In the US, the Covid-19 virus has not only infected hundreds of thousands of people and killed tens of thousands, but it has woven its way throughout American political life in profound ways. The pandemic has highlighted the deep inequality that defines our economy and healthcare systems, revealed just how many Americans in the 21st century live perilously close to the economic margin, provided an opportunity for devious politicians to exacerbate longstanding divisions in American society and accelerated the crisis of democracy in a country that was already three years into a flirtation with populist and racist authoritarianism. Unfortunately, given the realities of America in recent decades as well as the first three years of the Trump administration, to some extent this is what we might have expected to be the American reaction to the pandemic.
One of the ways we see this is in the events of recent days, that are craven and bizarre even by the standards of the current moment in American history. There are many ways to interpret the spate of small, but not insignificant, rallies cropping up around the country in which protesters, encouraged by the President, are calling for their states to reopen and for social distancing and related policies to be abandoned. However, one simple explanation is that Donald Trump has encouraged his most loyal cult members to infect themselves with a deadly disease and bring it back to their friends and family-and they have gleefully and proudly done just that. It is true that those who are demonstrating are either ignorant or willfully in denial about scientific reality and are endangering the lives of others through their actions, but it is equally true that they are going to get themselves sick as well.
These followers of Donald Trump have put their lives and health in danger not for the good of the country, the economy or even themselves and their family, but simply so that their leader can get a quick hit of media adrenaline from Fox News and other right wing media coverage of these protests. This is an extraordinary demonstration of fealty, one that is not lost on a president who is undoubtedly aware that his best chance of staying in power-and out of jail-relies upon being able to mobilize his supporters at key moments in the coming months. Unfortunately for both the president and these loyal supports, many of those most loyal to him will be sick or dead in the next months, in no small part because they have heeded his call to “liberate” their various states.
There are many ways to interpret the spate of small, but not insignificant, rallies cropping up around the country in which protesters, encouraged by the President, are calling for their states to reopen and for social distancing and related policies to be abandoned
For the moment, Covid-19 is affecting different groups of Americans very differently. People of color, more or less everybody in the New York area, and several other pockets around the US have seen enormous amounts of death and disease. However, for many in rural America, particularly white rural America, the pandemic is still abstract. Unfortunately, due at first to the slow response to the pandemic from Washington and more recently to Trump encouraging his supporters to get the disease this will change.
The spread of Covid-19 to rural America will put pressure on rural health and hospital systems that are already struggling and potentially contribute to a second wave of the pandemic just as the curve is being flattened in much of the rest of the country. Regardless of that, it will inevitably lead to people dying and suffering. Nobody wants to see that, but it is not unreasonable to think that the president should be working to prevent, not facilitate, that kind of suffering.
If Covid-19 begins to devastate parts of rural America, the politics around the disease will take on an ugly racist tone. We have already seen some of this as Trump and others on the right have referred to the virus as the “Chinese” virus, or variants on that, leading some Americans to violently attack or hurl epithets at Asian Americans. As soon as white people in rural areas start succumbing to the virus, even after in some cases seeking it out, the scapegoating will increase. Because the pandemic is hitting New York City so hard, with that city already being blamed for the virus by at least one governor, groups identified with that New York including African Americans, LGBT people, immigrants, Asian Americans, Muslims and, of course, Jews will be the new scapegoats. It is axiomatic that bigotry will be enabled, and in some cases nurtured, by the far right and their allies in the Republican Party and at Fox News.
By encouraging his supporters to get the disease and bring it back to their communities, Trump has thrown kerosene onto the burning embers of the collapse of the American project. It is comforting to believe that this will all end in November when we get a new president and shortly after that a vaccine, but that vision is increasingly disconnected from the reality of the America Trump has created.
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