• Monthly
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $other
  • use PayPal


Is it time for our Spring fundraiser already? If you enjoy what we offer, and have the means, please consider donating. The sooner we reach our modest goal, the faster we can get back to business as (un)usual. Please, stay safe and we’ll see you down the road.

Washing our Hands of Trump and Powerlessness

It’s time to wash our hands of Donald Trump. The coronavirus pandemic is quickly becoming Trump’s Hurricane Katrina, because the federal government bungled the early stages of the disaster so badly. The CDC initially sent out faulty test kits, limited tests to overseas travelers, and blocked other labs from testing. All that practical incompetence can and should be held against Trump.

But ideologically, the coronavirus is also a shot in the arm for Trump’s far-right, xenophobic worldview. He will exploit the pandemic to the hilt, and Biden may also use it as an argument against making deep reforms.

At The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, we’re now wrapping up our winter-quarter class “Catastrophe: Community Resilience in the Face of Disaster,” which I taught with Suree Towfighnia. It has unfortunately been a wildly appropriate class to be teaching near the pandemic’s North American epicenter.

We’ve learned from previous disasters that fear makes citizens more obedient to authority. Fear reinforces the superstate as our protector and justifies oppressive or unequal responses (for example, service workers do not have the option to telecommute). “Elite panic” generates repressive measures that start to bring out the police, vigilantes, and military, ironically in the name of preventing public panic.

Trump and his European clones are using the so-called “foreign virus” as a xenophobic rationalization for “stronger borders” against immigrants, even though right now Syrians and Hondurans medically have much more to fear from contact with European and U.S. citizens than the other way around. Stephen Miller’s evil fingerprints were all over Trump’s vile address to the nation on Wednesday evening. It’s not a “foreign virus”—it’s a human virus.

The very idea of “social distancing” tears at our values of community. Whereas an earthquake or hurricane may bring strangers together in a common cause (as Rebecca Solnit documents in A Paradise Built in Hell), a pandemic reinforces neoliberal individualist isolation and prioritizes our own nuclear family over our potentially “zombie” neighbors.

The American mentality of “contagion” has been historically fraught with racial, cultural, and political exclusion, rooted in “Red Scares” and “Yellow Perils.” Angel Island, in San Francisco Bay, was used as a center to interrogate and quarantine Asian immigrants, not as a place of welcome like Ellis Island usually was for European immigrants. Anti-Chinese pogroms here on the West Coast were often justified with claims of banishing leprosy and other diseases.

These irrational fears run deep in the western psyche, and when fear predominates over love and care, conservatism rules. It especially rules when it harnesses the concept of a (white) defensive community that ostracizes “foreign hordes,” and when the only posed alternative is neoliberalism that splits us into isolated, powerless individuals. That’s another reason why another neoliberal candidate like Biden is vulnerable to a fascist sympathizer like Trump, because he doesn’t counter with an alternative, more egalitarian vision of community.

The conservative New York Times columnist Ross Douthat on Wednesday morning even speculated that the pandemic has helped Biden in the primaries against the “outsider” Sanders. Democratic voters sought an “insider” authority figure as “a flight to safety, the surrender of grand plans and big ambitions in favor of a desire to just survive” against both Trump and the virus. That’s even though Bernie’s plans for universal health care and sick pay leave would vastly help us right now.

For the past quarter, our students have been studying ways to build community in times of emergency. The only communities we can effectively build in the coming weeks are probably online. The millions of people who have been in quarantine in China have been sharing their thoughts, fears, hopes, and even homestyle recipes in online forums. Young people have the ability to do amazing work with video blogs and chat rooms.

Community groups can start holding video conference calls, discussions, and mass webinar teach-ins. They can also provide services such as food and sanitizer deliveries and moral support to quarantined people. Facebook is no substitute for face-to-face networking, and I don’t think distance learning is half as educational as classroom teaching. But joining together online is a way to express love and caring for those who need to overcome fear and isolation.

One of our students from Japan, Koki Hiraguchi, presented his research project this week, on the ninth anniversary of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. He contrasted two Japanese schools that reacted differently in the critical 50 minutes between the quake and tsunami. In the “Miracle of Kamaishi,” the students took the lead in seeking higher ground, so all but a few “survived based on their own judgement, saving not only their own lives but also those of the adults around them.” They had drilled for disaster, did not believe the tsunami hazard maps, and “were taught to make decisions for themselves.”

In the “Tragedy of Okawa,” teachers did not adequately prepare, believed the hazard maps, and ordered their students to evacuate to an area that was not high enough, so nearly all of them perished. This contrast reiterates some profound lessons we’ve learned from other disasters, from 9/11 to Katrina and María. Obedience to authority (and its existing procedures) can be fatal. Thinking flexibly for ourselves and creating community can improve our chances for survival and resilience.

Community resilience that emerges in response to the coronavirus crisis may become models to overcome the innate crisis of social isolation under capitalism. In this way, we would not only survive, but start thinking for ourselves, to pose real alternatives to the ideology that underpins this Trumpdemic.

More articles by:

Zoltan Grossman is a professor of Geography and Native Studies at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, who has been a warm body in peace, justice, and environmental movements for the past 35 years. His website is http://academic.evergreen.edu/g/grossmaz and email is grossmaz@evergreen.edu

June 03, 2020
Elliot Sperber
The Birds of Brooklyn
June 02, 2020
Zoltan Grossman
Deploying Federal Troops in a War at Home Would Make a Bad Situation Worse
Nicholas Buccola
Amy Cooper is Christian Cooper’s Lost, Younger Sister 
Manuel García, Jr.
Global Warming is Nuclear War
Patrick Cockburn
An Unavoidable Recognition of Failure: Trump’s Withdrawal From Afghanistan
John Feffer
Is It Time to Boycott the USA?
Kathy Kelly
Beating Swords to Plowshares
Lawrence Davidson
U.S. Urban Riots Revisited
Sam Pizzigati
“Failed State” Status Here We Come
Ron Jacobs
In Defense of Antifa
Cesar Chelala
Bolsonaro and Trump: Separated at Birth
George Wuerthner
The BLM’s License to Destroy Sagebrush Ecosystems
Danny Antonelli
The Absurdity of Hope
Binoy Kampmark
Sinister Flatulence: Trump Versus Twitter
John Stanton
How Much Violence and Destruction is Enough for Depraved American Leaders and Their Subjects?
Richard C. Gross
The Enemy Within
Thomas Knapp
Trump’s “Free Speech:” Doctrine: Never, Ever, Ever Mention He’s a Liar
John W. Whitehead
This Is Not a Revolution. It’s a Blueprint for Locking Down the Nation
June 01, 2020
Joshua Frank
It’s a Class War Now Too
Richard D. Wolff
Why the Neoliberal Agenda is a Failure at Fighting Coronavirus
Henry Giroux
Racial Domestic Terrorism and the Legacy of State Violence
Ron Jacobs
The Second Longest War in the United States
Kanishka Chowdhury
The Return of the “Outside Agitator”
Lee Hall
“You Loot; We Shoot”
Dave Lindorff
Eruptions of Rage
Jake Johnston
An Impending Crisis: COVID-19 in Haiti, Ongoing Instability, and the Dangers of Continued U.S. Deportations
Nick Pemberton
What is Capitalism?
Linda G. Ford
“Do Not Resuscitate”: My Experience with Hospice, Inc.
Medea Benjamin - Nicolas J. S. Davies
Who Are the Secret Puppet-Masters Behind Trump’s War on Iran?
Manuel García, Jr.
A Simple Model for Global Warming
Howard Lisnoff
Is the Pandemic Creating a Resurgence of Unionism? 
Frances Madeson
Federal Prisons Should Not be Death Chambers
Hayley Brown – Dean Baker
The Impact of Upward Redistribution on Social Security Solvency
Raúl Carrillo
We Need a Public Option for Banking
Kathy Kelly
Our Disaster: Why the United States Bears Responsibility for Yemen’s Humanitarian Crisis
Sonali Kolhatkar
An Open Letter to Joe Biden on Race
Scott Owen
On Sheep, Shepherds, Wolves and Other Political Creatures
John Kendall Hawkins
All Night Jazz All The Time
Weekend Edition
May 29, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Tim Wise
Protest, Uprisings, and Race War
Nick Pemberton
White Supremacy is the Virus; Police are the Vector
T.J. Coles
What’s NATO Up to These Days? Provoking Russia, Draining Healthcare Budgets and Protecting Its Own from COVID
Benjamin Dangl
Bibles at the Barricades: How the Right Seized Power in Bolivia
Kevin Alexander Gray - Jeffrey St. Clair - JoAnn Wypijewski
There is No Peace: an Incitement to Justice
Jeffrey St. Clair
A Few Good Sadists
Jeff Mackler
The Plague of Racist Cop Murders: Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and the COVID-19 Pandemic