Facing a global pandemic, America’s very existence hasn’t been this threatened since President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s administration confronted the Great Depression and World War II. The coronavirus is challenging the USA with a double whammy that combines both dangers: Economic collapse and an invasion causing massive loss of life. To combat these twin perils requires a response on a par with Roosevelt’s New Deal and the Allied war effort against fascism.
Trump is moving in the direction of another upper class New Yorker who also became president in an era of extreme crisis. It’s time for some “bigly” Federal government action - again.
And who is emerging as the 21st century equivalent of FDR, mobilizing the Federal government to tackle this viral menace? Will it be that latter day New Dealer, presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders, who advocates nationalizing healthcare? Or his onetime rival for the Democratic Party nomination, Andrew Yang, who ran on the Universal Basic Income platform of disbursing $1,000 monthly payments to Americans? Or Democratic frontrunner former Vice President Joe Biden, who can claim to have experience marshaling Washington’s resources to take on a national disaster?
No - America’s new FDR won’t be a Democrat, but may, surprisingly, come from the other side of the aisle. Indeed, it will be none other than President Trump - call him “Franklin DONALD Roosevelt.” On March 17 the Republican chief executive went far beyond the usual conservative cant of simply seeking just a payroll tax holiday to overcome the coronavirus’ adverse economic impact. Indeed, Trump called for Congress to work with him on a “big, bold” stimulus package to stabilize the U.S. economy. And on March 18 Trump called himself a “wartime president.”
Sounding more like Roosevelt’s Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau Jr. than Trump’s, Steve Mnuchin is negotiating a trillion dollar rescue program with Capitol Hill. “We’re going big,” Trump proclaimed about his “bigly” plan to outspend the pandemic’s effect. Yang told CNN that the White House had contacted him to learn details about how his UBI initiative would work. After all, laissez faire, every-man-for-himself capitalism won’t solve a plague through the invisible hand of the free market.
Now that Trumpsters have discovered the Big Government gospel, what’s next? Are businesses going to display the National Recovery Administration blue eagle logo with its “We Do Our Part” motto again? Will Trump resurrect a 2020 version of the Works Progress Administration to put all the laid off flight attendants, hotel housekeepers, croupiers, cruise ship stewards, Uber drivers, etc., back to work, as Michigan Democratic Congressman Dan Kildee has advocated? Will an updated Federal Theatre Project turn the lights back on Broadway (setting the stage for Marla Maples’ comeback)? Will a modern day Tennessee Valley Authority powered by wind and solar provide renewable energy to America? Is a 21st century Civilian Conservation Corps combating climate change coming soon?
Trump may harness all of the powers of the presidency (which he claimed are unlimited due to Article II of the Constitution) and the Federal government to do all the right things. But of course, it will be for all the wrong reasons. After all, this is the megalomaniacal Manhattan realtor who wanted to build a high rise so tall it would cast a shadow across the Hudson River, bilked charities, mocked a disabled reporter at a rally, blithely tossed paper towels to Puerto Rican hurricane victims, called neo-Nazis “very fine people,” etc. - the examples of his callous disregard for human suffering and basic decency are endless. When it comes to accountability, the presidential motto of this showboat who’s always praising himself but never taking responsibility has been: “The buck stops - over there!” A case in point was when a reporter tried to ask the denier-in-chief about his low credibility ratings the thin-skinned Trump highhandedly preempted him with his usual self-congratulatory self-aggrandizements.
So why would Trump finally step up to the plate in order to defeat COVID-19? Because he wants to be reelected in November (assuming, of course, that he doesn’t cancel the election and assume “emergency powers”). With a plague afoot and the economy in freefall, he’d be exposed as the incompetent fraud he is and everyone would see what most of us already knew: This would-be emperor has no clothes. With all of the Dow’s gains made since Trump took office wiped out with circuit-breaking plunges, no longer able to boast about the stock market and low unemployment, the prez has lost his trump card and probably millions of voters too, like those Trump “University” students who sued the conman to get their tuition back.
Referencing Bernie’s popularity Trump has reportedly said “people like free stuff” - and if anyone should know, it’s this guy who was born with a golden spoon. Spending trillions to stabilize the economy and sending $1,000 checks to out-of-work Americans could mollify angry people enraged at a commander-in-cheek who’d downplayed the coronavirus as yet another “hoax,” allowing it to rampage out of control on his watch. Besides, it’s not Trump’s personal fortune he’d be giving away; he’s already proven he’s extravagant when it comes to spending other people’s money. (Just ask Deutsche Bank.) And with the hospitality industry tanking, the self-dealer-in-chief’s resorts could probably use a bailout at taxpayers’ expense.
Of course, Trump is desperate to win the election because he presumes victory would give him another “get out of jail free card” for four more years for committing the alleged crimes he’s reportedly under investigation for by Congressman Adam Schiff, the Southern District of New York, etc., purportedly including money laundering, tax fraud and not to mention the women claiming he’s a sexual predator, et al.
Nevertheless, despite his sordid motives which have nothing to do with rescuing ordinary Americans and everything to do with saving his bungling bulging butt, let’s hope that Trump does turn into Franklin DONALD Roosevelt and uses the powers of his office to mitigate the impending health and financial catastrophes. The “Sander-nistas” have already revived the notion of massive government programs and action. And while it’s true Biden is winning the Democratic primaries now, consider that out of 20-plus candidates Bernie is just about the only candidate still running against the ex-Veep, so his ideas are popular enough for Bernie Bros to give Trump “Left cover.” And it will be progressives’ role to hold “TrumpDR’s” feet to the fireside chat to ensure that ordinary people will benefit from government intervention and expenditures - not just fat cats.
As this viral Pearl Harbor sneak attack looms, it’d be unrealistic to expect the bumbling Trump to eloquently wax poetic, in his own words, about “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself” or “a date that shall live in infamy.” But let’s hope Trump can rise to the dire occasion by stealing a page from FDR’s deeds with a new New Deal and an Allied global war against coronavirus.
L.A.-based journalist Ed Rampell co-authored “Pearl Harbor in the Movies” and “The Hawaii Movie and Television Book.”