Donald Trump and his top Republican allies in Congress are fighting a war, and the battle lines have begun to clarify themselves. Their war is not being waged against COVID-19, the pandemic that has killed tens of thousands in this nation alone. Their war is being waged against the nation itself, and specifically against areas of the nation that are heavy on population but light on Trump supporters.
In other words, the big-city blue states, whose governors have refused to fawn over Trump’s gibberish-flecked “leadership” during this crisis. Trump has been treating the delivery of federal aid to the states like his own personal spoils system: rewarding loyalty, punishing critics, and demanding to be praised for doing his job whenever he actually does it, but especially when he doesn’t.
The issue has come to a head as governors from both parties are screaming for desperately needed federal aid for their respective states. Congress, particularly the Republican Senate, has been dragging its feet over passing a bill to provide states-specific aid, because doing so would be an example of government working to help the people, and such a thing is ideologically unsound on McConnell’s side of the aisle.
“Why should the people and taxpayers of America be bailing out poorly run states (like Illinois, as example) and cities, in all cases Democrat run and managed, when most of the other states are not looking for bailout help?” Trump tweeted on Monday night.
“It’s not fair to the taxpayers of Florida,” said Republican Sen. Rick Scott of Florida on Monday. “We sit here, we live within our means, and then New York, Illinois, California and other states don’t. And we’re supposed to go bail them out? That’s not right.”
For the record, Scott’s “we live within our means” quip is a hot hoot. The only reason Florida can claim to be living within its budgetary means is by denying hundreds of thousands of residents, many in the service industry, clear access to the unemployment compensation they desperately need. If you don’t pay your bills, your bank account stays full. It’s a trick Trump learned a long time ago.
Illinois, New York, California … all big-city blue states hit hard by COVID, all states that have felt the failures of the Trump administration acutely, now singled out as states that do not deserve federal aid. COVID does not care who you voted for, but Trump does, and he seems happily willing to increase the nation’s suffering while helping to expand the reach of the pandemic in order to settle some grudges and score points with his weirdly death-seeking base.
And Senate Republicans led by Mitch McConnell, i.e. the ones who can put a stop to this by making common cause with House Democrats against the menace in the White House, say nothing. Well, that’s not entirely accurate. Mitch McConnell is saying plenty, and in doing so, he has given away the game.
The Senate majority leader will be perfectly happy to allow a vote on an aid package for the states, but with one catch: Any legislation must contain liability protections for businesses and employers. “The next pandemic coming will be the lawsuit pandemic in the wake of this one,” McConnell said on Monday. “So we need to prevent that now when we have the opportunity to do it.”
Fact: States with more rural populations have not yet felt the full burden of the COVID pandemic, though that day is coming, because a large number of them are standing down their stay-at-home strictures so businesses can get running again. Many of these states supported Trump in 2016.
Fact: States with large cities have taken the pandemic straight in the teeth, and are hurting badly. Many of these states did not support Trump in 2016, particularly New York and California. The leaders in these states will likely be willing to swallow any number of compromises to get the aid money flowing.
Fact: The states that are reopening now are doing so too early, and the White House’s own death rate model underscores this. According to CNN’s Tuesday morning broadcast, the administration has revised its estimated death toll by August from roughly 60,000 people to roughly 74,000 people. That amounts to 14,000 more dead people because of these reopening states. No other factor was introduced to the model that can explain this jump in the mortality rate.
Deduction: Trump and McConnell know these states are reopening too soon, but they don’t care, because they need to make the money happy. To protect the money, McConnell wants to shoehorn in a provision to the states’ aid package that prevents businesses from being sued by employees or customers because they got sick after businesses opened too soon. The blue states need that aid, and McConnell knows he has their congressional representatives over a barrel.
The utter cruelty of these tactics, the nihilistic self-destruction of it in the face of more than 55,000 dead and thousands more to follow, has scarce precedent in the annals of U.S. politics. Instead of helping the entire country in this time of grievous crisis, Trump and McConnell are putting their boots to the neck of every state they deem ideologically unfit. It will be a damn miracle if the nation survives this, and them.