Will Trump Finally Put His Populist Rhetoric Into Practice? It May Be His Only Out.

As the coronavirus sweeps the globe, the American people continue to suffer from the dearth of leadership in the White House during a global epidemiological crisis that is ravaging our domestic health care system and economy. During his first 3 years in office Donald Trump occupied his time off the golf course and away from the country club in true GOP fashion, hollowing out any government department that couldn’t be privately outsourced.

The New York Times recently reported that the Trump administration had been made aware of how utterly ill-equipped our nation was to weather a pandemic. During October of 2019, just 2 months before the major outbreak in Wuhan, a simulation scenario report code-named Crimson Contagion “drove home just how underfunded, underprepared and uncoordinated the federal government would be for a life-or-death battle with a virus for which no treatment existed.” Now that he’s in hot water over his refusal to take necessary actions to keep our country safe, he’s fallen back on another GOP favorite: obfuscation.

 When recently confronted about his administration’s excision of key pandemic-prevention and public safety departments, Trump smugly called it a “nasty question” before proceeding to offload the blame onto his administration,“It’s the—it’s the administration. Perhaps they do that. You know, people let people go.” This purely Trumpian answer was not only weak from an Executive perspective — the buck stops with the President — it was also tacit admission that the corporations and neocons are pulling the strings behind Trump’s faux-populist operation, continually tricking desperate voters with populist rhetoric while outsourcing all the bureaucratic decision making to those who sold our government out to corporations in the first place.

The “Families First Coronavirus Response Act,” a second measure at mitigating the disastrous financial implications of the Coronavirus was just signed into law Thursday morning and was already critiqued by members of both parties that it would be woefully inadequate. The numerous warnings our government seems to have received in the lead up to this outbreak makes the lack of a prepared response all the more embarrassing, a fact that the Trump administration is beginning to grapple with as they seemingly are considering a range of economic options to bail out not just the corporations, but also the workers who are being devastated by the pandemic.

The populist right has been actively jerking themselves off to the idea that they are somehow “out-lefting” the Democrats’ response to the coronavirus epidemic, a farce if ever there was one. Although it has been a surprising and not unwelcome change in policy positioning from select Republican Senators like Mitt Romney (AZ), who proposed legislation that would give every American a direct payment of $1,000. His proposal, surely intended to capitalize on the popularity of former presidential candidate Andrew Yang’s Freedom Dividend, is in reality a shell of Yang’s proposal: Sen. Romney’s plan would provide a one-time payment, not a monthly income. A one-time payment of $1,000 would be nothing but a bandaid for the most vulnerable — quickly eaten up by the landlord or debt collectors instead of being reinfused into the economy.

Missouri Senator Joshua Hawley proposed a fully refundable monthly benefit that matches the monthly standards for household expenses set by the IRS: $1,446 for a family of three, $1,786 for a family of four, $2,206 for a family of five. His plan will apply to all married couples making less than a joint $100,000 or single parents making less than $50,000. Hawley has offered no plan for the rest of American’s impacted, critiquing universal direct payments claiming,  “A working single mom with three kids needs more support than an unmarried computer programmer living in his parents’ basement.” The Senator made no mention of the hundreds of thousands of childless hospitality and service industry workers who also need to keep their lights on despite being out of work through no fault of their own, opting instead to lump them in with the supposed, developmentally stunted “programmers” he described. 

At this point into his presidency, it would take a radical shift in priorities for Trump to decide to pivot towards the economic populism he peddled on the campaign trail. What better time for him to bring back all of those jobs from China than during the midst of a pandemic while our nation’s healthcare professionals are pleading for more supplies? Not only would such a move be right for America, it would bolster Trump’s “tough on China” image which he’s worked so tirelessly to cultivate. And regardless of China, what better time would there be to introduce a real single-payer health care system here in America? 

The need for a single-payer healthcare system is being felt in a way that was previously unimaginable as our healthcare system is proving to be massively underprepared for an emergency health situation: with hospitals quickly running out of crucial supplies and soon to be at full capacity, the prospect of  government-run healthcare has never seemed more obvious. Economic populism has a history in the Republican party, President Dwight D. Eisenhower continued and expanded upon many of the New Deal policies enacted by the Roosevelt administration.

 However if one thing can break through to the President, it’s his approval rating, still hanging on at 43 percent according to the Morning Consult. That number will undoubtedly take a hit in the coming weeks as displaced workers are asked to cough up the money for bills they can’t pay when the first of the month rolls around. A large portion of his most ardent and vocal voting block are among the nation’s most economically vulnerable already, and are poised to incur more hardships in the coming months as a result of the job loss and financial crash incurred by the pandemic. 

If there is any hope to save the nation from total economic and epidemiological collapse, President Trump must act boldly and he must act now. Last week, two professors at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin Michael Lind and James Galbraith published an Op Ed in the Boston Globe, calling for a government-owned Health Finance Corporation, in the vein of the Depression-era measures taken by Presidents Herbert Hoover and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. 

The idea, modeled directly after the Reconstruction Finance Corp, would act as “an efficient one-stop shop for financial resources in this crisis” according to Galbraith and Lind. Such financial resources would be allocated to health care facilities like hospitals and medical tents, provide direct support for families, and even financing for factories needed to produce the masks and ventilators that we currently import from China; as one could imagine, their supply has dwindled. Anything short of massive mobilization to vigorously repair and reinforce the American economy and healthcare system will certainly lead to unprecedented suffering. Unemployment levels could reach numbers not seen since the height of the Great Depression, with experts projecting a staggering 20% out of work. However instead of a single economic crisis born out of irresponsible trade and credit bubbles, this economic disaster was spurred by an illness that could infect more than 9 million Americans by the time it’s through ravaging the nation, taking a potential 3 million lives with it. Bottom line: if Trump wants to see another four years in the Oval Office, he’d better act fast, because the very torch and pitchfork crowd that carried him into office, will just as quickly turn on him if he hangs them out to dry.

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