Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair
Listen to Paul Street on this week’s edition of CounterPunch Radio.
One of the reasons to have joined Refuse Fascism and other activists in the streets demanding the end of the lethal Trump-Pence regime for the last three years and three months was the danger that the demented president and his white nationalist party in power would use a real or manufactured crisis – a terrorist attack, a war, an economic collapse, a pandemic – as a pretext for burying what’s left of Enlightenment principles, “representative democracy,” and the constitutional “rule of law.”
Now two crises that pose authoritarian dangers in any nation – not to mention a country whose top position is inhabited by a demented, corrupt and power-mad malignant who happens to be an instinctual (if not doctrinal) fascist like Donald Trump – have happened at once: a pandemic and an economic collapse (the two are of course intimately related).
The $5 Trillion Corporate Slush Fund Beyond Public Purview
Listening just to imperial “moderates” and “liberals” at National “Public” Radio and Human Rights Watch, you’d think the only authoritarian rulers trying to deepen authoritarian rule are outside the United States – in places like the Philippines, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, Poland, Hungary, India, Egypt, China, and Russia (to mention just a slice of the many nations where authoritarianism holds court).
Think again. The coronavirus crisis is made to order for the Bedminster Beezlebub Donald Trump, who has made a career out of exploiting chaos for personal gain. By refusing to create a central federal bargaining agent for the medical and protective equipment required to handle the crisis he helped spread, Trump has jacked up prices and therefore profits for medical producers, importers, wholesalers and speculators who will be contributing to his re-election campaign. Trump has placed his clueless rich-boy son-in-law, Jared Kushner, in charge of a “shadow” coronavirus task force that oversees the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS) of medical supplies in coordination with the private corporate medical sector, beyond public view.
Meanwhile, Trump has signed the massive coronavirus bailout bill. It creates a $500 billion slush fund that Trump and his lackey Treasury Secretary, Steve Mnuchin, will distribute to corporations of his own royal choosing. The fund will leverage $4.5 trillion worth of subsidized loans from the Fed, also doled by Trump and his toady Mnuchin.
In a brazenly authoritarian signing statement, Trump said he wouldn’t honor the bill’s congressional oversight provision. When House Speaker Nancy Pelosi claimed she’d form a committee to police how the money is spent, Trump charged her with “conducting partisan investigations in the middle of a pandemic,” saying “Here we go again … It’s witch hunt after witch hunt.”
Trump has appointed White House attorney, Brian Miller, to oversee the slush fund. Miller’s most recent position was serving on the legal team defending Trump from impeachment.
And now we have the tangerine-tinted tyrant criminally and absurdly promoting an anti-malarial drug as a miracle coronavirus cure. The drug is produced by a company in which the demented fascist oligarch has a stake. The president’s trumpeting of this fake cure is truly sinister on numerous levels.
The Daily Harangue
The Trump administration is badly understating the number of people likely to become infected and die. It refuses to provide the statistical assumptions that produce its politically self-interested prediction models.
After a criminally long and disastrous period of denying and downplaying the COVID-19 crisis (even calling it a “hoax” and claiming it would “soon disappear”), Trump has decided to exploit it to advance his political profile with prolonged daily updates from the White House press room. Trump stole the briefings from his Christian fascist Vice President Mike Pence once he determined they were “popular.”
The permanent Trump re-election campaign is now all about projecting a strong response to the virus if helped proliferate. The Tangerine Antichrist’s nightly press conferences are packed with presidential boasting and lies along with denunciation of “the radical Left” Democrats and the “terrible anti-Trump media.” Orange King Trump tries to control the media by accepting questions only from his perceived press allies while demeaning reporters with radical Marxist networks like NBC, CNN and “P”BS. It’s so bad that The New York Times and The Washington Post have given up on placing reporters in the press room, covering the harangues from outside the media pen.
Trump has defied longstanding White House Correspondents’ Association rules by letting the fake reporter from the fascist One America News Network (OANN) – the “real news” according to my affluent brother in law – attend every briefing without having to adhere to the cycling in-and-out rules imposed on journalists from more mainstream outlets in the name of social distancing.
Demanding Deference for Medical Equipment
Trump is exploiting his role as the distributer of medical resources needed to fight the noxious virus he helped spread. Rewarding red (Republican) states with more per-capita supplies than blue (Democratic) ones, Tangerine Sicko requires proper deference and tribute from mayors and governors in return for federal assistance.
Assaulting Civil Liberties
“The Justice Department,” Politico reported weeks ago, “ has quietly asked Congress for the ability to ask chief judges to detain people indefinitely without trial during emergencies — part of a push for new powers that comes as the novel coronavirus spreads throughout the United States….The request raised eyebrows because of its potential implications for habeas corpus — the constitutional right to appear before a judge after arrest and seek release.” Further:
“‘Not only would it be a violation of that, but it says ‘affecting pre-arrest,’ said Norman L. Reimer, executive director of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. ‘So that means you could be arrested and never brought before a judge until they decide that the emergency or the civil disobedience is over. I find it absolutely terrifying. Especially in a time of emergency, we should be very careful about granting new powers to the government.” Reimer said the possibility of chief judges suspending all court rules during an emergency without a clear end in sight was deeply disturbing. ‘That is something that should not happen in a democracy,’ he said…The department also asked Congress to pause the statute of limitations for criminal investigations and civil proceedings during national emergencies, ‘and for one year following the end of the national emergency,’ according to the draft legislative text.”
Labor Rights Rollback
In the meantime, Trump’s right-wing National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has used the COVID-19 crisis to publish a rule that could make it difficult for workers to win a union election. Published on April 1st, the new rule would eliminate the NLRB’s “blocking charge policy,” which allows union election results to be delayed if an employer is accused of coercion. It would permit bosses to initiate a union decertification campaign just 45 days after an election and with the backing of just 30% of the workforce. Both changes would significantly enhance employers’ power over union elections.
Last late February, Demented Orange’s Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA)permitted federal employees to drop out of their union by canceling their dues whenever they wanted instead of during a limited window during the year – another vicious assault on labor power.
Purging the Disloyal
Last Friday, under the cover of COVID, Trump fired Michael Atkinson, the intelligence community inspector general. Trump called Atkinson a “disgrace to inspectors general.” Atkinson was been fired and demeaned by the Chosen One for one reason: he honored his duty as an impartial watchdog by alerting Congress to the whistleblower complaint he received from an intelligence official concerned about Trump’s corrupt conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky — the “perfect call” (Trump’s absurd words) that got Trump impeached for trying to trade arms to Ukraine for political dirt on hapless Joe Biden.
Three days ago, Trump fired Glenn Fine, head a panel of inspectors general charged with overseeing the slush fund. The day before that, Trump lashed out at another inspector because of a report that honestly and graphically described the equipment shortages American hospitals are experiencing. As Adam Serwer reports at The Atlantic:
“The target of the president’s purge of independent watchdogs is clear: those officials who put the public interest above their loyalty to Donald Trump. Officials who uphold their duty to the American people, or even give the slightest impression of doing so, will find their careers in danger. They exist not, as their jobs have previously been understood, to provide the public with vital information about the functioning of the government, but to conceal inconvenient facts and exalt the divine foresight of the president. If the truth does not glorify the leader, it must be changed or suppressed. Even more important, where the law conflicts with his will, the law must be disregarded—and those who are unwilling to do so are not fit to serve” (emphasis added).
As Axios reported six weeks ago, the Trump administration and its right-wing allies have put together “detailed lists of disloyal government officials to oust — and trusted pro-Trump people to replace them.” The coronavirus crisis creates cover for efforts to “purge the disloyal,” a standard practice for fascist and other authoritarian regimes.
Trump’s Environmental Protection (Destruction) Agency, headed by former coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler, announced two weeks ago the broad and indefinite suspension of environmental rules. This draconian move gives fossil fuel companies a “green light to pollute with impunity.” The policy absurdly trusts big polluters to regulate themselves.
Cynthia Giles, former head of the EPA’s Office of Enforcement under the Obama administration, told The Hill that the new policy is “essentially a nationwide waiver of environmental rules for the indefinite future….It tells companies across the country that they will not face enforcement even if they emit unlawful air and water pollution in violation of environmental laws, so long as they claim that those failures are in some way ’caused’ by the virus pandemic.”
“The EPA,” young Greta Thunberg noted, “uses this global pandemic to create loopholes for destroying the environment.”
As Naomi Klein recently noted on Democracy Now! the giant state-capitalist slush fund (see above) includes “Bailouts for fracking companies, not to mention cruise ships, airlines and hotels, handouts which Trump could benefit from personally. Which is a big problem because the virus isn’t the only crisis we face. There’s also climate disruption, and these industries that are getting rescued with our money are the ones driving it.”
As is too rarely noted, the accelerated demolition of livable ecology is Trump’s worst sin – the main reason that Noam Chomsky is right to call Trump “the most dangerous criminal in human history.” Bad as it is, the COVID-19 crisis is a minor matter compared to the capitalogenic climate crisis, which imperils a decent and organized human existence in the not-so-distant future.
Meanwhile, under the cover of COVID, the Trump administration is deploying warships to the Caribbean to escalate imperial regime-change pressure on socialist Venezuela. Described by the Associated Press as one of the largest U.S. military operations in the region since the 1989 invasion of Panama, the move comes on the heels of Trump’s Department of Justice levying ridiculous “narco-terrorism” charges against top-ranking Venezuelan officials and Trump’s State Department releasing an absurd “democratic transition” plan for the overthrow of Venezuela’s democratically elected government.
The Electoral Delusion
A recent Salon piece on how Trump is exploiting the Coronavirus crisis to “prepare the ground for a totalitarian dictatorship” ends on an unfortunate note. As Lucian Truscott writes:
“But we can beat this worthless lying scum-sucking bastard [that would be Trump] in November. There are more of us than there are of them, and we can win if Democrats get angry and stay angry and get out the vote. The coronavirus focuses this election like no election before. We can talk about abstract ideas like income inequality, and we can point to real problems like global warming and the need for universal health care, but tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands of dead bodies will rally the Democratic Party and vote this murdering bastard out of office. We don’t have to play by the old Chicago rules and ‘vote the graveyard.’ All we have to do is remember those who have been sacrificed to this despicable man’s criminal lying and dereliction of duty. Then we need to turn out and vote” (emphasis added).
Three cheers for Truscott’s capacity to call Trump appropriately nasty names! Kudos also for noting that Trump is exploiting COVID-19 for authoritarian ends. But “totalitarianism” is a badly mis-applied Cold War term and Truscott’s faith in the bourgeois ballot box is foolish. Trump may well cancel the 2020 elections and it is highly questionable that he will honor an election count that does not go his way. The tangerine-tinted Twitter-tantruming tyrant has made it clear from the start that he does not think he can be fairly voted out of office and that he thinks it would be appropriate to rely on “tough guy” violence to stay in the White House. His determination not to leave will be steeled by the COVID “public health” pretext.
An hour into last Monday’s daily presidential harangue, Trump proclaimed that his political opponents should “not be allowed” to win the 2020 presidential election. Democrats, Trump said, “want to make Trump look as bad as they can, because they want to try and win an election that they shouldn’t be allowed to win based on the fact that we have done a great job. We built the greatest economy in the world. I’ll do it a second time,” Trump declared. “We got artificially stopped by a virus that nobody ever thought possible and we handled it and we’ve built a team and we built an apparatus that’s been unbelievable.” This was Big Brother horseshit, straight out of Orwell’s 1984. As Serwer explains:
“Job growth under Trump has been slower than during his predecessor’s last three years in office. The president was warned about the danger posed by the novel coronavirus in early January, and chose to ignore his advisers, believing it was another public-relations problem he could bluster his way through. The economy had to be ‘artificially stopped’ because the federal government dithered until early March, as Trump insisted the Chinese government had the outbreak contained and falsely told the public that cases would ‘soon be down to zero.’”
But truth is not the point for Trump – only power matters to him. As Serwer notes, Trump and the Trumpified Republican Party see their “opposition as illegitimate political actors whose claim to power is inherently invalid.”
Perhaps we should say “co-called” or “inauthentic” “opposition.” Look at the dementia-addled right-wing clown that the Democrats are apparently determined to put up against Trump if an election is held. It’s doubtful that Joe “Look Fat” Biden could defeat a tomato plant. The buffoonish rapist, serial plagiarist, and gaffling-gun Joe “Corn Pop” Biden advocates the Vinyl New Deal (“record players for the poor”).
The notion of the masses required to “turn out and vote” for Joe “Never Called me Boy” Biden to defeat Orange King Covid (OKC) is far-fetched. Joe “Dog-Faced Pony Soldier” Biden is dead in the water before he even enters the pool. He represents the abject surrender of the Inauthentic Opposition Party of Fake Resistance. (Please view “Joe Biden’s Dementia Video” here: the direct video evidence of Joe “You Say You Want a Physical Revolution” Biden’s cognitive collapse starts are 3:37).
Trump may well not have to cancel or defy the 2020 election with Biden atop the “opposition” ticket.
We’d do well to consider direct action tactics beneath and beyond the election cycle. Naomi Klein tells Amy Goodman that the coronavirus crisis is “shock doctrine” capitalism in action, adding that Trump “might even try canceling the  elections” and that “this is no time to lose our nerve.” It’s hard not to agree with all of that, and with her call for Single Payer health insurance and giant green jobs programs. Still, Refuse Fascism and other activists have not “lost [their] nerve.” Direct left actions during the COVID shutdown include car caravans demanding the release of prisoners from the giant racist holding pen that is Chicago’s Cook County Jail, which recently emerged as the leading coronavirus hotspot in the U.S, the delivery of body bags to Trump’s New Jersey golf course, and a bold banner display in Times Square.
Ms. Klein has been selling a different sort of dreamlike drug – the magic American ballot box (once described by the radical American historian Alan Dawley as “the coffin of class consciousness”) – by campaigning for Bernie Sanders. As expected (if a bit earlier than many thought), Sanders has now officially told his backers to support his “good friend” the lying, demented, and neoliberal warmonger Joe “You Want a Physical Revolution?” Biden.
A General Strike, where the late-capitalist system is crippled by mass stays-at-home, seems more suited to the coronavirus era than do vast outpourings in the streets and public assembly points, but the latter should hardly be ruled out as the depth and degree of what our masters (never forget that OKC could never wreak havoc without the approval of our owners, the capitalist ruling class) are doing to us.
The fever will break one day, and when it does we must take to the streets en masse and stay there until we make a new and better world beyond the rule of capital, whose nihilistic savagery is now being laid bare for all to see.
Socialism or Barbarism if We’re Lucky
Ernest Mandel, in his 1969 introduction to Leon Trotsky’s The Struggle Against Fascism in Germany, reflected on what he saw as the real potential for an American fascism:
“The increasing violence, the explosive race question, and the recklessness of some imperialist circles make the profile of a fascist-like trend clearer on the U.S. side of the Atlantic. …There is no need to dwell on the terrible danger such a fascism would present not only to the continued existence of human culture but to the very physical existence of the human race. One can imagine what would have happened in 1944 if Hitler had had an arsenal of nuclear weapons similar to those the United States now possesses. If, in the final phases of a life-and-death struggle to preserve ‘their’ monopoly-capitalist society… U.S. big business should hand over political power to violently irrational men, it would be fatal to all humanity. At the end of the twenties and the beginning of the thirties, revolutionary Marxists could warn that the struggle against fascism was a battle against an advancing barbarism in our part of the world, In the coming decades, the struggle for a socialist America may be a life-and-death battle for all humanity.”
Since 1969, the environmental crisis (already quite clear to many then) has surpassed the nuclear war threat (still quite real) as the main threat to the species. A new kind of “fascist-like trend” has emerged in the 21st century at home and abroad. “Violently irrational men,” with the demented fascistic oligarch Trump in the lead, hold no small power courtesy of the business class, with a voting and hating base that has shockingly strong parallels with past fascist cohorts.
In 1969, Mandel was saying what Istvan Meszaros wrote in 2001: “it’s socialism or barbarism if we’re lucky.” He was right.
There’s something seriously wrong with “P”BS NewsHour host and longtime Council on Foreign Relations member Judy Woodruff. One day last week, Woodruff, the nation’s second most boring human being (after her “P”BS colleague David Brooks), remarked that “we are glad that the president tested negative” for COVID-19. She must know that millions upon millions at home and abroad would celebrate news that the lethal and indecent beast was gravely ill. There’d be socially distanced dancing in the streets.
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Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair