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The Signal: We are on a public health, political, and economic precipice. This week Dr. Anthony Fauci warned Congress that a rush to reopen the economy before the pandemic was under control would make a bad situation worse. The World Health Organization called, again, for a globally coordinated response to tame Covid-19. And Dr. Rick Bright, former head of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, warned that if the country didn’t soon get a proper handle on the pandemic and coordinate a vast national testing and tracing effort, the United States would experience a winter of death unlike anything seen in modern times.
Trump’s response: to throw more red meat to his base by calling on Pennsylvania and other blue states to open up for business; to denigrate Fauci for warning about the dangers of prematurely reopening schools; to attack, in racially charged language, a Chinese-American journalist for asking him about the inadequacies of America’s testing regimen.
This is all just ugly Noise. None of it will shape an effective strategy to contain the coronavirus. Quite the opposite. In fact, this is looking more and more like a strategy of deliberate chaos, perilously similar to fascist accelerationist arguments about how the fear and uncertainty arising from the pandemic has presented a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to implement a white nationalist, totalitarian vision of American governance.
Let’s recap some of this week’s developments, each one of which should have made banner headlines and, in normal times, brought vast crowds out in protest, but which in these terrifying days has been largely ignored.
First, there was that vapid little princeling Jared Kushner telling Time magazine that he refused to rule out postponing the November election. That extraordinary statement could have been a trial balloon; if it was ignored or got positive feedback, Trump could advance the idea. If it got significant blowback, the administration could deny that Kushner was speaking officially and say that he simply tripped over his words.
Then again, they might not need to postpone the election if they can convince enough GOP state leaders to curtail mail-in voting so much that they make it all but impossible for citizens in densely populated urban neighborhoods to vote in person without risking their lives. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton kicked off the strategy by announcing this week that he would seek to bar the Lone Star State’s big cities from counting voters’ fear of Covid-19 as a valid reason for their being allowed to vote by mail. That adds a new layer of ugliness to the GOP’s years-long voter-suppression tactics.
On the economic front, the administration and its allies are also trying to force workers back to work, no matter how unsafe those reopenings might be, presumably at least in part because they want to get the Depression-level unemployment numbers down again at any cost.
As a part of this push, several Republican-led states are encouraging employers to report employees who say they are too scared to return to work—not so those workers can then be protected, but so they can subsequently be denied unemployment benefits. That surely ranks as one of history’s most cynical attempts to manipulate economic data. And, compounding the horror-show quality of this reopening, the Trump administration and its Senate collaborators continue to push for legal immunity for companies that open up and then see infections spike among workers and customers.
Again, in a normal week, all of this would dominate the headlines. But it doesn’t. Nor does the news that the administration is reportedly close to turning its “temporary” immigration ban and closure of the US land borders with Mexico and Canada into an indefinite ban and closure. If Trump signs such an order later this month, he will be essentially shutting down by diktat the country’s entire immigration system, closing it off to asylum seekers and refugees for as long as he and his gangster administration stay in charge. Such a policy could turn out to be even more extreme than the racist immigration laws of the 1920s, and could isolate the United States from its neighbors and from the broader world to an unprecedented degree.
You can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig. So, too, you can dress up government-mandated child abuse and human rights violations as emergency public health measures, but it’s still government-mandated child abuse and human rights violations. The shutdown has been so extreme that since March, only two people have been granted asylum after crossing the southern border, while the administration has summarily returned to Mexico more than 20,000 border-crossers since March, including at least 600 children. Such a lockout is simply unconscionable, and the summary deportations, Human Rights First reports, have led to the rape, kidnapping, torture, or murder of more than 1,000 migrants in Mexico and in Central America.
This is the stuff of nightmares, à la Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle. I weep in shame and fury at what is happening here; I weep not just at the federal government’s monstrous public health failures, but at the sheer cruelty, selfishness, and nativist exclusionism now embraced by those in power.