A majority of Americans believe that Trump’s incompetency has led to the sickness and death sweeping the country. But the current Democratic alternative to Trumpism is uninspiring.
Many years ago, walking with my daughter, then three years old, I was discussing something adult with a friend. She tugged on my arm until I asked her what was the matter, and she said sadly, “Daddy, no one is paying attention to me.” I leaned over and trying to console her, I said, “Sweetie, everyone feels that way, but grownups don’t say it out loud.”
Apparently, I was wrong. There are people, ostensibly grown up, who do feel they are not getting enough attention and need constantly to display their insecurities, anxieties, and self-promoted achievements before others – or in front of the whole world. In the United States you cannot read a newspaper or watch the news on television without seeing the leader of what he and others, less and less convincingly, proclaim as the “free world” preen and posture and broadcast how great he is, how historic his achievements, and how misunderstood he is. With over 100,000 deaths from Covid-19, many of them preventable, and protests and demonstrations against police brutality in over 700 towns and cities across the country, the president of the richest and most powerful country in the world longs to emulate more unchecked authoritarian and militaristic leaders in other countries. He raves about the need for domination of the streets, dishonestly claims that the protestors are anarchists and terrorists, attacks journalists as “the enemy of the people,” and praises the most vicious behavior of his police and the armed forces. He encourages the police to use more brutal methods and pardons those who have committed war crimes. He fears appearing weak, and when hustled into the bunker under the White House, he bristled at the epithet pinned on him by young people: “Bunker Boy.” In his rage this narcissistic toddler had the military clear protestors from the park in front of his mansion so he could stride defiantly across the street and hold a Bible aloft. Most people watching that profane spectacle doubt whether he ever opened the Holy Book or is able to quote a passage from it.
Trump’s power is enormous and largely unchecked by the various checks and balances of our normal constitutional operations. The complaints or censures of other nations have no effect on him, for no other power can stand up to the United States (remember the Soviet Union?) The guardian of the Constitution, the Supreme Court, has a conservative majority, as does the Republican-dominated Senate; and the president, as one of his enablers put it not long ago, is a branch of government all to himself. Ironically, what might constrain him are not the carefully constructed institutions so intricately laid down by the Founding Fathers but something beyond his or, indeed, anyone’s control – the novel coronavirus. In its slow, insidious way, the pandemic is undermining support for the government itself. The poor and most needy are the ones who are suffering the most and receiving the least from their elected officials. A majority of Americans believe that Trump’s incompetency has led to the sickness and death sweeping the country. Americans love shouting that they are “Number One.” Well, as it turns out in cases of sickness and death from this deadly virus, we are, indeed, the world leader. We can add that to another singular achievement of the American system: we are also number one in the number of people in jails and prisons. If you want to maintain the extraordinary wealth in American hands, and the polarizing inequality within the country between the top and bottom of society, then you need tough police to patrol the poor and a prison system in which to warehouse them.
Republicans, following their hero Ronald Reagan, believe that government is the problem not the solution. They are prepared to follow Trump into the abyss. Democrats at least understand that government when it acts effectively puts the common good above personal interest and greed. But the current Democratic alternative to Trumpism is uninspiring. The rehashed liberalism of Joseph Biden, his flaccid performances from his basement shelter, his indebtedness to the traditional Democratic Party way of doing politics (compromise, concessions, sprinkled with retreat from any confrontation with the powerful and privileged) do not bode well for the kinds of real reform – that is, radical change – that the country needs and for which Left-Wing youth yearns. The actual choice this year appears to be between glacial, business-as-usual programs and the accelerating damage of Trump and the Right Wing. Someone wrote recently that in a pandemic everyone becomes a socialist, that is, they understand the importance of good, democratic, responsive government that takes the welfare of the people seriously and promotes social justice and greater equality. Whether that message will win over enough voters six months from now to truly drain the swamp in Washington cannot yet be determined. But what is evident right now is that the crocodiles in charge at the moment are beginning to worry. Danger remains, however, that vicious reptiles when trapped will strike out.