Ranting in a Time of Plague

Absence of accountability is incompatible with good governance. That is especially true in democracies such as the U.S. where accountability is ultimately downwards.

By Michael Brenner and cross-posted from Moon of Alabama.

Collective tragedy is always a learning experience. So it has been for great wars, natural disasters, economic collapses, political revolutions. The COVID-19 pandemic is such a tragedy. Although the number of casualties may pale compared to the carnage of war, there are ancillary effects that leave us shocked and sobered. Most obviously, there is sudden onset of a severe economic depression with attendant social distress whose toll we will be registering for years to come. Then, there is the exposure of how incompetent our public institutions have become – the callous inhumanity of those who rule in Washington matched only by their clownish ineptitude. It is in the realm of these latter intangibles that we should look first for morals and lessons.

Overriding all else is the spectacle of a President, duly elected by the American people, who is a malicious psychopath with not a single redeeming trait. A physical, intellectual and emotional spectre who would defy our imaginative powers were he not on display before our eyes. He has gathered around him a witch’s coven of scoundrels, crooks and crackpots as bereft of mind and ethics as he is. They also are inveterate liars; Trump himself is a congenital liar since clinical narcissism is inborn. Yet, we refer to this motley assemblage as an ‘administration’ – in our impulse to ‘normalize’ the abominable. No dry bill of particulars is necessary, nor could it do justice, to the squalid theater we see played out before us on a daily basis. This man, at this moment, is viewed favorably by 46% of the public. That reality eclipses everything else.

There is no organized opposition worthy of the name. This is the second great failure of our democracy. The Democratic Party creaks under the weight of geriatric nominal leaders – plodding along without conviction, without will, without the integrity to free itself from the monied interests and the self-serving careerists who have dragged it into the mire. Yes, they may succeed, come November, in sparing the Republic the coup de grace of four more Trumpian years. This despite their suicidal instinct in choosing Joe Biden to bear the standard – a man barely robust enough to keep the banner from dragging in the dust on his slog along the campaign trail. This bunch can’t even get themselves to amicrophone for a news clip at a time of historic crisis aggravated by the atrocious sins of the existing government. Surely, a first. Worried about Covid-19 contagion? Order a box of alcohol wipes from China. Instead, Biden makes a call to Trump for what both agree was a ‘nice conversation.’ What does that get him? 

Cuomo has to placate Trump with soothing words – even at the expense of lying about how much aid New York actually received from Washington – since the lives of his people are at stake. For Biden, the opposite is true; avoiding soothing words is crucial since the November election is dependent on undercutting Trump and discrediting him.

Three, the United States is a poorly governed country. Manifest ineptitude in performing collective functions is by no means limited to Washington under Trump. It has become a feature of the institutional landscape. True, the Trumpites have launched a dedicated campaign to realize the anti-government fanatics’ wet dream of disabling all public agencies.  FEMA and Homeland Security are but the most glaring example of departments stocked with hacks capable only of crippling the organizations that they are supposed to direct. They even corrupted the Center for Disease Control. Its leaders, evidently eager to curry favor with the madman in the Oval Office, gave its stamp of approval to the unproven – and dangerous drug HYDROXYCHLOROQUINE that Trump’s been promoting as the Silver Bullet to cure Covid-19. (April 4-6) Luckily, saner heads prevailed, or a conscience was pricked, and these panting spaniels withdrew the recommendation from their website.

The anti-government cabal’s techniques range from putting government agencies on starvation financial rations to infecting them with hostile personnel to leaving key executive positions unfilled (15 senior slots in the Treasury alone) to circumventing the law by dictating what they can and cannot do – with the backing of collaborators in the judiciary. (The Supreme Court majority is now prepared to go so far as to have citizens die in order to tilt an election toward a favored Republican). Let us bear in mind, though, that performance lapses are recurrent at all levels – private as well as public, and that they predate Trump. It took Barack Obama four years to get his health care website (more or less) up-and-running. In addition, his misbegotten hand-outs to the financial predators laid the basis for today’s looming meltdown. Moreover, the Obama strategy ignored the plight of states and municipalities – forcing deep cutbacks in all public services – the price for which we are paying now during the Corona virus crisis

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