Donald Trump is growing desperate as his hopes for re-election fade, following his chaotic blundering over the COVID-19 crisis. He has fallen 15 per cent behind his Democratic rival in a poll for ABC News and the Washington Post.
Infections have reached new daily records as outbreaks surge across new parts of country in the South and West. Around 5000 people are dying each week—and almost 150,000 in total.
Trump’s boasts that the US has “maybe the lowest mortality rate anywhere in the world” and his repeated claims that the virus would simply “disappear” now look ridiculous and inept.
Decades of neo-liberalism and cuts, combined with one of the most expensive and dysfunctional health systems in the developed world, have left the US completely unable to organise the testing, tracing and isolation measures needed to control the virus.
New York’s disaster in March and April, where so many died that hospitals had to set up makeshift morgues, showed why the threat needed to be taken seriously. But as Barry Bloom, a public health professor at Harvard University told the Financial Times, “the political attitude was that the only thing that counted was keeping the economy going… It is so frustrating because it didn’t have to happen.”
Trump pushed to end the lockdowns across the country, determined to get the economy going again to boost his election campaign. He is also trying to stop further funding to increase testing.
Republican governors in states like Texas, Florida and Arizona reopened their economies well before any capacity to control the virus was in place, while infections were still rising.
Testing capacity has scaled up since the beginning of the pandemic. But the scale of the demand is still overwhelming medical facilities. The waiting time to get test results is at least seven days, lab companies have admitted.
This makes testing almost useless in containing the spread, because it takes so long to notify close contacts of anyone infected.
Cases are increasing in 43 out of 50 US states. Even Democratic-run California, which locked down early, has lost control. Counties across the state reopened in May despite not meeting statewide guidelines for the number of contact tracers employed.
Hospitals are close to being overwhelmed in Texas, where patients are waiting ten hours to get into packed emergency rooms. Florida has over 9000 COVID-19 patients hospitalised, with intensive care beds near capacity.
Black Lives Matter
Trump has also stepped up his abuse of the Black Lives Matter protests, labelling the slogan a “symbol of hate” and attempting to beat up a law and order crackdown.
This has encouraged the far right, with a number of people attempting to drive cars through protesters. One activist, 24-year-old Summer Taylor, has already been killed in Seattle.
But Trump’s desperate efforts to mobilise his supporters have failed to halt the success of the protests. A Pew Research poll in June found two-thirds of Americans support their aims, including 60 per cent of white Americans.
Protests still take place almost daily in cities like New York and Minneapolis.
In Portland, hundreds of protesters still confront police almost every night. Trump has sent in heavily armed federal officers dressed in military fatigues, who have snatched protesters off the street and bundled them into unmarked cars.
This has generated shock across the country. “With every act of violence they commit, our numbers seem to grow, people seem to get more angry,” activist Luis Enrique Marquez told the New York Times.
Some Democratic politicians have bowed to the pressure to defund the police and agreed to reduce police budgets, including in New York City, Los Angeles and Minneapolis. These concessions show the power of protest to force change.
The Democrats no doubt hope to channel the protest movement into electing Joe Biden in November’s presidential election. But Biden has made it clear he won’t offer serious change, stating clearly, “I do not support defunding police.”
That change will require deepening the movement on the streets, and drawing in the power of organised workers.
Workers have already taken part in the protest wave. In June, the ILWU shut down ports across the US West Coast in solidarity with the demonstrations. And on 20 July, thousands of workers in fast food, nursing homes and airports stopped work in a “Strike for Black Lives”. Workplaces went on strike either for a full day or for a symbolic eight minutes and 26 seconds—the length of time police officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee on George Floyd’s neck.
The Black Lives Matter protests have been fuelled by the impact of the pandemic on Black workers. The fight against racism needs to be linked to the misery workers are facing due to growing unemployment and loss of wages due to COVID-19.
By James Supple