By Robert Reich
Donald Trump is getting nervous. Internal polls show him losing in November unless the economy comes roaring back.
So what is Trump’s reelection strategy? Ignore the warnings of public health experts and reopen the economy at all costs.
Here’s his lethal 4-part plan:
Step 1: Remove income support, so people have no choice but to return to work.
Trump’s Labor Department has decided that furloughed employees “must accept” an employer’s offer to return to work and therefore forfeit unemployment benefits, regardless of the risk of returning to work before it’s safe.
Forcing people to choose between contracting a potentially deadly virus or losing their livelihood is inhumane. It’s also nonsensical. Our collective health in this pandemic depends on as many workers as possible staying home.
Step 2: Hide the facts.
No one knows how many Americans are infected because the Trump administration continues to drag its heels on testing. As of May 5th, only 7.5 million tests have been completed in a population of over 330 million Americans.
Is this what Jared Kushner meant by a “great success story?”
Florida, one of the last states to issue a shelter-in-place order and one of the first to reopen, has stopped releasing medical examiners’ statistics on numbers of coronavirus victims because the numbers are higher than the state’s official count.
But it’s impossible to fight the virus without adequate data. Anthony Fauci, the administration’s leading infectious disease expert, warns that reopening poses “a really significant risk” without a huge ramp up in testing.
Not surprisingly, the White House has blocked Fauci from testifying before the House.
Trump fired Health and Human Services Inspector General Christi Grimm after she released a report detailing widespread shortages of testing and PPE at hospitals across the country. His handpicked replacement will now handle a whistleblower complaint filed by Dr. Rick Bright, the ousted director of the office involved in developing a coronavirus vaccine.
Dr. Bright’s complaint alleges the administration repeatedly ignored his warnings about critical supply shortages and removed him from his position because he refused to adopt scientifically unproven treatments for the virus.
Step 3: Push a false narrative about “freedom” and “liberation.”
Weeks ago, Trump called on citizens to “LIBERATE” states like Michigan, whose Democratic governor, Gretchen Whitmer, imposed strict stay-at-home rules.
Michigan has the third-highest number of Covid-19 deaths in America, although tenth in population. When Whitmer extended the rules to May 28, gun-toting protesters rushed the state house chanting “Lock her up!”
Rather than condemn their behavior, Trump suggested Whitmer “make a deal” with them.
Meanwhile, Attorney General William Barr has directed the Justice Department to take legal action against any state or local authorities imposing lockdown measures that “could be violating the constitutional rights and civil liberties of individual citizens.”
Making this about “freedom” is absurd.
Freedom does not mean you have the right to endanger the lives of others through your own irresponsibility and ignorance.
Freedom is not forcing people back to work in unsafe environments to boost billionaires’ stock portfolios.
Freedom is meaningless for people who have no choice but to accept a job that puts their life at risk.
Step 4: Shield businesses against lawsuits for spreading the infection.
Trump is pushing to give businesses that reopen a “liability shield” against legal action by workers or customers who get infected by the virus.
He says he’ll use the Defense Production Act to force meat processing plants to remain open, despite high rates of Covid-19 infections and deaths among meatpackers. “That’ll solve any liability problems,” Trump said.
Mitch McConnell insists that the next stimulus bill include legal immunity for corporations that cause workers or consumers to become infected.
“We have a red line on liability,” McConnell says. “It won’t pass the Senate without it.”
But how can the economy safely reopen if companies don’t have an incentive to keep people safe? It can’t, and it wont.
Which leads me to my final point:
Here’s the truth: The biggest obstacle to reopening the economy is the pandemic itself.
Any rush to reopen without adequate testing and tracing—a massive increase from what we’re doing now—will cause even more deaths and a longer economic crisis.
The first responsibility of a president is to keep the public safe. But Donald Trump couldn’t care less.
He’s trying to force the economy to reopen to boost his electoral chances, and he’s selling out Americans’ health to seal the deal. No matter the cost, Donald Trump’s chief concern is and will always be himself.
Robert Reich is the Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley, and a senior fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies. He served as secretary of labor in the Clinton administration, for which Time magazine named him one of the 10 most effective cabinet secretaries of the the twentieth century. The author of many books, including the best-sellers Aftershock, The Work of Nations, Beyond Outrage and, Saving Capitalism. He is also a founding editor of The American Prospect magazine, chairman of Common Cause, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and co-creator of the award-winning documentary, “Inequality For All.” Reich’s newest book is “The Common Good.” He’s co-creator of the Netflix original documentary “Saving Capitalism,” which is streaming now.