“I didn’t want to come, and I don’t want to be here.”
That’s how Atlanta rapper Killer Mike opened his riveting and impromptu speech Friday night to the citizens of his city, begging them to go home, stop rioting, and begin to, “plot, plan, strategize, organize, and mobilize.”
It became clear the next night that his words were in vain, as thousands of angry and frustrated Americans hit the streets in Atlanta and dozens of other cities. By the end of Saturday night, protests had devolved into rioting and looting. Curfews were lodged in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles and dozens of other cities as police swept the streets with batons, tear gas, and rubber bullets.
None of us want to be here. The pain of our time is palpable, the fractures in our society are visible. It’s obvious to anyone with an ounce of sense that our nation desperately needs to begin rebuilding, but because Donald J. Trump is our president, it is impossible to do so. At every opportunity he is blocking the march of progress for reasons that are beyond understanding. The only thing we can expect from President Trump is that when provided an opportunity, he will make things worse.
But how much worse could it be? Dozens of burning cities, 14.7% unemployment, a pandemic that’s wiped out consumer confidence, and racial tensions as bad as 1968? Isn’t that bad?
No. There’s more bad news coming just over the horizon.
We’re living on PPP money right now. By June 30, when most of the no-payback loans provided to businesses from the Paycheck Protection Program begin to run out, private sector layoffs will begin anew.
Since the economy is in a hole, tax receipts have cratered. So, state and local governments are beginning and threatening massive layoffs. New Jersey says it’s preparing to layoff 200,000 employees, including police and firefighters.
Commercial mortgage and rent payments are already in crisis, but homeowner mortgages are likely to start crashing as more employees get layoff notices. In a testament to our stolid values, 46% of Americans are still making their full mortgage payment, even after asking for relief from banks. But when personal savings are depleted, we should expect a wave of defaults.
There’s also a looming food crisis, since COVID is striking down meat packers, forcing meat plants to run at partial capacity, driving up meat prices. Farms, just now beginning their harvest season, don’t have enough foreign workers because of COVID fears and the workers that do get to farms, are living in cramped conditions where they are contracting COVID.
We’re stuck in the momentum of a crashing economy, and we can’t fully rebuild until the pandemic is cured or at least – here’s the important part – consumers are confident they won’t die if they go to a restaurant, barber, school, office, concert, or Las Vegas. No amount of “opening up” will matter if Americans still believe they’re in danger, as parents look into at-home schooling and a vast majority of consumers are wearing masks when they go in public.
The cascading effects of the virus are exposing so many problems: the basic inequality of our economic system, racism, a broken immigration system, health care linked to employment, and a tax system that overtly favors financiers over workers. Saturday night, we reaped what these policies sowed, as frustrations and anger spilled into the streets. And yet, before we tackle any of that, we need to figure out a way to ensure we don’t die from COVID – and, oh yeah, remove the guy in the White House that’s blockading every step taken towards a rational and productive society.
COVID is an immediate threat, but the true existential threat, the menace that could take away almost all we hold dear, is Republican governance of our country.
“The GOP is a failed state. Donald Trump is it’s warlord,” William Saletan wrote ages ago in January 2016. And now, as a warlord, Trump fails to operate the machinery of state, instead, “He pillages the whole and rewards supporters with the pickings to maintain his hold on the political rump that sustains his power,” wrote Josh Marshall earlier this week.
To leave Donald Trump and the Trumpist Republican party in power is to give up on America. He and his people lack a cohesive policy agenda, but have plans to maintain power and the right to plunder the state to benefit themselves through taxing the poor, eliminating worker protections, steering public resources to private benefit, and destruction of the welfare state. The threat the modern GOP poses is nothing less than the conversion of America into an oligarchic state.
We should expect that to maintain their power, Trumpists will do everything they can, including fraud, subversion of democracy, and even murder if that’s what it takes to get the job done (if you don’t count ignoring the death of 100,000 people by COVID as a form of murder). We’ve already begun to see the Trump playbook in action: including shutting down voting in urban and black majority districts within swing states, classifying vote-by-mail efforts for minorities as corrupt, while maintaining absentee voting-by-mail for wealthy whites, employing under-the-radar social media smear campaigns and even just ignoring ones operated by rogue states like Russia or North Korea.
Some of it we will see in November. Some of it we won’t know about until months later, as we did with the Russian interference in 2016. But be sure, the biggest Trumpist attacks on democracy and rule of law are still to come.
And then – assuming our democracy holds and Trump and his minions are voted out of office – we should expect Trump to not accept the results of the election. Hoax. Scam. Travesty of Justice. We’ll hear all the best words from him starting election night and all the way until the inauguration. He might try to stop the Electoral College from voting. He might try to subvert it. The military might have to insist on him leaving office.
If that last statement seems like hyperbole, consider the events of last night. We are in a combustible moment, and everything is rushing towards the election.