It’s revolting to watch these Trump press conferences.
The president of the United States standing up there in the midst of this crisis—we started March with 89 cases; as I write, on March 19, we’re above 11,000—picking fights with the press, still insistently saying “Chinese virus,” taking credit for things he didn’t do, bragging about how it would all be much worse if he hadn’t banned travel from China. It’s terrifying, just terrifying to think that this man is the one in charge right now. He is essentially still not doing a goddamn thing about this. Where are these promised tests?
And it’s nearly as revolting to watch Republicans in Congress suddenly embrace government. It’s not as revolting as Trump, because at least they’re doing the right thing, or some version of the right thing. But it’s revolting to think about the hypocrisy of these people. Last week, I wrote: “You know how they say that everyone finds religion in a foxhole? Well, here’s Tomasky’s corollary: In an economic crisis, everybody becomes a Keynesian eventually. When the country’s back is up against the wall, even right-wing Republicans finally submit to the obvious reality that the government has to do something. They’re not there yet.”
Now they’re there—or at least most of them; not Rand Paul and darling of the intellectual right Ben Sasse and that buffoon Ron Johnson, who thinks up to 11 million deaths isn’t that huge a deal. And thank goodness. But to watch these people, who’ve spent 40 years policing the Government Is Evil beat, see that now we need government after all exposes the lie that’s been at the heart of conservative rhetoric for two generations.
Of course they have their excuses. Comparing this situation to the Great Recession of 2008-09, Marco Rubio was quoted sayin, “We're not talking about businesses here that made bad decisions and are asking to be bailed out. We're talking about a virus.”
Like some other nuggets of conservative rhetoric, that sounds like it makes sense on its face. Sure, it’s not Boeing’s fault that people aren’t flying, we get that. In moralistic terms, which is how conservatives like to look at things, the cause of the crisis determines the response. But in economic terms, the cause of the crisis is irrelevant. A crisis has to be addressed, no matter how it started. All kinds of innocent people will suffer if it’s not, which is exactly what happened in 2009 when millions lost their jobs and homes.
But something else is going on here, too. Why are Republicans the ones pushing such huge relief measures? What is Tom Cotton doing, saying last week’s House bill “doesn’t go far enough” (and he’s right!), positioning himself to the left of Nancy Pelosi?
I think we know. Ask yourself this. If Hillary Clinton were president, how enthusiastic would Cotton, Rubio, and the other Republicans be about a trillion-dollar-plus bailout package? We’d be hearing exactly the same rhetoric we heard in 2009 when the Obama administration was putting together its stimulus bill. Outrageous! Deficits! Government bad!
Oh, their big donors and the bank presidents back home would beat some reality into their heads. They’d probably agree to a little something. But they wouldn’t be talking anywhere near the way they are now, about $1,200 checks going out. They like that idea for one big obvious reason: The check will be coming from Donald Trump! Who of course will try to have a glossy photograph of himself included in the envelope.
So this is the Re-elect Trump Stimulus. Just as the non-stimulus they’d agree to if Hillary were in the Oval Office would be the Defeat Hillary Non-Stimulus. They have eyes and ears. They see what a nincompoop Trump is, how tragically in over his head he is on this. They know he can’t possibly save himself politically. They know, in fact, that he’s probably already damaged his re-election chances badly and possibly (hopefully) irrevocably.
Why do I say that? Because his inaction at the beginning of this, calling it a hoax, then denying he ever called it a hoax, costing this nation crucial weeks and days, costing human lives, ensures that this drags on in one form or another into the fall. This campaign is going to be about this, period. The virus. When the Biden campaign hits the air with commercials about Trump disbanding the National Security Council pandemic unit, how many people are going to vote on what Hunter Biden did six years ago?
So Republicans are trying to bail him out. The good news, if you want to call it that, is that this economic crisis is likely to be so profound that they’re going to have to pass two, three, four stimulus packages. Even if this whole mess “isn’t so bad” and we’re through the worst of it by July, which seems about as optimistic a forecast as one ought to venture, the economy will need repeat infusions of trillions of dollars.
Then Biden will get elected, because he’s competent and sane and not such a raging narcissist that he makes even a plague all about himself and his mephitic little media fight, and the Democrats will assume the now-traditional role, after Bill Clinton and Obama had to do the same, of cleaning up the big massive shit the Republicans took on the country when they had power. And those Republicans will suddenly rediscover their deep concern about deficits and the government once Mr. Perfect Call and his miraculous recovery is out of the White House.
In the meantime, we are surrounded by incompetence, stupidity, and hypocrisy. We always have been. It just hasn’t always been literally deadly.