Danger Clown and the Return to American Normalcy

Photograph Source: AudreyLynneShares – CC BY 2.0

Recently in an online urban studies discussion, a young white man expressed his desire for his fellow Chicagoans and Americans more generally to get over all this COVID-19 trauma and “return to normal life in my great city and country.”

I was a little surprised and disappointed he didn’t use Warren Harding’s made-up word “normalcy.”

I was curious to know what he wanted most to return to – to:

+ A nation so unequal that three absurdly rich people (Bezos, Buffett, and Gates) possessed as much net worth between them as the bottom half of the country and that the top tenth of the upper 1% has more wealth than the bottom 90%?

+ A city where numerous predominantly white North Side neighborhoods are unaffordable to anyone not in the top ten percent and where a large number of hyper-segregated South and West Side communities house tens of thousands of deeply poor Black children in census tracts of misery? (That’s Chicago)

+ A city (speaking of Chicago) whose police force was so savagely brutal towards its majority nonwhite citizens that it had to be place under a federal consent decree in order to limit its torture, maiming, terrorization and murder of Black and brown people?

+ A city and nation whose streets were full of beggars and homeless people even during an “economic boom”?

+ A nation savagely tilted to the super-rich while most Americans lived just one paycheck away from not being able to meet basic living expenses?

+ A nation in which millions with full-time jobs had to rely on food banks and other forms of charity to get by? Where millions could not afford health insurance? Where millions more with insurance could barely afford to meet their premiums and routinely avoided care for fear of incurring absurdly high medical costs?

+ A nation in which the jobs most working-age adults must secure and keep in order to obtain basic goods and services (with the money derived from wages and salaries) are contingent on their employment being considered profitable to their parasitic bosses?

+ A nation that lacks a universal basic income guarantee even as it regularly menaces employees with job- and thus income- (and often health insurance) loss?

+ A nation that makes many millions of senior citizens’ retirement savings and incomes contingent om the volatile ebbs and flows of the poorly regulated capitalist stock market?

+ An economy so dependent on constant eco-cidal and parasitic growth that it can’t take a 2-3 pause required for public health without requiring another gigantic taxpayer bailout for the obscenely wealthy Few while granting a pittance to the working-class majority?

+ An economy that can’t slow down its rate of environmental destruction without throwing tens of millions of people out of work and therefore out of income and in many cases out of health insurance (a really bad thing to lose in the middle of a pandemic)?

+ An aggregately wealthy nation (“the richest nation in the world”) whose capitalist masters refuse to join the rest of the civilized industrialized world in making health care a human right?

+ A nation that ranks highest among rich nations in the cost of its health care system and at the bottom in health outcomes?

+ A nation whose top “leaders” refused to take seriously scientific warnings of a likely new pandemic even as the growth-addicted global profits system they uphold works constantly to dig up and spread new viruses around the world?

+ A nation whose controlling financial institutions can be counted on the fingers of one hand?

+ A nation where a handful of giant corporations control more than half of print and electronic media? Where just three Internet giants – Amazon, Google, and Facebook – own the ever more ubiquitous and relentlessly data-mined and surveilled online world?

+ A nation where domestic policing has become dangerously militarized?

+ A nation that gives more than half its government’s discretionary spending to a military-industrial complex that accounts for more than a third of all global military spending?

+ A nation that led the charge towards climate catastrophe with the highest per capita carbon emissions in the world – and that that is headed by a regime dedicated to turning the planet into a giant Greenhouse Gas Chamber as fast as humanly possible?

+ A U.S.-led world that continues to blow past existential environmental tipping points – and that recently put the species at grave risk by pushing atmospheric carbon saturation to the insane level of 415 parts per million?

+ A nation that leads the world in mass incarceration and saddles 1 in 3 of its Black adult males with the crippling lifelong stigma of a felony record?

+ A nation that locks up tens of thousands of Mexican and Central Americans for seeking refuge, relief, and asylum from terrifying and wretched conditions that can be traced largely to that nation’s foreign policy?

+ A nation that slaughters tens of thousands of its own people with guns, including assault weapons?

+ A nation that has murdered millions abroad with impunity and in the names of democracy, freedom, and human rights?

+ A nation where the concentration of wealth and power is so daunting that majority progressive public opinion on numerous key issues – climate, guns, consumer safety, bankruptcy, college tuition, student debt, union organizing rights, campaign finance, financial regulation, the Pentagon budget, the distribution of wealth and much more – is essentially irrelevant when it comes to determining policy?

+ A nation so racially unequal that median household Black net worth is 7 cents on the median white household dollar?

+ A nation whose two dominant political parties function (for all the deadly partisan polarization that has helped catapult neofascists into political power here) much as Upton Sinclair described them in 1904: “two wings of the same bird of [corporate and imperial] prey”?

+ A nation whose cynical ruling class put a demented fascistic oligarch – a venal Orwellian monstrosity who can’t successfully read aloud two sentences from the U.S. Constitution – into the world’s most powerful office, the U.S. presidency?

+ A nation whose un-elected and interrelated dictatorships of money and empire leave the dangerous and indecent beast Donald Trump (accurately described by Noam Chomsky as “the most dangerous criminal in human history”) in power?

My favorite online image of Donald Trump shows a split image. One side of a mock headshot (available on Google Images last year) shows the right-side of Trump’s raging visage, torn in hatred. The other side shows the left side of the face of Bozo the Clown.

Like Buzz Windrip, the fictional fascist president in Sinclair Lewis’s novel It Can’t Happen Here, Trump’s underlying fascistic essence is cloaked to some degree by his blustering buffoonery, his strange theatrical clownishness. Even more than three years into his supremely lethal, racist, sexist, eco-cidal and arch-authoritarian white-nationalist presidency, many Americans continue to laugh him off as little more than a fool and comedian.

But there’s nothing funny about the Trump presidency. It’s been as seriously awful as a national and global heart attack and anyone who still finds it funny needs a check-up from the neck-up.

Donald the Danger Clown has been doubling down on authoritarian rule under the cover of the COVID-19 crisis that he helped fan across the land. I went through a number of ways in which his far-right administration has been doing this in my last Weekend Counterpunch essay: an attack on habeas corpus; the denial of public oversight over his giant corporate COVID slush fund; an attack on union rights; an escalated purging of insufficiently loyal administration officials; the holding of regular COVID press-briefings that amount to long authoritarian harangues; an insane suspension of remaining environmental regulations, for example.

Here are some Danger Clown highlights from this week:

+ The absurd insistence that his signature be affixed to the paltry stimulus checks ($1200) he is sending out to the American people.

+ The chilling claim that “When somebody is president of the United States, your authority is total.”

+ The decision to suspend U.S. funding of the World Health Organization in the middle of a global pandemic because its leaders have been excessively critical of Him (in His opinion).

+ The holding of a Kim Jong-Un-style briefing in which Trump made the nation’s top official infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci grovel before the Dear Leader and in which the Chosen One insisted that “we [the White House] did everything right” in response to the coronavirus outbreak (when in fact Trump and his administration did most things wrong and far too late, as was exhaustively documented in last Sunday’s New York Times).

+ Threatening now to make a number of executive-branch “recess appointments” without normally required Congressional approval, in order to make his incompetent and corrupt administration yet more obedient to Orange King Covid.

+ Assembling a team of fellow rich and authoritarians numbskulls (including World Wrestling Federation chief Vince McMahon) to plan the plan the dangerously premature “re-opening of America.”

There’s more but it’s too depressing to go on and time is short in these chaotic times (I have an online class that is sucking the brains out of my head). In the meantime, here are some numbers for the America First crowd:

COVID-19 Cases/Deaths:

USA: 674,829/34,475

Spain: 182,816/19,130

Italy: 168,941/22,170

France: 165,207/17,920

Germany: 136,569/3,943

UK: 103,093/13,729

China: 82,341/3,342

God help us if Danger Clown and his backers and allies are the New Normalcy.

Paul Street’s latest book is This Happened Here: Amerikaners, Neoliberals, and the Trumping of America (London: Routledge, 2022).