Trump’s Fake News

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

The chief flim-flam man in the White House is putting one over on the American people again, signing an executive order bypassing Congress with his big, fat black pen – that dreaded instrument – that will do nearly nothing to help the 30 million unemployed but create chaos.

The four-part order President Donald Trump signed Saturday at his golf club in Bedminster, N.J., is all show, little substance. But loyalist Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Sunday it will deliver “meaningful results for the American people.” Uh-huh.

Trump perhaps thought he was being clever by stuffing it to an unmanageable Congress and flexing his presidential muscles to show everyone what a tough guy he can be until, as with nearly everything he does, falls flaccid (See his response to the pandemic, for one.)

“The executive order is unconstitutional,” emailed Janet Williams in response to my asking her reaction to the order. She is president of NOW’s chapter in New Mexico, where I live. “He is attempting to usurp congressional authority to control disbursement of federal funds. He is the most dangerous president we have ever had. He is a danger to our democracy. His behavior is that of a dictator.”

The four elements of the executive order are an extension of unemployment benefits that would be $300 instead of $600; and a suggestion that the secretary of Health and Human Services and the director of The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “shall consider whether any measures temporarily halting residential evictions of any tenants for failure to pay rent are reasonably necessary to prevent the further spread of COVID-19.”

Further, the order includes extending student loan interest deferral from Sept. 30 to Dec. 31, but only if the loan was made by the Department of Education, not privately. Student debt totals more than $1.5 trillion nationwide.

Lastly, the order would cut the payroll tax, or FICA, from Sept. 1 to Dec. 31 for people earning less than $100,00 a year, or less than $4,000 every two weeks. Problem: those taxes must be repaid in January. Bigger problem: If you don’t work, you don’t pay taxes. So who is being helped?

Top Democrats Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer who have been negotiating with Republicans to pass a $3 trillion sequel to the first coronavirus relief package – the GOP only wants to spend $1 trillion – have characterized the executive order as a loser. The GOP is stingy except when it comes to tax cuts for their friends.

What Trump’s latest bout of meaningless flamboyance has accomplished is –nothing more than an insult to all of those jobless Americans, especially those with children, shivering in stressed-out uncertainty and anxiety and crying themselves to sleep at night – if they can sleep — as they grapple with the prospect of being thrown out of their homes, being unable to feed their children and themselves as they pray for help from a government they thought existed in a new, unexpected, dystopian world not of their own making.

Eviction, homelessness, and hunger combines as the most serious, most agonizing threat this country has faced since the Great Depression of the 1930s. If Joe Biden beats Trump, he’d better step up to the New Deal plate created by FDR. We need another, bigger New Deal.

The Aspen Institute, a nonprofit think tank, estimates “29 million renters in 12.6 million households may be at risk of eviction by the end of 2020.”

It quoted a recent U.S. Census Bureau Household Pulse Survey as saying “18.3 percent of renters nationally report they were unable to pay July’s rent on time.” Fully 43 percent of renter households with children and 33 percent of all renter households have slight or no confidence they can pay for this month on time.

Worst hit, which is no surprise, are Blacks and Hispanics, with 42 percent of the former and 49 percent of the latter saying they have slight or no confidence in their ability to pay August’s rent on time. The figure for Whites is 22 percent.

“Renters experiencing financial hardship due to COVID-19 have exhausted their resources and limited funds just as eviction moratoriums and emergency relief across the United States have expired,” the institute said. “Without intervention, the housing crisis will result in significant harm to renters and property owners.

“Meaningful, swift and robust government intervention is critical to preventing the immediate and long-term negative effects of the COVID-19 housing crisis on adults, children and communities across America.”

Republicans and their pretend leader should pay attention to these statistics. It’s their country, too. Or was.

Richard C. Gross, who covered war and peace in the Middle East and was foreign editor of United Press International, served as the opinion page editor of The Baltimore Sun.