2020 is Trump's “Year of Tremendous Death”

Trump claimed cases would go from fifteen to zero on 28 February.  Cases are over a million and he keeps raising his prideful death total now to 60-70,000, Today’s US death total is 63,000.

Trump does have a death cult that is a mere extension of his sado-populism and is no different than today’s tough-guy cosplay at the Michigan statehouse.

The terms of social alienation are more interesting as we are in the midst of changing the culture of audiences and crowds. Whenever that COVID vaccine becomes widely available, new cultural patterns will emerge, including those who understand death and violence better. As Summer arrives, there will be more outdoor conflicts.

The dozen or so Republicans in the House of Representatives refusing to wear masks when called to vote on the latest coronavirus relief bill performed precisely that kind of political theater for their constituents. It is meant as a tough-guy taunt, to show their own robustness and the weakness of their opponents.

Screenshot of House staff wearing masks on House floor.


But it also reveals something more pathological. The risky behavior demonstrates vitality precisely because it tempts fate, suggestive of Freud’s death drive, which he described as a force “whose function is to assure that the organism shall follow its own path to death.”

Photos of the small “reopen America” protests, which have made the rounds on social media over the past week, have revealed a spectacle as cartoonish as it is macabre: a rogue’s gallery of right-wing groups coming together to share in the spirit of defiance and, presumably, tiny droplets of mucus and saliva. The protests (and their backing by deep-pocketed funders) invited many comparisons to the Tea Party movement of a decade ago. Unlike that movement, these small protests are likely to die out soon. Nevertheless, they have captured something vitally important about how the right is responding to this fraught moment in our recent history.


Republican politicians and right-wing pundits endlessly echo a central claim: “The cure is worse than the disease.” In other words, you can either risk dying from the virus or face certain economic ruin, as if there are no other choices. Their hope is that people already conditioned by an ideology centered on the marketplace, the individual, and the nation will be more likely to believe that their lives and livelihoods are under greater threat from state-ordered economic shutdowns and coercive social measures than they are from the disease. For them, the idea that Covid-19 could ultimately be overcome–even if at great human cost–by working and shopping is more appealing, and even more imaginable, than a new politics of mutuality that might redistribute power and resources in an egalitarian way.  


There is now a well-documented relationship between whiteness, status, and morbidity. As Princeton economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton have demonstrated in their research over the last few years, there have been long-term increases in “deaths of despair”—overdoses, suicides, alcohol-related fatalities—among middle-aged whites without college degrees. There is much yet to be understood about reasons for this phenomenon, but a sense of the declining status of whiteness appears tightly connected to collective self-harm. It is difficult not to think about this while watching mostly middle-aged white protesters demand the right to sacrifice their lives instead of joining others to demand greater protections for frontline workers, increased payments to keep workers at home, rent and mortgage moratoria, debt cancellation, federal money for states and municipalities, and more.


Defenders of the current political order will continue to do whatever is necessary to protect wealth and privilege. They understand that to address the enormity of the economic crisis would upend the neoliberal consensus of this second Gilded Age, which has greatly enriched a few while systematically dismantling public goods, disempowering workers, and diminishing democratic rule. Their hope is that enough Americans go along with this resistance, even if it kills them.


It is still like the dregs of the first GIlded Age, however. Trump uses “1917” because his grandfather died in the 1918 pandemic and routinely says his father was born in Germany (he wasn’t). Trump probably uses the recent film 1917 as a mnemonic, but it could even be an antimnemonic to avoid thinking about his grandfather, because Trump is such a coward, repeating the word “death” in his pressers instead of expressing sorrow about it. This recalls the Trump squeamishness regarding blood while indulging negative remarks regarding women being trafficked.

As the coronavirus pandemic has disrupted his Presidency, Donald Trump has often complained about the terrible hand that history has dealt him. This “deadly scourge” that crept up on him and disrupted a golden age of prosperity for America is “something the world has not seen for a long, long time,” as Trump put it on Monday, in one of his by now familiar riffs. “You could probably go back to 1917, where it was a terrible period of time,” he added. “You all know what happened in 1917.” On Tuesday, he returned once again to the theme of his once-in-a-century bad luck. “Even if you go back into 1917,” Trump said at a White House event for small-business leaders, “that was the worst of all time, but it was also not as bad as here. It was very bad, it was very rough. It was a bad one, but it wasn’t quite like what we’re going through right now.”

Except, of course, that the very bad, very rough, worst-of-all-time influenza outbreak was not a pandemic in 1917. The flu that killed more than six hundred and fifty thousand Americans was detected in the U.S. in the spring of 1918 and had killed an estimated fifty million people worldwide by 1920. Trump’s mistake is one of those small, seemingly inconsequential errors that anyone, and especially our fact-challenged President, might make. But Trump, it turns out, has referred to a 1917 flu dozens of times since mid-March, almost always when complaining about his own misfortune in leading the country through such a historically rare event. “Nobody has trained for this, nobody has seen this, I would say, since 1917, which was the greatest of them all, the greatest of this type of battle. Probably the greatest of them all, right? 1917,” Trump said, on April 4th. This week’s comments were no slip of the tongue.
When I checked Factbase, a Web site that catalogues Trump’s public statements, I found that he had made at least twenty-seven references to a 1917 flu pandemic since March 11th, and that did not count the offhand reference he made late Thursday afternoon while once again talking with reporters. A search of the White House Web site found that Trump mentioned 1917 on twenty-three days since mid-March. In a handful of instances—six, by my count—Trump referred to both 1917 and 1918, suggesting that someone had perhaps tried to give him the correct date, but he could never quite get it to stick. The story of a 1917 flu pandemic may well go down as a Trump classic, a pointless and unnecessary screwup that is also very telling about the President.



The coronavirus pandemic has only accentuated Trump’s tendency to portray himself as a figure of sweeping historical significance, no matter how distorted that history is. “We built the greatest economy in the history of the world,” Trump said the other day, “and nobody even disputes that,” though it is not only disputed but quite obviously untrue. Trump is well aware that his entire Presidency now rides on the outcome of the pandemic and how he is perceived to have handled it. Already, Trump and his advisers are beginning to rewrite the history of the virus in a way that ignores the delay and denialism that led the U.S. to suffer the worst outbreak in the world so far.


Trump’s death cult finally says it: Time to kill the “useless eaters” for capitalism

Republicans say the quiet part out loud: Americans must die of the coronavirus in order to save capitalism


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