As the United States trembles on the verge of 100,000 COVID deaths and nearly 1.7 million confirmed infections — a “badge of honor” in the fetid mind of Donald Trump — the question of how we got to this horrific place stands out like a pustule on the skin of the nation. Trump has wielded outsize influence in driving this ship onto the reef, to be sure, but he has not acted alone.
Enter Kevin Hassett, current senior adviser and former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers for the White House. Men like Hassett pollute the Trump administration from the basement to the roof deck, and they have done much to turn a terrible situation into a nigh-inescapable nightmare.
Hassett has spent the last 21 years of his career being wrong. A creature of the American Enterprise Institute, the far right think tank that sought a more violent U.S. foreign policy by way of a “new Pearl Harbor” on the eve of September 11, Hassett made a name for himself by writing a book in 1999 predicting a huge upswing in the stock market. The dot-com bubble burst before the ink on his pages was dry, and the market cratered accordingly. So much for “Dow 36,000.”
Hassett was chief economic adviser for John McCain’s doomed 2000 and 2008 presidential campaigns. He was an economic adviser for Mitt Romney’s failed 2012 presidential bid. Perhaps most tellingly, Hassett was an economic adviser for George W. Bush’s 2004 re-election campaign. Bush, of course, went on to preside over the last massive economic collapse before the current one. One senses the pattern here.
Hassett assumed his current White House role on March 20, 2020. Despite having no experience whatsoever with infectious disease modeling, he began peddling a series of shabby models that grossly downplayed the severity of the crisis. According to Hassett, there would be no more COVID deaths by mid-May.
Hassett was roundly denounced by scientists, medical professionals and various commentators for these astonishing inaccuracies, but Trump embraced his nonsense “data” with the same enthusiasm as he embraced hydroxychloroquine and the injection of disinfectants as COVID cure-alls. Within the airtight bubble of the Trump White House, Hassett played the tune the boss wanted to hear, even as the bodies piled higher and higher.
On Sunday, as the nation observed Memorial Day weekend, Hassett went on CNN to again peddle his “No Big Deal” snake oil, and did so in a way that will not be soon forgotten. “Our capital stock hasn’t been destroyed,” he said of the damage done by COVID. “Our human capital stock is ready to get back to work. There are lots of reasons to believe that we can get going way faster than we have in previous crises.”
“Our human capital stock is ready to get back to work.”
Stock (noun): farm animals such as cattle, pigs and sheep, bred and kept for their meat or milk; livestock.
Let that sink in good and deep, down through the skin and into the marrow within your bones. Hassett’s remarkable statement on Sunday puts into stark relief the reason why this disaster has unfolded as it has.
It is far more than mere gross incompetence. This White House does not see us as human beings with intrinsic value and rights of our own. We are cattle who exist only for the profit of the few, sheep to be sheared, pigs to be hung up for slaughter. To them, we are only meat for the machine, nothing more than an entirely expendable commodity.
The “human capital stock” being lethally affected by COVID no longer reside primarily in the nation’s large urban centers. “As the death toll nears 100,000, the disease caused by the virus has made a fundamental shift in who it touches and where it reaches in America,” reports The Washington Post. “The pandemic that first struck in major metropolises is now increasingly finding its front line in the country’s rural areas; counties with acres of farmland, cramped meatpacking plants, out-of-the-way prisons and few hospital beds.”
As social distancing strictures are eased in all 50 states to one degree or another, Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, South Carolina, Utah and Virginia have all seen infection spikes of varying severity. Researchers at Imperial College London released a study reporting that COVID is still spreading at epidemic rates in at least 24 U.S. states, many of them far away from COVID epicenters like New York City.
In Texas, where authorities conflated data on active infections with data on antibodies testing to camouflage the severity of the situation, the mayor of Houston warned that his city’s medical infrastructure could not handle another spike in cases, even as revelers flouted safety strictures because the state decided being open for business was more important than human life.
Minnesota is dealing with a new spike in COVID cases requiring a record-high number of intensive care beds. Wisconsin just reported the largest three-day spike in cases since the pandemic began, even as images from the long weekend of hundreds of unmasked people grouped together at beer gardens rumbled across the newswires.
On April 16, I wrote this: “This is the very living essence of tragedy and farce. Trump has labored mightily to convince his people that this is all some sort of ruse to keep him from being re-elected, and millions of those people have swallowed it whole. This is a snake eating its own tail in real time while the snake-handler-in-chief cheers it on … except we are not talking about snakes. These are people, all of whom are somebody’s children, many of whom have children. They trusted Donald Trump, and that will get many of them killed while subsequently prolonging a pandemic that has already infected 2 million people worldwide.”
More than a month later, in the still-glaring absence of a national testing plan and with “Reopen Now” on the lips of Trump sycophants in government and media, a portion of that “human capital stock” spent the weekend trusting the words of this president as they crushed together in large groups with no defense against the virus.
Those people deserve their share of blame for following these fools with such misplaced partisan trust, but the fact remains that many of them would almost certainly not be partaking in such flagrantly dangerous behavior had they not received express permission from Trump, his right-wing allies, and from people like Kevin Hassett, who told us the “human capital stock” would stop dying by the middle of this month.
The COVID-19 pandemic is far from over, has only gotten started in the middle of the country, and will become worse by orders of magnitude so long as some people continue to believe the greedy, reckless words of this administration. You are not cattle. Please don’t act like it.
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