Notes from the US

Freedom’s long-running US correspondent Louis Further does his monthly roundup of some of the lesser-known stories that have emerged over the last few weeks.

Last month’s ‘Notes’ were long and depressing.
 
So let’s make this month’s shorter. But – alas – depressing.
 
It’s harder and harder to escape the conclusion that – because of the huge array of things over which Trump has control and exercises that control for ill – he should now be seen as a fascist dictator.
 
Such a conclusion is in line with Tim Snyder’s thesis of sado-populism as outlined eloquently here. Well worth looking into.
 
Perhaps the single most startling example of Trump’s stupidity and unsuitability for any kind of ‘public life’ was when he asked his senior medical staff to ‘look into’ injecting/ingesting disinfectant to rinse the SARS-CoV-2 virus away.
 
The most startling – and probably most dangerous – broader development this time is the rise of the deniers.
 
In the middle of the most lethal pandemic in over a century, and probably the greatest threat to the world aside from the climate catastrophe, the CoVid-19 pandemic, a rash of (sometimes armed) protests against safety measures was promoted across the country. It seems likely to be a campaign by a minority of poorly-informed right-wing and fascist groups. But they’re vocal and dangerous.
 
As anarchists, we are scathing of governments’ attempts to control us. Rightly, we resist them. But we are also able to distinguish when – in the middle of a pandemic – even governments listen to the epidemiologists.
 
What’s more, a majority of those who responded to a poll by the Washington Post and Ipsos suggests that many more people disapprove than approve of Governors’ moves to ‘open up’.
 
From the language used in the orchestration of their protests and the names and sources of funding and organisational power, these appear to have been incited by the right, and are as much about supporting Trump (who in turn both endorses and supports them) in an election year, as they are based even remotely on public health.
 
Such groupings as the ‘Convention of States’; the Idaho Freedom Foundation; the Republican party (particularly wealthy donors thereof); individual members of Trump’s own administration such as Ken Cuccinelli (acting director of US Citizenship and Immigration Services) and Ben Carson (secretary of housing and urban development); figures like Stephen Moore of the right-facing Heritage Foundation; oil executive Tim Dunn, vice chair of the Texas Public Policy Foundation; and social media bombardments from movements like ‘Open the States’ and ‘We Have Rights’ in California.
 
The widespread calls to defy the social distancing and other safety measures try to articulate that misconception that ‘stay-at-home’ takes away not so much the livelihoods of the protesters as their ‘freedoms’ and ‘constitutional’ rights to gather freely in public without masks etc. In most of these public events, guns are carried and protesters appear dressed up in MAGA (‘Make America Great Again’) hats with Trump paraphernalia. Indeed Trump encouraged the rather alarming mob in Michigan on 17 April, where lawmakers inside tweeted about having to wear bullet-proof waistcoats.
 
There is of course strong online promotion. These are typical comments lifted from one community bulletin board in a Los Angeles suburb:
 
‘Let my people free. We have been locked down for over a month and this is not producing results… [T]he government can’t quarantine [sic: it’s isolation] healthy people by law. We are smart and can make our own decisions without Gruesome Newsome’ [a reference to the governor of California, Gavin Newsom (no final ‘e’) the first to issue ‘stay-safe’ orders widely credited with suppressing the death toll in that state]’
 
‘…if you stay safe at home, me living my life won’t have any effect on you…’
 
‘…your fears are not my business…’
 
‘Don’t panic. Be mindful of the opinions of everyone, not just the mass hysteria media who’s [sic] job is to scare you. Statistically, if you eliminate NYC this virus is no more deadly than a bad flu season’
 
‘This is not about material things, it is about FREEDOM. We are told to look at the science. If you really look at it you will see it does not make sense’
 
‘This is psychological warfare by a communist takover [sic]’
 
Their line is clear: the severity of Covid-19 is exaggerated by local officials (mostly Democrats, but not always) who want to use the pandemic (started by those wicked Chinese) as an excuse to take away your freedoms and (continue to) impose communism.
 
The denial of science, of course, is a fascist characteristic. But it’s somewhat perturbing to see the church, Trump, and so many ignorant individuals actually believing what they appear to believe when statistics and multiple TV images are showing the sick and dying all around them. The rising death toll in the US (the highest in the world) is now over 83,000 and estimated by the same model as even the Trump gang uses (the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation) likely to reach nearly 140,000 in the United States by later this summer. As the country does ‘open up’ prematurely (as most epidemiologists fear is happening), cases continue to rise. It seems likely that even such an estimate will be revised upwards yet again soon.
 
The determination of the protesters/deniers is violent in other ways as well: the City Manager of Stillwater, Oklahoma (a largely Republican town of barely 50,000), issued an emergency proclamation on 30 April requiring the use of face masks in shops and restaurants. This was too much for the deniers and self-first mob(s). Within a day, employees in some of these locales had received sufficient verbal and physical abuse for the order to be revoked. A security guard trying to advise a group of people without masks to don them was pushed into a lake in the same town. Three workers in Oklahoma City were shot by a would-be diner who was asked to wear a mask.
 
On 28 April, Ohio’s Republican Governor. Mike DeWine reversed an announcement of his from the day before requiring state residents to wear face masks in shops.
 
Deny
 
Let’s look more closely at the denial movement. In mid-April a group of several thousand armed protesters, part of ‘Operation GridLock’, took to the streets in Lansing, Michigan, to protest against the public health and safety measures (‘stay-at-home’) ordered by the state’s governor, Gretchen Whitmer. They filled the streets with cars, ignored social distancing guidelines and refused to comply with orders to disperse. The organisers also appear to have links to Trump’s education secretary and the DeVos family. Prominent in the visual impact these deniers and ‘freedom’ merchants are also Trump 2020 campaign and Confederate flags. Their apparent aims include ‘debunking’ the ‘myths’ of ‘so-called’ scientists like Dr Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984.
 
Similar events were staged in Columbus, Ohio, and subsequently many cities and towns throughout the country including Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, Minnesota, North Carolina, Utah and California. Trump was quick to encourage the ‘revolt’, even tweeting that the armed protesters should ‘liberate’ such states as Minnesota, Michigan and Virginia.
 
He then repeated his claim that the ‘anti-lockdown’ movement was composed of ‘good people’ – in the same way as he showed support for, and encouraged, the neo-Nazis who killed Heather Heyer at a rally at Charlottesville in August 2017.
 
In fact, by the end of last month, not to wear a mask has become a kind of badge of honour indicating support for Donald Trump. At the time of writing, there are signs that in certain places in the United States it has actually become unsafe to wear masks. As this article is prepared for publication, it still seems as though the Whitehouse is one of those places – even with the outbreak of infection there. That, of course, is a welcome learning opportunity for Trump et al.
 
It wasn’t long before the murders began: Calvin Munerlyn, 43, was shot in the back of his head on 1 May at a shop in Flint, Michigan, for asking a couple shopping to wear masks.
 
Judges began to find in favour of (mostly right-wing) lawmakers, protesters and other lawyers who filed injunctions against states’ ‘stay-at-home’ orders as unconstitutional, and as curbing liberties.
 
The protesters seriously (seem to) believe that their rights are more important than the (thousands of) lives of their compatriots. That ‘liberal’ governors are using what is essentially a ‘fake pandemic’ (as claimed by people across the country like this man in Florida).
 
Conspiracy theories began to appear and multiply, the most insidious probably being the ‘Plandemic’ one. Several doctors started to express concern that they now face a task as enormous as confronting Covid-19: preventing the spread of misinformation; and people acting on it.
 
One America News Network’s Graham Ledger predictably announced that he’d prefer to die of what he insists on calling the ‘Chinese Corona Virus’ than have his right to a haircut taken away from him by a ‘communist’ governor (Gavin Newsom, see above). John Oliver has a genuine – and hilarious – video clip here of Ledger sneaking out to get clipped and primped. Trump is a huge promoter of One America News Network, even seeming now to prefer it to Fox. That station gave air time to three doctors so that they could spread misinformation about the pandemic. Each subsequently retracted their nonsense, publicly. But Fox seems to have forgotten to carry those retractions.
 
Denial takes many forms. Not least from Trump himself: he sacked Dr Rick Bright, the director of BARDA (the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority) which is the office involved in developing a vaccine for the virus. The reason? Bright refused to endorse some of the dangerous claims made by Trump, as reported here last time.
 
At the same time, many scientists were reporting that if SARS-CoV-2 establishes itself as a stubborn, endemic virus-like  Influenza B, there will almost certainly be insufficient vaccines available and deployable for several years.
 
Misinform
 
Trump irresponsibly promoted the anti-malaria drug Hydroxychloroquine, a derivative of Chloroquine, after seeing it inaccurately touted on Fox as a treatment for SARS-CoV-2. Experts advised against its use as both ineffective and dangerous: in Brazil, a study involving Chloroquine’s effect on coronavirus patients had to be stopped after 11 of the 81 participants died; others developed irregular heart rates, which can increase the risk of potentially fatal arrhythmia. Later deployment of the drug did indeed result in patient deaths from heart attacks.
 
Further studies throughout the world reached similar conclusions. Or at best were inconclusive. Some virologists tried to explain – against a barrage of nonsense from Trump supporters – that under some highly controlled circumstances, if used in the very early stages, HCQ might be effective in rare cases. Even that, at this stage as the pathology of the virus appears more of a mystery than ever, is doubtful. Indeed, one doctor, Jennings Staley, now faces federal charges for trying to sell a ‘COVID-19 Concierge Medicine Pack’ containing the drug – at the same time as patients with lupus (for whom Hydroxychloroquine is also intended) go without because Trumpers have tried to buy it unnecessarily.
 
Scapegoat
 
Trump’s own mental illnesses (which of course are encouraged, and taken up by, those in his wider circles) admit no responsibility for not caring, warning about or even acknowledging the imminence of Covid-19 at its first appearance. The resulting chaos and callousness of the response run the risk of affecting the only thing he cares about: ensuring that he looks good. The ultimate risk. So, scapegoats have to be found. The state of Missouri, for instance, has moved to sue the nation of China despite all the evidence that (however much China may have obfuscated medical facts) it is degradation of the environment and abuse of animals which pass such viruses to humans. Anyway, the United States is a co-investor in the Wuhan Institute of Virology, where it has been speculated that the virus was bio-engineered.
 
The hard facts also show that, for all its faults, the WHO neither significantly obscured details of the crisis (when it was only a crisis), nor delayed in bringing it to the attention of Trump. It was scapegoated.
 
You might nevertheless have thought that the presidency could explain the pandemic in ways that sound half-convincing. Well, long-lasting ‘senior counsellor’ to President Donald Trump, Kellyanne Conway, had a shot at it. Speaking on Fox recently, she berated the WHO for having, wait for it… had 18 previous occasions on which to tackle coronaviruses: “…this is Covid-19, not Covid-1, folks. You would think that people charged with the World Health Organization facts and figures would be on top of that…”
 
That’s right, a senior spokesperson and advisor to the man charged with directing the most powerful, richest and hardest-hit country in the world through one of the worst pandemics in recent history doesn’t know that the name assigned to the pandemic comes not from a sequence of successive strains but from the year in which it first appeared.
 
Callous
 
Still, there was something just as alarming the same day: Republican Trey Hollingsworth is a congressperson from Indiana. He explained that letting more people die from SARS-CoV-2 is the “lesser of two evils”. Speaking on local radio station WIBC, this representative – elected by and for the people – actually said: “…it is always the American government’s position to say, in the choice between the loss of our way of life as Americans and the loss of life, of American lives, we have to always choose the latter”.
 
The health’care’ system in the United States ties the funding of healthcare to your job. Most often the employer partially pays for health care ‘insurance’. So when your job goes (because, in large part, of the Trump administration’s unpreparedness for – and during – this pandemic) so does your access to health care. Yet the élite still does not want to change such an obviously sadistic system.
 
Interestingly, even many businesses agree that a better way to provide effective healthcare in the United States would be through a ‘single-payer’ system – as advocated by many of the Democrat presidential hopefuls this year. Recently 20 leading economists argued that the ‘Medicare for all’ proposals (M4A) would provide resources more efficiently to health care professionals by paying them directly and not through health ‘insurance’ companies.
 
So when Trump unilaterally decided to withdraw funding from the World Health Organization, his act was callous in the extreme. Sadistic even. Many more could well now die in Africa. It was racist and unnecessary (any miscalculations by the WHO were as nothing compared with Trump’s own). As outlined here last month, the truth has been effectively (at best, selectively) abandoned by Trump and his team.
 
There was one country which refused to join an international pledge raising more than US$8 (£6.4) billion to create a global fund which will develop and deploy diagnostics, treatments, and vaccines to fight the pandemic. Can you guess which country that was?
 
Earlier this month the United Nations Security Council framed a peace resolution to promote a global ceasefire which would assist in addressing the pandemic. Can you guess who vetoed that on 8 May?
 
A qualified doctor, Julia Iafrate, is not American. She is a ‘sponsored’ immigrant who volunteered to help save the lives of patients in intensive care in hospitals with Covid-19. Despite excellent credentials, can you guess who refused to issue a green card to her?
 
Plans for an ‘economic recovery’ have partially consisted of cheques from the government. Those in dire need (and there are tens of millions of them, so fragile and rigged against them is the US economy) have had to wait. Why? So that special cheques can be printed to carry someone’s own personal signature, the first time such a step has been insisted upon in public funding. Can you guess whose signature that had to be?
 
Even then, more than 80% of the benefits of a tax change all but hidden into the latest relief package will actually go to people already earning over US$1 million (£800,000) per year.
 
Oppression and Corruption
 
Last month Trump made the threat to adjourn Congress in order to appoint people who will do his bidding more consistently. So far he has not carried the threat out. And there is an unfortunate precedent for this: Trump has already appointed over 200 judges to the federal judiciary. The Republican-held Senate always rubber-stamps these proposed appointments; now over 25% of all currently sitting federal appeals court judges have been appointed by Trump. The damage they can do, of course, will last for life – long after Trump leaves office.
 
This may make you chuckle: Trump’s own business organisation is actually asking for rent relief for his hotel in Washington DC as part of the government bailouts while millions go hungry.
 
At last some news unrelated to the pandemic; some miscellaneous – but all too typically sickening – bits and pieces this month.
 
Michael Flynn was Trump’s first national security adviser. He lied under oath about Trump’s collusion with Russia in 2016. Last week it was announced that the ‘Justice’ Department (widely seen now as an instrument of Trump’s own will and lunacy) is to drop the criminal case against Flynn.
 
Bigotry and nastiness don’t seem to have abated during the pandemic: Jack Phillips, the owner of ‘Masterpiece Cakeshop’ in Colorado is back in court: this time it’s because he refused to provide a trans-themed birthday cake to a transgender woman.
 
During the Obama administration, aides to then governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie, deliberately arranged a public safety emergency to punish a mayor who did not support Christie’s election campaign. Now a court case has exonerated the perpetrators. In 2013 public officials Bridget Anne Kelly and Bill Baroni endangered public safety and certainly increased carbon emissions by purposefully shutting down unnecessarily the George Washington Bridge in New York for four days. Three years later they were convicted on nine counts of conspiracy and fraud. This month the Trump-packed US Supreme Court overturned the convictions.
 
Racism
 
Trump’s overt racism continues too: in one of many little-noticed developments last month his administration took steps to cut the wages of migrant farmworkers. White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue are planning actually to lower pay for a quarter of a million foreign guest labourers, even though they are considered ‘essential workers’.
 
Michael Caputo is an established New York Republican political operative who worked on Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. He was recently appointed as the new spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services. In April he made (then deleted, although not before internet archives had recorded them) a series of racist and derogatory tweets and comments about Chinese people. This senior government spokesperson – still in post – also said that Democrats were motivated by a wish that pandemic kills millions of people.
 
On 6 May – as the pandemic raged – Trump took the opportunity to veto a bipartisan measure passed in Congress to prevent him from unilaterally declaring war on Iran without congressional approval. The two houses of Congress do not have the necessary votes to overturn the veto. Trump is thus free to attack, bomb and destroy whomever he wants.
 
Environment
 
While attention is elsewhere, Trump and his gang continue to destroy as much of the ecosystem as they want. Trump rolled back several more environmental protection regulations last month: emissions of toxic mercury and other pollutants from coal- and oil-fired power plants, for example. Mercury is a very toxic metal that causes brain damage and birth defects.
 
Lastly, it should be noted that the massive bail-out financial packages which the administration ‘found’ (while an estimated one in four children in the US go hungry now) are for ecocidal companies in the fossil fuel and similar industries.
 
Louis Further
 
 

Photo: Paul Becker, CC BY 2.0