Crisis not Trump’s fault alone
"Somoza may be a SOB, but he's our SOB."
—Apocryphal remark attributed to US President Franklin D Roosevelt, regarding Nicaraguan dictator Anastosio Somoza Garcia
Sometimes you wonder in bafflement.
Is there anything on earth—anything—that will shake up the overwhelming Republican support for US President Donald Trump?
Thanks to Trump's bungling, the US has the worst outcome—by far—in an economically crippling global pandemic. Mass nationwide protests rage against systemic racism, triggered by a horrific racist police murder.
Trump's delays cost tens of thousands of lives more. Then things got surreal. He suggested injecting disinfectant into patients—a fatal measure—so that it could "do a number" on the virus.
He responded to protesters' anguish with a crass, thuggish statement: "When the looting starts, the shooting starts."
One of the richest, most developed countries in the world has the largest number of Covid-19 deaths and about one fourth of the world's Covid-19 cases. What's more, numbers in the US are going up again.
"Ten states saw a record number of new Covid-19 cases this week, and one of them could be the next epicentre of the national health crisis," CNN reported on its website, based on its analysis of data from Johns Hopkins University.
"As coronavirus cases surge in states across the South and West of the United States, health experts in countries with falling case numbers are watching with a growing sense of alarm and disbelief, with many wondering why virus-stricken US states continue to reopen and why the advice of scientists is often ignored," the Washington Post reports.
Amidst all this, Trump is focused on a huge public rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Public health experts are terrified. This is the first ever rally by a US president where attendees have to sign a waiver releasing the Trump campaign of any liability should they get infected by COVID-19.
How does Trump keep getting away with this?
A big reason is that the Republican rank-and-file remain in complete thrall, essentially giving him carte blanche.
The Republican Party establishment is also knowingly complicit. Republican leaders know how awful Trump is. Some of them have said as much.
Republican leader #1 in July 2015: "He offers a barking carnival act that can be best described as Trumpism: a toxic mix of demagoguery, mean-spiritedness and nonsense that will lead the Republican Party to perdition if pursued."
Republican leader #2 in 2015: "He's a race baiting, xenophobic religious bigot… You know how you make America great again? Tell Donald Trump to go to Hell."
What followed is a sorry supplication to power.
Republican #1, former Texas Governor Rick Perry, went on to serve a stint as Trump's energy secretary. Republican #2, US Senator Lindsey Graham, is an embarrassment today for a man he once wanted to go to hell.
Republican leaders are scared to take on Trump, whose fury can be the kiss of death in electoral politics.
The key to the whole mess is the cult-like support of Trump among Republicans.
Gallup polling reveals that right from his inauguration his support among Republicans has seldom dipped beyond a whopping 85 percent. This year it has been 90 percent most of the time.
Trump supporters made a Faustian bargain. Trump provides conservative judges for evangelicals, obscene tax breaks to plutocrats, and a racist and draconian immigration clampdown for the Republican masses, and his supporters back him blindly. Trump once quipped he could shoot someone on New York City's Fifth Avenue, and his core supporters wouldn't care. Count in the Republican Party, lock, stock, and barrel. They're all part of the Fifth Avenue crowd.
There is a silver lining in all of this. Slowly but surely, the nation as a whole is beginning to recoil. Recent polling shows putative Democratic nominee former US Senator Joe Biden coasting to victory. The electoral college that elects the US president favours Republicans, but Trump is trailing in enough battleground states to make his re-election prospects precarious.
Come November, if Trump loses, it will be a fate that the Republican Party courted. Trump's mendacity, his penchant for appeasing white prejudice, and inciting an ignorant contempt for science and reason are the logical conclusion of what the Republican Party started years, even decades ago. Examples abound. President George W Bush's phony Iraq War, Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin's mixture of slick talk, ignorance and bald-faced lies. Palin once said she knew about Russia because Putin's planes flew near Alaska, and made the completely false accusation that Obamacare "death panels" would put old folks to death. The Republican Party is the only conservative party in the industrialised world that denies climate change.
Let's also give credit—if you can call it that—where it is due. Roger Ailes' Fox News Network was a vital player in this long, sordid descent. Under the ruse of reporting news, the network pushed a conservative agenda with an ugly, frequently dissembling, incendiary edge. Former Fox News producer Joe Muto said they had a catchy term for the network's style, the stories they favoured and the edict they were given from on high. "We used to call it 'Riling up the crazies,'" he says in the documentary Divide and Conquer: The Story of Roger Ailes.
Congratulations, Fox News Network. The crazies have been well and truly riled up. Now the inmates are running the asylum.
Come November, there could well be a reckoning. Peddling in xenophobia, an antipathy to science and reason and a virulent tribalism may have paid rich political dividends until now. In the longer run, however, when courting an increasingly diverse, tolerant and humane polity, the Republican Party's shrill, meanspirited political ethos may cost it dearly. What seemed, until now, to be political wizardry, may yet turn out to be a poisoned chalice.
Ashfaque Swapan is a contributing editor for Siliconeer, a digital daily for South Asians in the United States.