Long live death: Trump sidelines task force, says open economy
Long Live Death: President Donald Trump with a skeleton decked out in a "Make America Great Again" hat at the White House, Oct. 30, 2017. | Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

“There will be more death,” President Donald Trump said yesterday, less than 24 hours after a leaked CDC document showed new government models projecting the possibility of the U.S.’ daily COVID-19 death toll doubling to 3,000 and infection rates soaring to 200,000 per day by June 1st in the wake of mass re-opening mandates.

Despite acknowledging the obvious, Trump said twice on Tuesday—in an interview and at a press conference—that the country must be willing to pay that price in order to save the economy.

“We can’t keep our country closed,” he declared. “Will some people be affected? Yes. Will some people be affected badly? Yes. But we have to get our country open.” But “the people of our country are warriors,” Trump said. “The virus will pass.”

CNN reported that two officials from his government said the grim numbers in the leaked CDC report “are not currently expected to affect the White House’s plans for reopening the country,” and that the president intends to proceed with his deadly bargain.

With the U.S. facing what is expected to be its worst unemployment rate ever and the stock market gyrating wildly from week to week, Trump is rushing to reopen businesses in an attempt to salvage his flagging re-election campaign. Up until the coronavirus crisis, the president had said a vote for a second Trump term was a vote to continue the supposed economic boom.

Opinion surveys suggest the president may be misreading public sentiment though, as a Washington Post-University of Maryland poll shows 7 out of 10 Americans think that places where the risk of exposure is high should not be reopening. When it comes to dining in restaurants, nearly 80% say they are still uncomfortable doing so, while 67% remain hesitant to visit retail clothing stores. Barely more than half say they are okay making required visits to the grocery store.

Trump’s call for the public to accept death came at the same time officials in his administration signaled the White House Coronavirus Task Force would begin winding down its operations by Memorial Day. Vice President Mike Pence insisted, braggingly, that closing up the daily work of the committee reflects “the tremendous progress we’ve made as a country.” (He didn’t mention that after initially seeing some “high ratings,” the Task Force’s daily briefings ended up damaging the president’s public image, especially after the disastrous recommendation to inject disinfectant.)

Such claims of success fly in the face of continued failure to sufficiently ramp up the testing required to safely reopen workplaces, schools, stores, and other venues. Top immunologist Dr. Anthony Fauci argues there is still not enough testing to send people back to work in huge numbers. Bluntly contradicting the claims of Pence, he says there needs to be a doubling of testing capacity within the next few weeks. Fauci told National Geographic, “I don’t think there’s a chance that this virus is just going to disappear. It’s going to be around, and if given the opportunity, it will resurge.”

It is precisely that kind of talk that’s prompted Trump to forbid Fauci from testifying before a Democratic-run congressional committee looking into the government’s response efforts. Essentially admitting he doesn’t want Fauci to be questioned by anyone but friendly Republican lawmakers, Trump conjured up the ghost of his impeachment and egoistically denounced the Democrats in the House of Representatives as “a bunch of Trump haters.”

Trying to turn around the fingers pointing at him, he even went to the extent of outrageously accusing the Democrats in Congress of wanting the COVID-19 outbreak control efforts to fail. “They frankly want our situation to be unsuccessful, which means death.”

In rushing to reopen the economy, it’s clear that Trump is listening to the captains of industry and finance who want their businesses operating once more and their profits flowing again. But just as critical in this moment, if not more so, is the political calculation—or miscalculation, as it may be. Trump’s handling of the coronavirus crisis has had a significant impact on voters’ views of him, with one poll showing that 56% give him negative marks; in battleground industrial states, the numbers are even more dire.

His pollsters and campaign advisors are surely telling him that an extended economic lockdown will seal his fate on Election Day. Thus, he has made the decision that sending everybody back to work—even if it means soaring infection and death counts—is worth it if he can score some positive press for getting paychecks coming again.

Trump is already having to walk back his edict to shut down the Coronavirus Task Force, saying today it will transition into a committee to reopen the economy. The shifting of the Task Force’s mandate is motivated by the same electoral concerns. Not only that, terminating or scaling back its operations actually complements the decision to rapidly reopen. They are two parts of the same strategy. With the federal response curtailed and COVID-19 control duties pushed off on governors and local leaders, Trump believes he is creating a way to shift blame for the inevitable rise in deaths.

Down with Intelligence: Pro-Trump demonstrators at a protest against coronavirus response guidelines in Richmond, Va., April 22, 2020, accuse Dr. Fauci of lying. | Tom Williams / CQ Roll Call via AP

He will try to take credit for jumpstarting the economy and “reopening America,” watch cases and fatalities climb, but then wash his hands of it and say that states are in charge now. His Task Force, he will of course claim, started the job but governors didn’t finish it. In reality, it’s a return to the accountability-dodging he first undertook back in early March when he blurted out, “I take no responsibility at all,” in the face of journalists’ scrutinizing his government’s failed and disorganized response.

The whole affair recalls an awful episode from the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s. In the midst of that struggle between democrats and the advocates of authoritarianism, a fascist commander named José Millán Astray coined the motto, “Long Live Death!” (¡Viva la Muerte!). The grotesque slogan expressed the idea that anything and anyone would be sacrificed for the victory of Francisco Franco and his fascist legions. It was often shouted along with the cry, “Down with intelligence!” (¡Abajo la inteligencia!), showing an absolute disregard for experts or intellectuals who probed the strategy of the dictatorial leader or questioned the human costs involved in carrying out his plans.

Today, Trump is perhaps less crude in his choice of words than was Millán Astray, but the similarities of their political instincts are jarring. Taken together, Trump’s morbid economic tradeoff and his sidelining of the Coronavirus Task Force—pursued in total opposition to the advice of health experts and scientists—signal the belief that no price is too high for the American people to pay in pursuit of his political ambitions and those of the extreme right grouped around him. Long live death. Down with intelligence.

Reopening the economy and allowing workers to return to their jobs is something everyone obviously wants. Some countries, like South Korea, are showing it’s possible to do so safely. But without a proper testing regime in place and without the necessary protective equipment, sending people back prematurely just invites a return to the situation we were in a few weeks ago when hospitals were strained to the breaking point and morgues were overloaded with bodies.

Trump’s gamble with American lives has to be stopped. Any reopening must be done in accord with the input of medical advisors, not political advisors. And in November, Trump and the GOP death cult must be removed from power.


C.J. Atkins
C.J. Atkins

C.J. Atkins is the managing editor at People's World. He holds a Ph.D. in political science from York University in Toronto and has a research and teaching background in political economy and the politics and ideas of the American left. In addition to his work at People's World, C.J. currently serves as the Deputy Executive Director of ProudPolitics.