Welcome to the US in the age of coronavirus. Faces and fists pounded the windows of Ohio’s capitol like a zombie apocalypse. In Michigan, an armed crowd stormed the state house. Then, history repeated itself.
Taking a page from his Charlottesville playbook, Donald Trump called the protesters “good people” and urged Gretchen Whitmer, the Democratic governor of Michigan, to “make a deal” over the shutdown. The president tweeted that Whitmer should “give a little, and put out the fire”. In other words, negotiate over the barrel of a gun. After all, his base was “angry”.
One state over, in Illinois, an anti-shutdown protester waived a poster aimed at the state’s Jewish governor, JB Pritzker: “Arbeit macht frei, JB.” The words that hung over the gates of Auschwitz.
A Trump administration insider conveyed that it was all a “bit” reminiscent of the “late” Weimar Republic. We know how that ended.
Society’s guardrails crashed, the volk demanded its pound of flesh and democracy made the frighteningly unimaginable possible. Hell became part of the here and now.
Election day is six months away. The US may experience 25% unemployment and economic collapse. We stand to witness “between 100,000 and 240,000 American lives lost”, according to Dr Deborah Birx. As for the protesters, Birx labelled their conduct “devastatingly worrisome”.
“Collective rage” looms large.
Life and death are on the line and the president and his minions appear reluctant to grasp the reality. Echoing his boss, Larry Kudlow ties himself into knots over earlier pronouncements that the scourge would be quickly gone. Marc Short, Mike Pence’s chief of staff, prematurely rejects projections of a death toll above 60,000. By Tuesday, the total will probably exceed 70,000.
How this plays out at the ballot box remains to be seen. But the early numbers should give Trump serious pause. It is unlikely that racial minorities, suburban mothers and college degree holders will take kindly to bully boys playing Trump surrogates.
A poll taken last month showed most Americans wary of returning to normal, with those living in cities and suburbs signaling particular reluctance. Indeed, Republicans disfavored such a move by nearly a two-to-one margin.
As for the presidential horserace, Trump is lagging Joe Biden in most national polls and in the swing states. Among college graduates, the former vice-president holds a near 20-point lead. Biden is ahead by double digits among women. Cultural resentments are two-way streets.
All this is a continuation of trends that appeared in the 2018 midterms. Nancy Pelosi became speaker of the House and Democrats captured the female vote by nearly three-to-two, suburban women by more than 20 points, and a majority of white college graduates. Peloton moms made a difference.
More ominously for the president, swing states are drifting away: Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin are lining up for Biden. In a break from four years ago, seniors are growing tired of Trump. Were the trend to hold, the ballgame would be over.
Texas, Georgia, North Carolina and Ohio also appear shaky. Biden could be sitting atop an electoral college landslide.
Excluding New York state, the number of coronavirus cases has moved upward and the average number of fatalities appears stuck in neutral. This is not the re-election campaign Trump envisioned in January. Not surprisingly, some of his most ardent supporters in the Senate are engaging in political social distancing.
Kentucky’s Mitch McConnell, North Carolina’s Thom Tillis and Arizona’s Martha McSally tout home-state accomplishments. They are not embracing Trump. The impeachment vote feels a century ago.
McSally appears destined for defeat and Tillis is in a dead heat. Only McConnell is given a clear edge and even he is struggling.
Coronavirus has unleashed more than death. Social fissures once buried have metastasized into jagged volcanic chasms. The past is always with us, much as we try to jettison it. Weimar was less than a century ago. Democracy is more fragile than we may care to acknowledge.