The human brain has a hard time focusing on too many things at one time. So it’s more than understandable that the all-encompassing fears surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic and its drastic economic effects would take a back seat during the historic wave of protests against police violence. Living through more than one once-in-several-generations events at a time can make the head spin.
But that’s why we have governments with specialized tasks. What might be overwhelming to an individual should not be impossible for a competent government. It should be possible for an effective administration to soothe the nation and begin to address police unaccountability, while mobilizing a pandemic response and shoring up the economy.
Unfortunately, we do not have a competent or effective president. Worse, the Trump Administration’s malpractice, in fact, extends far beyond benign neglect to actively corrupt malevolence.
The president’s sole concern is for his electoral and personal fortune. The coronavirus was an inconvenience to be wished away and obscured rather than confronted. The economic fallout from his mishandling of the pandemic was to be blamed on governors, and hand-waived with a one-time stimulus so long as the stock market held value and the economy reopened regardless of safety or good scientific advice. When the protests over police violence and murder of George Floyd arrived, Trump saw only the potential to shore up his poll numbers by rehashing the Nixon playbook. He was already bored with the pandemic and ready to move on, anyway.
But neither the pandemic nor the economic crisis have gone away. Trump bragged about bogus unemployment numbers (and grossly misappropriated the memory of George Floyd in the process), while Republicans used those same mistaken numbers to dismiss the necessity of another round of economic stimulus to states, municipalities, individuals and small businesses. Meanwhile, the Trump administration is all but acting as if the pandemic no longer even exists: just yesterday the White House press team forced reporters to sit closer together and defy social distancing just because “it looks better.”
New cases of the virus in the U.S. are continuing to rise, even as states are beginning to reopen with potentially catastrophic consequences. It’s difficult to blame the governors: the three months of lockdown was supposed to be to give the federal government time to implement a thorough regimen of testing and contact tracing, while keeping the economy basically intact. The Trump administration failed miserably on the former, and is threatening to fail drastically on the latter if more action is not taken soon.
While the rising death toll from the virus is shocking–over 110,000 in the United States and counting from the first wave alone–the economic statistics are also sobering. Millions are unemployed, cannot pay their car loans, rents and mortgages. City and state budgets are decimated, requiring drastic cuts and layoffs. And there is no help in sight, especially after unemployment insurance expires:
And millions of people are getting help from all kinds of lenders. According to the latest available numbers from the credit bureau TransUnion, about 3 million auto loans and 15 million credit card accounts are in some kind of program to let people skip or make partial payments. Those are probably low estimates. According to the analytics company Black Knight, 4.75 million homeowners — or 9% of all mortgages — have entered into forbearance plans.
This is a catastrophic crisis of both public health and economics. But the president of the United States doesn’t care. He is more concerned with trying to force the military to “dominate” peaceful protesters against police brutality in order to please his deplorable base than he is with doing his actual job.
There is a unifying social justice aspect to all of this, too. Trump’s misreading of the national mood regarding white supremacy, the value of black lives and disenchantment with police brutality has been well-documented in the last few days–even as he has become singularly obsessed with those issues. But the pandemic’s particular lethality to communities of color–and disproportionate economic impact on them–is the result of the same structural racism that led to the necessity of the Black Lives Matter movement. The decent majority of Americans have taken notice and lost patience, and Trump’s approval rating has fallen accordingly.
Joe Biden may not the most charismatic or transformative nominee in American history. But a country dealing with multiple simultaneous historic events deserves a president at least minimally committed to doing the job. We don’t have one right now, and the unwillingness of Republicans in Congress to remove their categorically unfit, corrupted and disinterested president means that we won’t have one until the voters finally get a chance to weigh in this November.