Hate in the time of COVID

Hate doesn’t take a break for a pandemic. The hater in-chief, President Donald J. Trump, weaponizes the calamity, capitalizes on the initial disbelief, calls news of the building public health tsunami a hoax. He points the finger at those he calls enemies of the people—the media and the Democrats—accusing them first of raising a false alarm to hurt HIM politically, then of blowing the whole thing out of proportion. He minimizes the threat, comparing a much more lethal virus with a garden variety flu, creating doubt and complacency, leading believers in the “Trump can do no wrong” cult to take stupid, unnecessary risks, get sick and die.

As the deaths mount, the self-anointed genius tries to minimize the toll through an obscene and irrelevant comparison to the number of dead in the Civil War, the bloodiest in the nation’s history, an epic tragedy. Trump gives himself credit for the difference between the awful carnage that is happening and the decimation of the population that would have taken place if he had done nothing. What leader would even consider doing nothing when his people and his nation are in mortal danger?

When it is shown through indisputable evidence that the president’s denial (it’s a second impeachment in disguise), wishful delusions (the numbers are going down to zero in a couple of days, an antimalaria medicine is a magic cure — studies so far indicate it doesn’t work and may increase death rates), delay (for instance, the refusal to bring to bear the full power of the Defense Production Act, even now) have added up to a disastrously late and far too weak federal response, for which he takes no responsibility. Instead, he resorts to his well-worn playbook, blaming the usual scapegoats: the Chinese, an international organization (the World Health Organization), and finally, by implication, immigrants.

When everybody is focused on other things, on the disease, on the dying, on the grief of not being able to really mourn fully, on surviving physically and economically, hate seizes the chance to achieve perverse preexisting purposes.

Long before anyone had heard the word COVID, Donald Trump, the hate-stoker in chief, kicked off his campaign by exploiting the xenophobic vein in America. From day one of his presidency, Trump wanted to end all immigration, but inconvenient realities like laws, courts and judges, and Congress, blocked him. Using the current tragedy, which has nothing to do with immigration, Trump moved opportunistically to stop legal immigration (“temporarily”).

COVID is about the migration of a virus, not persons. Viruses don’t know laws, borders or walls. The right-wing Wall Street Journal editorial page called it “Donald Trump’s Immigration Distraction.” It is that. It is also a gift to the hard-core xenophobes in his administration, like Stephen Miller and others outside of it, that have been lobbying for just such a policy long before Donald Trump. That is because they see legal immigrants as the key first link in a larger chain of migration that is leading to their worst nightmare, the browning of America.

Trump’s excuse is to protect American jobs, but the vast and growing unemployment has nothing to do with foreign workers and everything to do with the need to close businesses to save lives, aggravated by the administration belated and botched response to the new Corona virus and the economic fallout.

Under the cover of the fog and darkness of the disaster and the added power that flows to a country’s leader during a national emergency, the authoritarian-in-chief is abusing that power to do other harmful things unrelated to fighting COVID: lowering car emission standards and rolling back oil drilling regulation put in place after the huge Deep Horizon oil spill. Trump calls himself a war time president but, instead of being focused like a laser on the war, he continues to carry water for Republican corporate patrons and pursuing petty personal grievances.

There are mainly three kinds of people who work in this administration: the perverse (e.g. Mike Pompeo), the pathetic (Doctor Deborah Birx), and those who combine both (Kellyanne Conway).

Birx is the Trump’s administration’s Coordinator of Coronavirus Response. She is a physician who at first seemed not to have drunk the full dose of the GOP and cult leader’s Donald Trump’s Kool Aid. At the daily Coronavirus Task Force press conferences, she seemed to be trying to square the circle, giving factual information while trying to massage the ogre-in-chief’s massive but fragile ego. It isn’t possible. Houdini couldn’t have done it.

The depth of Birx’s pathos was finally fully revealed when she responded to a reporter’s question about what she thought about Georgia Republican Governor Brian Kemp’s decision to allow businesses like barber shops, beauty and massage parlors, and tattoo shops to open. In a desperate effort to spin the answer to protect the GOP governor, Birx said in essence that as long as these businesses observe social distancing it’s OK, and added almost under her breath that she didn’t know how and, as if catching herself in a faux pas, said that businesses have shown themselves to be very creative in this.

Really? How do you give a haircut or a tattoo or a massage at a distance of at least six feet? You can’t. Birx knows it, but knows the wrath of a guy that relishes saying “you’re fired,” and she wants to keep her job more than speaking truth to power and to the American people.

COVID is a tragedy in the classical Greek sense. A core component of tragedy is that the audience—in the case of COVID a vast international network of infectious disease experts who saw the monster coming and exchanged alarmed emails with one another—while the players on the stage were in the dark and unwittingly kept doing everything to facilitate the tragic outcome.

There have been a lot of villains in this crisis, starting at the very top of government. There have been the apologists like the pseudo-journalists of Faux News. There have been people who know better, like Dr. Birx, but ultimately succumbed to craven cowardice.

But there have been more heroes than villains, hero doctors, nurses, aides, cleaners, grocery store workers, delivery people. And New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who could fool any aliens monitoring our world into believing he is the president of the United States.

Among an impressive array of heroes, one stands out: Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, the light side of the force on the Coronavirus Task Force to Birx’s dark side. He is what Trump pretends to be while being the very opposite, a very stable genius. Responding to an interviewer on the opening up about businesses in Georgia, Fauci answered with the truth delivered in characteristic understatement: “That could be setting us back. It certainly isn’t going to be helpful.”