The coronavirus has reportedly killed over 60,000 people in America as of April 30th – probably far more – a large number but still a small percentage of our total population. It’s effects on life, on the other hand, have affected all 325 million of us. Jobs have been lost, family life disrupted, the economy put on hold, the school year cancelled, and the food supply threatened; the fear of infection is now an everyday preoccupation.
At the same time, tens of millions of us have the opportunity to examine our priorities, to evaluate the strength of our desires and the ways in which our individual actions contribute to cultural movements and trends. Although this pandemic is terrible, it’s difficult to imagine an alternate way, other than war, for humanity to hit the pause button and simply stop our hurried and often unthinking activity. The skies are bluer, wildlife is thriving, the world is quieter. In a case of terrible irony, the coronavirus has efficiently done what environmental advocates have been unable to accomplish.
States are eager to reopen and all of us are getting a bit stir-crazy; the temptation to view the pandemic as just as a small blip on humanities’ radar is great, but it’s unlikely we’re anywhere near the end of the coronavirus story. This virus is unlike any other we’ve encountered, producing a range of pathogenic damage to our bodies and organ systems; we have no knowledge at all about its long-term after effects, immunity, or even if it, like Herpes Zoster (the virus that causes Chicken Pox and reemerges as Shingles) can hide quietly within the body for decades, only to unexpectedly flare up again as a major infection.
Death, of course, is an ever-present reality in life, but the speed with which this virus has spread and killed its victims is stunning. In barely over one month more Americans have died than influenza kills, on average, over the course of a entire year. That the Trump administration has bungled planning, testing and logistics is not incompetence, but criminality suffused with corrupt practices, cronyism and profiteering. The idea of re-electing these criminals fills me with dread, and if that happens, America will fall victim not only to coronavirus, but the malignant fascism of Trumponavirus.
The sight of small gangs of angry men carrying AR-15 automatic rifles and demanding that government allow business-as-usual to reopen reminds me of Hitler’s brown shirts, who used tactics of fear and intimidation to cow the public and government into submission. During this pandemic, these “demonstrators” are a direct threat to public health and safety, and that the police are not ordered to round them up and arrest them is not only shameful, but dangerously encourages other such groups to do the same. I don’t wish the coronavirus on anyone, but if anybody deserves to get infected, it’s these idiots.
The rise of fascism in Europe was preceded by a period of social instability, a combination of economic and ideological forces that arose on the heels of World War One and the depression that began in 1929. Society was riven by huge unemployment and the pent-up anger of the exploited and marginalized working class, who in their desperation mistakenly turned to “strongmen” and fascism, which with nationalistic fervor promised to deliver a new age of renewal. We all know how that turned out. Had it not been for American democracy and leadership, the course of events would have been very different.
We now face a similar inflection point in world history, one in which the decisions we make will mold the future for generations. The essential question we face is what role will America play going forward? Trump has abandoned global leadership, is intent on scapegoating others for problems and playing footsie with other autocrats, and shamelessly lies to the American public he is supposed to serve. He enthusiastically plays the role of heterogeneous outsider (and he certainly is outside our mainstream conception of devoted public servant) while in duplicitous fashion appealing to our homogeneous ideals of equality and fairness. In this way, he is truly Hitlerian, using his outsider status while playing an insider game.
Trump’s ability to attract followers for his cult of personality is predictable, zealous miscreants willing to implement cruel and inhuman policies and programs; this is how Trumponavirus spreads and evil is reproduced. That members of the Republican Party have enabled this behavior makes them as criminally culpable as Trump. The upcoming election is the vaccine that can stop Trumponavirus, but if it’s administered corruptly, American democracy will die.