — fletcher.tufts.edu
Andrew Cuomo — cityandstateny.com