The Trump administration has declared war on covid-19, the so-called “invisible enemy.” But it’s not a war that will be fought predominantly by scientists and medical personnel. It’s a war in which Trump wants to draft every American, as he revs up a plan to “reopen” the country, despite warnings from public health officials that doing so too early could prove disastrous.
In the wake of devastating unemployment numbers—22 million Americans have filed for unemployment in the last four weeks alone—and over 34,000 confirmed covid-19 deaths, Trump has signaled in his flip-flopping daily addresses that the best way to tackle this virus is by treating it like a vile adversary that relishes the sight of American weakness. The American people, then, must not show cowardice and must not buckle under pressure. Instead, they must approach covid-19 with the instincts of a soldier and be willing to put their lives on the line and make sacrifices. And the biggest sacrifice, the most patriotic act Americans can commit, is realizing the metaphor by digging their own graves.
These sacrifices won’t be made to save lives, as the rhetoric of war implies; instead “sacrifice” is to rescue the United States economy. During an April 10 press conference, Trump said that he wants to get America “open as soon as possible,” adding a dash of rhetoric he surely found soaring. “This country was meant to be open and vibrant,” he said, implying that the safety measures and subsequent fallout—reduced consumption, above all else—are the antitheses of American life. It’s a sentiment he maintained on April 16 on the south lawn of the White House, during a speech celebrating America’s truckers (UPS and FedEx were represented; the United States Postal Service was not). Trump thanked the “brave, bold, and incredible” truck drivers for their resilience “at a time of widespread shutdown” and called them the lifeblood of the economy.
“In the war against the virus,” Trump said, “American truckers are the foot soldiers who are really carrying us to victory.” While truckers are, indeed, vital to the maintenance of the nation’s supply chain and have been invaluable in shipping necessities to hospitals and everyday Americans alike, Trump’s description of them as footsoldiers was telling. Footsoldiers are important participants in an army, yes, but they are also its least valued or celebrated; their bodies are among the most vulnerable in battle, by design.
But soldiers are aware that risking their lives—the possibility of that ultimate sacrifice—comes with the job. The nation’s truckers signed up to transport goods, not die in the process. Nurses trained to help the sick, not advocate for their own basic safety. Grocery workers took steady hourly jobs, not positions that might require hazard pay. Calling these essential workers “soldiers” transforms their roles into ones where risk and sacrifice is a duty, not a radical upheaval of what they’d agreed to. And Trump’s plan to “reopen” the country amid an ongoing pandemic turns them, and the rest of us, into cannon fodder.
The newly unveiled Opening Up America Again plan, which acts as a blueprint to reopening the country in a series of phases, doesn’t focus on providing stronger safety nets for Americans in the likely event the pandemic extends for months on end. It doesn’t draw out a plan to provide employees with grants in an effort to avoid more employment and loss of benefits. It offers vague promises of increased protective gear and testing, cold comfort coming from an administration that denies the documented shortage of gear and tests. It pushes the country to get back to work again, prioritizing the market and economic stability for those who are already comfortable, health risks be damned. Polls show that Americans are not, actually, willing to put their health at risk to jumpstart the economy and please Trump and his buddies on Wall Street. But try telling that to the Texas Lieutenant Governor, who on March 23 claimed that the elderly are willing to risk their lives for the stock market. Or to grifter Dr. Oz, who on Wednesday said that reopening schools is worth a two- to three-percent mortality rate. Try telling that to Trump, who in March was clamoring, “We cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself.”
Trump attempts to show reverence toward those on the front lines of the covid-19 crisis, but it’s not just the semblance of economic stability that Trump is concerned about. He’s also thinking about his dwindling approval ratings and the general election in November. Sacrificing the unseen people who make the country tick—the working class that Trump claims to have a connection with despite his ideological disdain for them—is, to Trump, a small price to pay to avoid being at the helm during a depression. So he’ll laud them as heroes and pay them vapid lip service during pressers, his new campaign rallies. They’ll be sacrificial lambs in the President’s futile attempt to revive the economy, as he only considers himself.