Donald Trump's pandemic response: Pander to CEOs, abandon workers

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Image: The White House/Flickr

"No, I don't take responsibility at all," U.S. President Donald Trump declared, blaming his deadly, delayed response to the coronavirus pandemic on everyone from China to Obama to the Democrats. Meanwhile, Trump is pushing a taxpayer-funded stimulus package that will redistribute wealth … to the rich. Hundreds of thousands have already lost their jobs, with many millions more predicted. The scale of the pandemic in the United States is unknown as we write, as testing for coronavirus infection has been grievously delayed. Over 9,000 people in the U.S. have been infected, with 136 dead, and only eight recovered (per the website developed by 17-year-old Seattle high schooler Avi Schiffman).

The true number of infections, when testing begins in earnest, will be many times higher.

State and local governments, reeling from Trump's failures, are implementing measures unprecedented in living memory. Close to 30 state governments have activated the National Guard and have passed laws or resolutions involving emergency funding, worker protections, medical coverage and epidemiological efforts like disease surveillance, isolation and quarantine. San Francisco and six surrounding counties issued the country's strictest public health order on Monday, requiring the region's seven million people to "shelter in place." A summary of the order, in force through April 7 but extendable, reads"

"Vulnerable populations must stay home. Everyone else is required to stay home except to get food, care for a relative or friend, get necessary health care, or go to an essential job."

Many states are ordering bars, restaurants, casinos and similar businesses to close or to limit their food service to pickup or delivery orders only. The National Restaurant Association warned, "forecasts reveal the industry will sustain at least a US$225 billion loss and be forced to eliminate between 5 to 7 million jobs over the next three-months." This also affects those that rely on restaurants, like food service suppliers, food delivery businesses and local governments that depend on sales tax revenues. Most devastatingly impacted, however, are the workers who are abruptly laid off.

"This is the tip of the iceberg," Saru Jayaraman, co-founder of Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, said Wednesday on the Democracy Now! news hour while sheltering in place from her home in Berkeley, California. "We started a relief fund for these workers Monday … We've had almost 15,000 workers apply for relief in just over a 24-hour period."

On Wednesday, the Senate passed The Families First Coronavirus Response Act which Trump quickly signed. The paid sick leave provision covers less than 20 per cent of the workforce, excluding businesses with over 500 employees and those with less than 50, thus denying coverage to tens of millions of workers.

Saru Jayaraman highlighted the restaurant industry's "severe structural inequality problems that existed long before this crisis .... [it's] allowed to pay a subminimum wage to its tipped workers, forcing them to live off of tips … people have been living, literally, tip to mouth. They got tips on Friday. They were laid off over the weekend. They can't feed their kids on Monday."

You won't see any laid-off workers invited to the White House, as Donald Trump parades executives from different industries before the cameras. Trump spoke Tuesday with CEOs from the fast food industry. Former labor secretary Robert Reich tweeted afterwards, "McDonald's, Burger King, Pizza Hut, Duncan Donuts, Wendy's, Taco Bell, Subway. None give their workers paid sick leave. They should be required to post this sign on their doors: 'Because we don't give our workers paid sick leave, they may be sick when they serve you."

Congress is now fast-tracking another stimulus package, expected to top US$1.5 trillion, including direct payments to many Americans (the details of who qualifies are unclear) and massive bailouts to the airline industry, cruise lines and the fracking industry. Trump also said Wednesday that he would invoke the Defense Production Act, granting him a slew of semi-autocratic powers, allowing him to commandeer entire sections of the economy.

Author Naomi Klein argues that any taxpayer-funded bailout should be invested in a Green New Deal, while Robert Reich said, "No industry -- not airlines, not hotels, not cruise ships -- should be bailed out. They can stay in business by borrowing at rock-bottom rates, using their assets as collateral. Taxpayer money should be used to bail out people, not corporations."

Donald Trump's ignorance and criminal negligence have greatly exacerbated the COVID-19 contagion: his denial of science, which among other disasters led him to disband his pandemic response team in 2018; and his ultranationalism and xenophobia, leading him to reject the World Health Organization's proven coronavirus test, losing critical response time.

Trump has recklessly failed in his response to the pandemic. It is up to all of us, together, to flatten the curve and limit the damage he's inflicting.

Amy Goodman is the host of Democracy Now!, a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 1,300 stations. She is the co-author, with Denis Moynihan, of The Silenced Majority, a New York Times bestseller. This column originally appeared on Democracy Now!

Image: The White House/Flickr

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