“Everybody.” Marcel Proust long ago groused, “calls clear those ideas which have the same degree of confusion as his own.” Donald Trump, likely to lose in a landslide next month despite dark threats to hang on to the presidency, has an awful lot of canny confusions to answer for, but so do opponents. Among the most distressing legacies of Trump’s stubborn petulant rule is a narrow reduction of debate into purely two-party warfare over his dubious personality. Policy hardly matters. Even as a few Republican stalwarts back gingerly away from Trump, the centrist Democratic party leadership, after barely fending off Bernie Sanders’ left populist challenge, grow ever more adamant in encouraging congenial narratives inside party ranks.
This partisan self-righteousness – shared by Republicans, in their own charmless way is on the verge of nauseating, given that the Democrats’ tone-deaf 2016 campaign, not Russian hackers, was most responsible for Trump’s appalling victory. So far as the Joe Biden campaign is concerned, Bernie Sanders is now a non-person, whose nutty progressive notions must never be mentioned, even though Trump revels anyway in denouncing Biden’s pallid business-friendly policies, the kind that sent disgruntled and ignored working people hurtling into Trump’s arms, as insanely radical. As usual, any policy that aids ordinary people without pouring hefty profits into corporate coffers is Bolshevism reincarnate.
The Covid-19 pandemic, and government reactions to it, only reinforced strict partisan allegiances. Look for a mainstream media source on the pandemic that does not stick to one of the two main Party lines and you search in vain. No one is supposed to imagine anyone outside the two approved camps has anything worthwhile to say. You are pro-Trump or anti-Trump. Even a whisper of misgivings about Biden can trigger outbursts that one is aiding and abetting Trump’s fascist ambitions and that you want to kill their grannies too. Trailing by double digits with three weeks to go, Trump surely will close the margin but not enough to win or even to claim preposterously he won. Still, the pandemic engendered dueling prescriptions along party lines with Democrats pressing for indefinite lockdowns and Republicans agitating for an opening at any sign of slackening in the spread. With several weeks to go a bare majority of voters still pick Trump as the safest handler of the economy, choosing him because he shows a willingness, however ham-handed, to balance economic needs with health protection. The US media largely aligned themselves with the stern finger-wagging, mask-wearing, stay-at-home shutdown strategy that only a lucky privileged fraction of the American labour force can afford until Covid-19 vanishes, for which there is no timetable. No one is really asking what price different income groups are willing and able to pay.
The self-serving dishonesty here is an official unwillingness to face up to the fact that one can’t protect the entire population from a pandemic at the same time as one preserves the economy, without which there won’t be much to live for. In a year or so, after Covid-19 recedes, recriminations are likely to fly over excessive or mistargeted precautions.
Sweden, thoroughly castigated, today looks like a sane model. The Democrats roundly scorn Trump’s comment that he didn’t want the cure to be worse than the disease but there was some truth for once in Trump’s babblings. The prim professionals who can Zoom their way through the crisis exclude from debate the mounting costs of the economic shutdown for everyone else. TV news programmes spout daily Covid numbers, without context, but not a word about the toll in early deaths, other diseases, delayed medical operations, despair, and unemployment, except that those too are blamed on Covid. It’s okay to sacrifice all those people in order to protect the professionals’ parents and grandparents. The cable networks never had it so good, and are thrilled to go on feeding panic and pain so that viewers rely on them.
If anything approaches the status of a “law” in the slippery realm of politics it is that incumbent parties in election years spend heavily on gimmicks for the masses so as to boost prospects and worry about the bill later. Today, however, Republicans ideologues have plainly abandoned many millions of Americans who desperately need an extension of the original March unemployment bill in order to avoid eviction. The first bill was so loaded with copious handouts to corporate donors that Republican politicians saw no need to help little guys anymore. Yet this compensatory spending is not a giveaway but is essential to maintaining demand for goods and services and to avoid plunging into deeper recession, or worse. The Republican Party, not Trump, (or even his cabinet which together own more wealth than a third of the US public) who has displayed some sane self-preservative concern, is the real barrier, as it is in everything else. By telling so many middle-class but struggling Americans to go to hell they effectively are guaranteeing loss of the Senate as well as the Presidency. Wearing blinders has costs.
Wall Street doesn’’t care. They are fine with Joe Biden, ally of the gouging credit card companies, endorser of the crazy Iraq invasion, cutter of welfare for the poor, and enthusiastic enabler of the jailing of those on the lowest rungs in American society. In his only debate with Trump, Biden indignantly recoiled in horror at accusations that he plots to improve the lives of average Americans via single payer health care, a Green New Deal and free public higher education. The Democratic leadership assumes that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will return the United States to “normalcy,” a slow malignant normalcy that brought Trump into office in the first place.
The writers are well-known commentators and the authors of No Clean Hands, Parables of Permanent War, and many other books