It has been widely and correctly observed that Trump is doing all he can to distract attention from his mishandling of the covid-19 crisis. But much of what he’s up to is consistent with a longer-term effort to mask the truth about his presidency: His policies resolutely favor the wealthy and the connected over the working class whose banner he claims to carry. He wants the media and the public to talk about anything except the main story line.
He would have us argue incessantly about mask-wearing and pay no attention to reports such as Pro Publica’s revelation last month that, even as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration “has been inundated with covid-19-related complaints, the agency has issued a series of guidelines that roll back safety standards and virtually eliminate non-health care workers from government protection.”
“Opening up the economy” sounds good. But in Trump’s hands, it means: “Go back to work, and don’t expect anyone in our administration to worry about your health — or your life.”
He would much rather have us fighting about whether houses of worship should be open than focusing on the rise of hunger and his party’s resolute refusal to expand the food stamp program to alleviate suffering.
Trump and his supporters love to demonize — falsely, it should be said — scientists and other “experts” for their alleged indifference to unemployment even as he and his party slow-walk further action to save jobs. Congress should be rushing aid to states and localities to prevent mass layoffs of teachers, first responders and other civil servants. But Trump and the GOP Senate act as if there were all the time in the world.
And he surely doesn’t want Congress or the inspectors general he keeps firing to look into cronyism or failures in the business rescue programs. Nor does he want states to make it easier for people to vote in the middle of a pandemic. So he issues wildly indecent (and debunked) smears against MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough and threatens social media companies that call out his lies.
Let’s call it Brand X populism. It sometimes looks and sounds like the real thing. But, like Brand X in the old television commercials, it is a defective product, as dangerous to our collective well-being as hydroxychloroquine is to victims of covid-19.
Trump needs to be called out for both forms of hucksterism. And those who would advance policies that are genuinely beneficial to workers, the middle class, the excluded and the marginalized also need to stop playing Trump’s game.
There’s a habit among some liberals, partly imported from Europe, to use the word “populist” as a synonym for “authoritarian.” But this ignores the history of democratic and progressive forms of populism. It also concedes to those on the radical right exactly what they want: the mantle of representing “the people” against “the elites” — even when they, like Trump, defend the privileged and the plutocrats.
It’s also a mistake to pretend that the issue of wearing masks divides us by party or ideology. Actually, it splits only the Republican Party, as Michael Scherer helpfully pointed out Wednesday in The Post. Yes, the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 89 percent of Democrats favor mask-wearing outside the home — but 58 percent of Republicans do, too.
So when Trump mocked former vice president Joe Biden for wearing a mask, his Democratic foe dubbed the president “an absolute fool.” Biden was speaking not only for his own party but also for our country’s vast majority.
And can we please exercise some care in talking about the yearning of many religious people to return to their houses of worship? It’s absolutely true that crowded church services are, for now, very dangerous. It’s also true that, in large numbers, pastors and other religious leaders know this.
The Bishops of the Washington State Catholic Conference, for example, issued a statement last Friday saying they had suspended the public celebration of Mass “not out of fear, but out of our deepest respect for human life and health.” Don’t let Trump, of all people, polarize the religious against the secular.
The most resonant words in our Constitution are the first three: “We the people.” No demagogue should be allowed to hijack them.