Lindsey German on POTUS, Johnson’s Tories and the political use of migrant-bashing
We can be sure that the one news picture Donald Trump did not want to see a month before the US election is of him, fully masked, walking towards a helicopter taking him to hospital because he had contracted Covid-19. Now he is being treated for the deadly virus which he so often dismissed as the plague, or ‘kung flu’, and brushed off as not being serious. Now masks are being worn in the White House but only a week ago the great and the good of the US Republican party attended the outdoor nomination of judge Amy Coney Barrett to the supreme court, with barely a mask in sight and no evidence of social distancing.
This conscious political act just weeks before an election of appointing an extreme conservative to the court following the death of reformer Ruth Bader Ginsburg may, indeed, have been a ‘super spreader’ event, leading to the infection of a number who were there. The recklessness of Trump’s attitude towards the virus, leading to very high levels of death and infection, has not helped him or the many who unfortunately take a lead from him. At the debacle of a debate on Tuesday, Trump’s family ostentatiously removed their masks in contravention of guidelines, and this marks a repeated pattern of contempt for public safety.
Unlike many working-class Americans who contract the illness, however, Trump will be able to count on the best medical treatment and care, while those who followed his cavalier attitude to Covid-19 may not be so lucky. I also wonder at Twitter’s zero tolerance approach to those who wish Trump not to recover – he has been one of the most insulting Twitter users, and in general abuse of left-wing women in particular is usually unchecked.
Trump’s own approach to these questions could be seen very clearly in the first presidential debate where he shouted down his opponent repeatedly, refused to engage in discussion and most dangerously gave encouragement to the far-right Proud Boys when asked to distance himself from these forces. He knows exactly what he is doing here. These endorsements not only give succour to fascists and their close friends, they also give a green light to major disruption of the election if, as looks likely, Trump is set to lose.
Already we have seen a summer of killings by police of black people, far right assassinations of anti-fascist protesters, and Trump himself declaring that the election process is illegitimate. There has been a sharp increase in gun sales in recent months. The danger of much greater conflict between left and right, egged on by right wing politicians including Trump, cannot be ruled out and are a serious issue for the left.
Meanwhile, Trump’s illness has thrown everything up in the air. According to press reports there is panic in the White House with one telling the Washington Post ‘people are losing their minds’. It is very hard to calculate what this will mean in terms of the election because there are so many unknowns, but Trump’s illness thrusting the Covid-19 crisis centre stage probably isn’t good for him. We know however that Biden cannot deliver what is needed to improve the lives of working people in the US, nor has any intention of doing so.
Socialists and the left in the US will need all the solidarity they can get to fight the threat of the far right, to provide answers to the public health crisis and to defend jobs and living standards in the economic turbulence ahead.
Johnson’s a clown but nobody’s laughing any more
Back in Britain Trump’s mini-me has his own problems. Johnson is under increasing attack from his own side. Many of the Tory MPs who wrung concessions about a parliamentary vote on lockdown last week are on the right of the party. They don’t want lockdowns, they don’t want the pubs to shut early, and they certainly don’t want any disruption to the important business of making profits.
So there’s more individual blame attached to those breaking the regulations, including hefty fines which you can be sure will weigh disproportionately more on the poor. There is in effect an experiment with herd immunity, as they insist schools and universities stay open in dangerous conditions and suggest that the vulnerable just stay indoors and don’t bother anyone.
What’s clear is the local lockdowns aren’t working. They made some difference over the summer but now infections are going up again from early September. Which is when most schools went back. Now infections are spreading again, coinciding with the beginning of the university term where most institutions are insisting on some in person teaching (having spent recent years encouraging lecture capture to facilitate online learning!).
There are two areas where risk of infection is high: in educational institutions and in workplaces. In the US, the warehouse giant Amazon, announced 19,816 confirmed or presumed Covid-19 cases across its frontline staff. In Britain food processing and other factories have been the scenes of high infection rates. The obvious conclusion would be to implement proper testing and tracing, social distancing and shut down premises where appropriate. Instead, we are still being forced to work or education in many cases. Restrictions on individual families and households continue while pubs and restaurants stay open.
It is the madness of the market and it is damaging people’s health. Expect it to get worse as unemployment rises and there is more pressure to work in unsafe conditions. And Labour’s bipartisan approach is doing it – and us - no favours.
Fascism yesterday, government policy today?
One of the main weapons used by the right is the demonisation of migrants and asylum seekers. It has reached a crescendo over the summer with media headlines about invasions, as small groups of refugees embarked on the dangerous Channel crossing. The fascist Britain First engaged in the stunt of going around hotels harassing asylum seekers. Now it transpires that Home Secretary Priti Patel looked at plans to send asylum seekers to St Helena, Ascension Island and the Falklands to suffer who knows what fate on a windswept rock in the Atlantic.
The problem is with the politics of immigration is that what the fascists say today becomes government policy tomorrow if we are not careful. Across Europe and the developed world, political parties and governments are proposing draconian measures to keep out migrants. Some of the poorest countries in Europe, such as Bosnia, are used as sorts of holding camps for refugees and migrants, who are subject to terrible treatment from the police and sometimes local populations. The lack of sympathy from many in Britain speaks volumes about how the scapegoating has worked.
The refusal of the richest countries in the world to help those from some of the poorest (and very often the most war torn) is one of the great scandals of our time. Globalisation has accelerated migration, yet they are also blamed by many people in the developed world for the problems of globalisation. Instead both are victims of the processes of globalisation and neoliberalism.
That is why support for migrants and refugees is not only a moral question (which it is), or a legal question (which it also is). It is a question of class solidarity because it is a major example of divide and rule encouraged by those who exploit us. Welcoming refugees and migrants, demanding that they have the right to work and in the same conditions as the rest of us, and that they have the right to be in this country, is a first step towards building that class solidarity.
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As national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey was a key organiser of the largest demonstration, and one of the largest mass movements, in British history.
Her books include ‘Material Girls: Women, Men and Work’, ‘Sex, Class and Socialism’, ‘A People’s History of London’ (with John Rees) and ‘How a Century of War Changed the Lives of Women’.
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