Trump steps up deadly drive to reopen at all costs
President Trump | Ralf Hirschberger/AP

The contrast on Memorial Day couldn’t have been starker or more surreal. As the grim milestone of 100,000 COVID-19 deaths approached, Trump played golf, oblivious to the carnage, while mocking Joe Biden for wearing a mask.

Following the lead of a president oblivious to the suffering and death across the nation, some Americans ignored social distancing guidelines, crowding beaches, and bars.

This is the new normal, one detached from reality, pushed by the Trump administration, the GOP, their allies, and corporate backers. It is part of a massive, multi-pronged offensive to force a “reopening” of the economy at all costs. They push it despite new coronavirus infection spikes and warnings by public health officials and epidemiologists of a second lethal wave of the virus.

The offensive aims to smash an anti-virus strategy based on science. It aims to dismiss fears and bulldoze resistance by the majority of people to returning to work, school, and social life, without greater protections, testing, and contact tracing, all necessary to mitigate the spread of the pandemic until the development of a vaccine.

Trump sees the “reopening,” in the midst of an economic catastrophe and as many as 50 million unemployed, as critical to his re-election, his only concern. The offensive overlaps with the drive by a section of Wall Street to exploit this moment to impose a naked and brutal form of corporate rule over the nation.

The Trump and right-wing strategy employs a combination of economic threats, fascist goon squads, mass disinformation, and conspiracy theories spread through the right-wing media ecosystem. The plan also uses junk science like Trump’s hocking of hydroxychloroquine, suppression of scientific information and data, not surprising for an anti-science administration, including from federal governmental agencies, and in some states controlled by Republican governors.

And finally, the plan promotes political polarization and the idea that every person, family, community, and state are on their own. That’s the American way, according to Trump.

Public health experts silenced

The Centers for Disease Control, and its world-class scientists and public health officials, and Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, have been sidelined, to ensure Trump’s world view prevails. These agencies have traditionally led efforts against pandemics and infectious diseases.

“We’ve been muzzled,” said a current CDC official. “What’s tough is that if we had acted earlier on what we knew and recommended, we would have saved lives and money.”

Trump’s offensive to forcibly “reopen” the economy is disarming the public of information and leadership. Trump deep-sixed a study by the CDC predicting daily deaths from COVID-19 would pass 3,000 by June 1. Then Trump suppressed CDC  guidelines for a safe reopening of workplaces, schools, restaurants, bars, transit systems, and child care facilities. Finally, after several states had already commenced reopening, watered-down guidelines, or brief checklists, were released with little fanfare.

“If you look at our guidance documents online, they have been watered down a lot,” said a current CDC official. “The ones that were written in March say, ‘Go home and stay there,’ and they are very clear. And the ones now say, ‘in consultation with state and local governors, do what they say.'”

The economic threats include calls by Trump and GOP Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to cut off unemployment benefits if workers don’t return to unsafe working conditions. Legislation will ensure corporations are not held responsible for deaths of workers who contract coronavirus on the job. Meanwhile, Trump and GOP governors are continuing efforts to dismantle Obamacare completely. An estimated 43 million Americans will lose their health coverage.

One project by the Save Our Country coalition recruits medical doctors to publicly support Trump’s “reopening” order, and to contradict the government’s own scientists and public health officials. They claim millions of people have become “mass casualties” of stay-at-home orders resulting in alcoholism, homelessness, suicide, and other causes. The doctors have direct ties with the Trump re-election campaign and GOP operatives.

Right-wing billionaires are also promoting protests at state capitals of armed fascists to intimidate people physically. The protesters, often waving Confederate or Nazi flags, have been organized and promoted by groups associated with the Dorr Brothers, Coors Family, Betsy DeVos’s family, and others.

In Michigan, protesters armed with assault rifles entered the state Capitol, terrorizing lawmakers and staff. During a May 24 protest in Frankfort, Kentucky, an effigy of Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear, was hung from a tree outside the governor’s residence.

Spreading false information

The right-wing media ecosystem is spreading false information that claims COVID-19 is no more dangerous than the flu, a belief now held by 38% of the public. They are also spreading racist and xenophobic narratives, including those originating in the fascist fringe, calling COVID-19 the “China virus,” and undermining trust in global institutions like the World Health Organization.

The WHO calls false information inundating the public an “infodemic.” A study by the Harvard Kennedy School found a correlation between Fox and right-wing media audiences, and the belief the CDC was exaggerating the seriousness of the pandemic to bring down Trump.

Automated accounts or bots are spreading a substantial portion of lies on Twitter. According to researchers at Carnegie Mellon, 66% of tweets are made by humans with bot assistance.

Racist ideas and conspiracy theories are picked up and spread by Trump through Twitter and the right-wing mass media. They increase political polarization and confusion, encourage the armed protests at state Capitols, and Trump supporters with MAGA hats to assault, and deliberately cough and spit on frontline workers.

Suppression of facts and information

Meatpacking plants are refusing to divulge the extent of infections in workplaces, despite evidence of widespread hotspots. The Washington Post reported 11,000  infections of workers at Smithfield, JBS, and Tyson meat processing facilities, up from 1,400 infections one month ago. Sixty-nine workers have died.

According to reports, the Trump administration is pressuring the CDC to change the method by which it tabulates virus cases to give the appearance of fewer fatalities. Twenty states don’t report hospitalization data, and suppression of coronavirus cases and deaths also extends to state health departments in Georgia and Florida, controlled by right-wing GOP governors.

From the beginning, Georgia’s GOP Governor Brian Kemp has been downplaying the threat, including displaying his ignorance the disease could be asymptomatic. Kemp aggressively pushed Georgia to be among the first states to reopen, and reports of coronavirus cases have been marked by confusion and lies from the beginning.

On May 20, Georgia officials added 926 cases overnight, a day after Kemp reported Georgia had hit the lowest figures for COVID-19 infections since April 8.

Earlier, on May 12, another “prime example of malfeasance” was exposed, when it was revealed data for late April was also manipulated. A report issued on May 11 gave the “purposely misleading” impression new cases were headed downward around the time the state was reopening. Data, instead of being reported in chronological order, was reported in declining order. This was the third manipulation of data discovered in as many weeks.

Democratic Georgia state Rep. Jasmine Clark, who has a doctorate in microbiology, blasted the data manipulation. “Science matters and data manipulation is not only dangerous but leads to distrust in our institutions,” she said.

Meanwhile, in Florida, the state public health department, under GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis, first blocked and then released redacted data on COVID-19 deaths gathered by the state’s 25 medical examiners. Only after a public outcry, including by a consortium of newspapers and the medical examiners themselves, did the information become available.

“I think they’ve realized it’s a public record,” said Dr. Stephen Nelson, chair of the Florida Medical Examiners Commission. “You can’t suddenly tell the medical examiners that what we’re doing all along, is exempt because it contains confidential death information.”

Besides, Rebekah Jones, the data scientist responsible for the state’s COVID-19 dashboard, was fired after she refused to manipulate data “to drum up support for the plan to reopen.” Website crashes and missing data repeatedly marred the state’s COVID-19 dashboard.

“As a word of caution, I would not expect the new team to continue the same level of accessibility and transparency that I made central to the process during the first two months,” said Jones. “After all, my commitment to both is largely (arguably entirely) the reason I am no longer managing it.”

The fight for truth, science, and the leading role of public health officials, is a front-line fight against the pandemic. But it’s also a front-line fight for democracy, to defeat Trump, the GOP, and the extreme right and fascist danger.


CONTRIBUTOR

John Bachtell
John Bachtell

John Bachtell is president of Long View Publishing Co., the publisher of People's World. He served as national chair of the Communist Party USA from 2014 to 2019. He is a regular writer for People's World, and active in electoral, labor, environmental, and social justice struggles. He grew up in Ohio, Pittsburgh, and Albuquerque and attended Antioch College. He currently lives in Chicago where he is an avid swimmer, cyclist, runner, and dabbler in guitar and occasional singer in a community chorus.

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