“A Plague On Both Your Houses”

Trump’s discussion of injecting UV light and disinfectant into the body to treat COVID-19 during his daily briefing was, of course, a new low. The man, whom his secretary of state Rex Tillerson once famously described as “a moron,” is obviously a toxic mix of stupidity and arrogance. So this morning MSNBC, the unofficial DNC organ, gleefully posts poll numbers showing that 54% of the people polled “do not believe” Trump’s statements during the briefings. The poll also shows that 28% routinely receive “information” about the virus from Trump.

Actually, these are not bad figures for Trump. He retains his 40% solid base, as he has for four years of ongoing idiocy; that is the main thing. Media pundits seem not to understand that you can’t weaken Trump by merely exposing his dullness; his devotees will not hear you. They will insist that your carping is all political, that your academic knowledge is all pompous bunk, that Trump says what he thinks and that’s refreshing. Given this freedom that his base allows him, Trump seems to daily probe the depths of their tolerance.

It is as though he wakes up at 4:00 and before tweeting mulls over what new provocation he might utter from the White House Briefing Room podium in front of all the Fake News cameras that day. Precedent suggests he may double down on that intriguing UV light injection suggestion, elaborating how it would work. He has stated that he has a natural genius regarding medical matters inherited from his famous MIT uncle, and that “all the doctors” (including Drs. Fauci and Birx presumably) admire his medical knowledge.

The world, of course, laughs at such foolish comments, but the president believes them himself. He is extremely thin-skinned and responds to ridicule with ferocious misanthropies —like running for president after Obama humiliated him publicly at the 2011 White House Correspondents’ Dinner. Remember how—I know it’s hard to recollect all these hilarious anecdotes—he canceled a state visit to Denmark to protest its prime minister’s appropriate dismissal of his offer to buy Greenland? He thought she’d been rude to him.

Just as Trump “corrected” a National Weather Service map to include under hurricane watch an area that he had (mistakenly) identified in a tweet, so he may in his next appearance correct the record of the Fake News reporters about his light and disinfectant treatment concept. “So much distortion!” he’ll bark. So many nasty political attacks from the liberal socialist Democrats!

Lysol today annoyingly announced that people possibly inspired by Trump should not drink their product. “As a global leader in health and hygiene products, we must be clear that under no circumstance should our disinfectant products be administered into the human body (through injection, ingestion or any other route),” said a spokesperson for Reckitt Benckiser, the United Kingdom-based owner of Lysol after Trump’s statement.

Reflect a moment on this; let it sink in: Lysol had to discourage its international consumers from drinking it, as implicitly recommended by the U.S. president.

One can expect an angry tweeted riposte from Trump, protesting that he NEVER recommended drinking Lysol. More lies! So unfair!

You’d think these narcissistic “daily briefing” exercises, which offer the president unlimited opportunity to manifest his mental qualities, would so offend the masses’ intelligence that they’d be clamoring for impeachment (perhaps on the single charge of criminal neglect). Instead, they are more divided than ever, and Trump in all his regal imbecility retains his support base.

MSNBC, of course, highlights polls showing Joe Biden ahead of Trump by a few points; surely they think this is a cause for comfort. But does Biden have a loyal following anything like Trump’s? Can a Democratic Party—that stupidly opted on a center-right dementia sufferer over Bernie, betraying and alienating a generation of activists—pull together a campaign with anything near the passion of Trump’s deplorables or Bernie’s supporters? Will not being Trump be enough?

When’s the last time Biden appeared live on TV analyzing the crisis? When have we heard from the DNC plans to transform the U.S. health care system to deal with the urgent needs of this moment?

The needs for universal COVID-19 testing, production of a vaccine (usually requiring over a year), a nationally-coordinated (non-capitalist) system of production and distribution of medical supplies including masks and ventilators, the provision of aid to the 20-30% of the population who will soon be unemployed indefinitely, the absolute necessity of massive wealth redistribution to cope with a crisis unprecedented in world history? How is Biden, the Democrats’ savior against Trump, impacting the discussion at all?

This is not the Black Plague of the fourteenth century. That killed millions globally. But it did not close down countries, producing billions of home-confined workers laid off for public safety, awaiting the ruler’s decision about the resumption of normal life and work, anxious about home confinement but also anxious about venturing back out, and perhaps increasingly—as they have time to mull things over—questioning the logic of capitalism itself. This is happening on a planet-wide basis.

Why, when we’ve all come to know that the top 10% of the top One Percent controls 60% of the world’s economy, can’t states in this emergency context simply seize that wealth to deal with this life & death crisis? Force the damn factory to make masks. This is serious. Increase the production of test-kits one hundredfold, now! Identify the needs scientifically, shove aside and silence any dumb-ass snake-oil salesman as unhelpful distractions, and tackle the problem patiently not harping constantly on the need to reapply our shoulders to wheels that might drip with toxic droplets.

The Plague at once draws attention to the transiency of human life and to the persistence of radical injustice inherent in the global capitalist system. By forcing the ruling class to mail checks to millions of workers affected by the shut-downs (by necessity, not out of any good will) COVID-19 has taught the working class that such is indeed possible: in dire straits the system can support workers forced to stay at home. To May 1, maybe; ironically, International Workers Day. Or beyond, depending on reports.

Trump now publicly pines for a crowd-filled Washington Mall on July 4. Perhaps in the impending power struggle Science will win over Stupidity, maybe repeatedly, as premature re-starts produce more death, outrage, apologies, re-thinks, new shut-downs, more economic ruin, more reflection on the fundamental irrationality and inhumanity of the system.

The question is how people will politically respond to the most severe crisis yet in the five-century history of the capitalist system. Unanticipated, counter-intuitive, a plague-fueled crisis is swallowing billions in wealth daily. Nieman Marcus is not coming back. Nor millions and millions of jobs globally.

Never before has there been more pressing need for working people to seize political power, to assure to use of collective wealth to solve the mounting health crisis and prevent the profit motive from tainting the effort. But seldom before has the global proletarian been more constrained in its movements and ability to organize. There’d be no point in storming the Winter Palace if everybody gets sick afterward.

There have to be creative new ways to fight back against the system. The demand for universal health care as a human right, now mainstreamed by the Bernie movement, has to be backed up with action. Can the lame, Wall Street-dependent Democratic Party behind Biden mobilize the people to fulfill that demand? Can it guarantee that Trump’s manifest idiocy is in fact a big plus for the millions whose brains resonate with his?

Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski on MSNBC are whistling in the dark, imagining that Trump has so repeatedly shamed himself by his publicly aired stupidities that Tired Joe will be a shoo-in for the presidency. He is the NOT stupid one, and that he is holed up in isolation maintaining statesmanlike senile silence need not bother anyone (because he has staff that’s aware of details and in touch with the Sanders people who know a lot more about this stuff). Surely the united Democrats in November will turn out for Biden and end this long nightmare?

Polls don’t suggest that, actually. They show Trump consistency, a stubborn triumph of malignant narcissism and angry stupidity. The Trump campaign projects the image of a righteously angry leader; the Biden campaign, a leader who is “compassionate,” a product of personal suffering he exploits mercilessly for sympathy votes hoping people will forget how aggressively and effusively he backed George H. Bush’s murderous war based on lies in Iraq.

The reflective voter might note that Trump has not launched a new war in his first term. Nixon invaded Cambodia in his first term; Reagan, Grenada; Bush I, Panama and Iraq; Clinton, Bosnia; Bush II, Afghanistan and Iraq; Obama, Libya. Trump, beast though he is, has not initiated a new war and indeed backed off from potential new ones in Syria and Ukraine. What do we know about Biden, Ukraine and Syria? Granting that the sight of Biden’s face may produce less bile in the stomach than the sight of Trump’s—would a Biden presidency make another major war more likely than a second Trump term?

I think not. I think, with Mercutio in plague-ridden Verona, in Shakespeare’s depiction: “A plague on both your houses!” One should not have to choose between Montagues and Capulets, both strutting about in their silken codpieces pursuing their feudal-clan conflicts; or between Republicans and Democrats, staunchly defending their common antiquated ideology and working, bipartisan-fashion, to exclude any discussion of “socialism.” One can stand aside and watch them fight.

And if, as I think likely, Trump wins a second term (not despite his stupidity but because of its widespread appeal) it will be under circumstances of such dubious legitimacy and such economic instability that he just might fall—be overthrown—thereafter and much good follow.

Gary Leupp is Emeritus Professor of History at Tufts University, and is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa JapanMale Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900 and coeditor of The Tokugawa World (Routledge, 2021). He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He can be reached at: gleupp@tufts.edu