By ANDY BARNS
In what times could the president of the United States be caught on tape confirming his knowledge (as far back as February 2020) of the deadliness of the coronavirus, after he had lied to the whole nation about its deadliness, and still be viable in the presidential polls? Only in a time where said president is not the head of the nation by way of reason but rather by ignorance, xenophobia, tribalism, and fraud—all of which merely serves the accumulation of capital and profits.
Trump lies. Trump has been documented thousands of times in the act of making false statements since becoming president (1). Even by the rotten standards of capitalist politics—wherein all career politicians are, in the final analysis, tools of the ruling class—even the liberal bourgeoisie perceives that Trump’s actions are unjustifiable to their purposes.
Bob Woodward’s interviews with Trump, with excerpts released in Woodward’s new book “Rage,” are simply the latest slap in the face to humanity, and to the American slice of humanity specifically. Two days after telling Woodward that he believed the coronavirus would be “deadly stuff,” Trump declared to a New Hampshire rally on Feb. 10 that “it’s going to be fine.” As he left for India on Feb. 23, he told reporters that the virus was “very much under control.” Soon afterward, while announcing that Mike Pence would lead the White House task force on the disease, Trump was asked about the chances of the COVID-19 spreading in the United States. “I don’t think it’s inevitable,” he replied. “Whatever happens, we’re totally prepared.”
The fact that Trump (or any capitalist politician) lies is unsurprising, but this degree of negligence is extraordinary. Trump knew of the deadliness of the virus and lied about it because it is an election year—and yet he remains viable as a capitalist candidate.
This is possible because of two factors: one is the general decline of capitalism and its willingness to trade profits for human lives. This dovetails with the ruling class’s fear of revolution, and the resultant use of propaganda to bolster reactionary ideas (climate denial, COVID denial, white supremacism, Q-anon, etc).
The second related factor is the gradual cultivation of a section of the middle and upper classes, a significant minority, who through propaganda feel insulated from the problems of capitalism. The almost complete indifference to the 200,000 deaths from a majority of Trump’s base exemplifies this. Many of Trump’s middle-class and wealthier supporters feel personally protected from the harms of the pandemic, racial discrimination, and (for now) climate change. As a result, this hard base of support cannot be swayed no matter how many innocents die because of Trump’s negligence.
Both of these factors combine in the Republican Party to create the cult of Trump.
When queried by the press as to why he told his lies, Trump stated that he “didn’t want to create panic.” Obviously, this is another lie. Trump has no qualms against spreading panic about “antifa and BLM burning down our cities” to whip his base into a paranoid frenzy, resulting in more violence and even the murder of civil-rights activists.
The real reason Trump downplayed the virus is not the stated rationalization. The real reason is because it is an election year, and Trump and his cohorts, as well as conservative capitalists, were hopefully looking forward to an economic recovery. To admit the danger of COVID-19 to the public (and commit to economic shutdown, as any rational being would do to stop a pandemic) would have been to trade the rate of profit for the salvation of human lives. Capitalism cannot do this. The rate of profit is the god of capitalism, the secret religion of the ruling class.
To admit that COVID-19 was a significant threat would also have obliterated Trump and Co.’s smooth election-year campaign. The mirage of Trump’s economic recovery was central to his campaign.
But lets give Mr. Trump the benefit of the doubt, for a moment, and assume his reason is sincere. When I hire an exterminator to go into my home to investigate a possible infestation of termites, I only want to hear good news (“there are no termites!”) if it is in fact true. If it is the case that I do have a large infestation of termites, that is relevant information I want to know, now. I do not want the exterminator to lie to me, because I will suffer much more with the lie in the long run. By the time I discover the lie for what it was, my house has gone to the termites!
With the simplest application of reason we can see Trump’s rationalization holds no water. That should be evident, at least, from the perspective of working people who are at risk of losing their own, or their families, or friends, lives to COVID-19. As well as to small shop owners, restaurateurs, nurses, caregivers, students, soldiers, the elderly, etc. But for the capitalist class (those who own corporations, Wall St. speculators and executives) to stop the economy for a second was sin. For them Trump needed to lie. For them 200,000+ lives—or any cost of human life—must be paid. Blood will be used to grease the gears of capitalism.
Disinformation for fun and profit
There is a much deeper problem, though. To admit that COVID-19 was a real threat would have been to admit to his base that the scientists, whom oil propagandists accused as liars on climate change for decades, were credible and should be listened to. Further, that it would be proper and logical to believe that communal measures like social distancing and mask wearing were not “government overreach.” It would have been to admit that the conservative propagandists were paid liars the whole time! And that for decades the narrative of anti-government paranoia (void of any working-class perspective, void of any legitimate criticism of the government) and hysterical plots against the nation were what they are—lies.
The largely white and middle-class MAGA movement, especially the hardcore who have bought into these lies, have been enslaved to capitalism. Their imagination runs wild with BLM/anti-fascist/Democrat conspiracies because they find it difficult to imagine a viable movement of the working class. In their eyes, nothing bad that happens is because of the wrongness of the system, the wrongness of capitalism. It’s because of “evil” people who just can’t follow the rules. It doesn’t take much of a leap of logic to go from this to “removing” or “purging” the “bad people.”
Q-anon has become a popular conspiracy theory because it provides a comforting and simplistic idea that capitalism is fine, and all we need is a big strongman like Trump to take out the evildoers in the satanic pedophile rings, who conveniently also happen to be Trump’s political opponents.
Along these same lines, a mass movement against police brutality and for the rights of Black people must be, in their minds, a plot to destroy the nation by a cabal of evildoers. Hard-core MAGAs cannot imagine for a second that the Kenosha uprisings have a reason behind them (the injustice of American policing against Black people, the pain and suffering of Jacob Blake’s family), because years of propaganda in the form of crime shows and newscasts have hammered in the false idea (subconsciously in tranquil times, consciously during strife) that Black men are inherently criminals. They are utterly deaf and blind to Black pain and oppression for they do not feel it and are not shown it by state TV.
Climate change can’t be real, they think, because that would mean the system of capitalism is flawed and is chaffing against the natural system of the biosphere. Therefore, its just a “Chinese hoax” or “greedy scientists who want more funding.” The wildfires currently destroying the West Coast are a product of antifa (not a shred of evidence has been shown for this), not climate change. Not the system, but other “wrong people” are the problem. So too have they been barraged, through the internet and from Trump’s Twitter account, with much disinformation about COVID-19. And so, they can simply wave away the pile of bodies as fake. The only information they need to trust comes from their god-emperor, and they personally are insulated from the consequences.
The cult of Trump is composed mostly of people who have awful disinformation provided to them, disinformation that encourages them to see human life outside their immediate circle as without value! Thus, 180,000 corona virus deaths seem “acceptable” to a majority of the Republican voters, according to a recent CBS poll . For a time, “#57% of Republicans” trended on Twitter.
Capitalism backed into a corner
Global capitalism is experiencing multiple crises at once—including a COVID-19 pandemic that has ruined countless lives and a police brutality pandemic that has awoken working-class anger, and rightly so. Add to that the saber rattling of imperialist powers threatening to bring us a new world war, and which has already brought war to millions in the global South. The economic recovery has been slow, arduous, and uneven, and with COVID-19 thrown into the mix many millions of working families are struggling. Inequality is at its highest in human history. And at the end of this rocky road is climate change, humanity’s final exam.
In light of these tumultuous times, the United States and the world have seen new labor upsurges in the form of renewed strike and union activity. Uprisings of working people and students have toppled longstanding dictators and monarchies. Mass upsurges on every continent have occurred on every issue from police brutality to censorship, climate change, and against military rule. Among all of this we see greatly renewed global interest in the ideas of socialism, communism, and anarchism, suggesting that people are ready to question capitalism as natural and inevitable, and are looking for alternatives.
We should view the cult of Trump within this perspective. The cult does not exist in a vacuum but in contradiction to and in opposition to these monumental social changes. Having its origins in capitalist propaganda, growing conspiracies, and racism, and the looming fears of teetering middle layers of the population who do not want to see themselves slip into the proletariat and yet also cannot imagine living any other way than now, have been made to fear any other alternatives, and have also been made to fear the oppressed (wrongly) as competitors.
“Make America Great Again” is ultimately not the battle cry of individual and misled persons but is the battle cry of capitalism itself, against its own looming doom. Capitalism will politicize nostalgia to incubate an ultra-right movement and even fascism, which is used by the system to fortify itself against the future alternatives that may replace it and ultimately outpace it and outshine it in every possible way.
Trump’s lie is not Trump’s alone; it is capitalism in action. The alternative is economic democracy, sustainability, and planned economy; the rule of the working class over the billionaire exploiters; socialism.
Photo: Robyn Beck / AFP / Getty Images