If you get to the end of this and think all it’s doing is defending Trump, you’ve missed the point.
For the first time in months there is no front page COVID story. The replacement is the police killing in Minneapolis and chaos everywhere else. But the repurposing is familiar: blame Trump for the tragedy to defeat him in November.
For months there were charts and tickers of COVID infections, deaths, missing ventilators, anything countable that made things look bad. When the stock market was hemorrhaging money those numbers were in red up front. Today, if it’s actual COVID info you seek, look for it where it started, before it was rebooted from Wuhan’s Virus to Trump’s Virus, back in the business section.
Today’s precipitating news peg is the death of another black man at the hands of another white cop under another set of dubious circumstances. If 100,000 COVID deaths can’t shake your faith in Trump, maybe one more of these will. In the eyes of the mainstream media, it is of course all Trump’s fault. The problem with that is former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, now charged with murder in the death of George Floyd, previously shot one suspect, was involved in the fatal shooting of another, and received at least 17 complaints during his nearly two decades with the department.
Nobody prosecuted him for any of that, including never-gonna-be-VP Amy Klobuchar, as a county prosecutor. Klobuchar also did not criminally charge other cops in the more than two dozen officer-involved fatalities during her time as prosecutor. She punted those decisions to a grand jury. Current Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, who was a lawyer and state legislator when Klobuchar was prosecutor, defended Klobuchar’s record as “a practice that was common at the time.” That’s another way of saying systematic.
One person Klobuchar systematically declined to prosecute was today’s villain, Derek Chauvin. In 2006 he was one of six officers who shot Wayne Reyes after Reyes aimed a shotgun at police after stabbing two people. Small world. And that’s before anyone looks again at Biden’s own record on these things, from Cornpop on forward.
See, this week has happened before. George Bush had Rodney King. Under Bill Clinton it was Amadou Diallo shot 41 times, remembered in the Springsteen song American Skin (41 Shots). For George W. Bush, it was Sean Bell. Eric Garner was strangled by police during the Obama term, alongside the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, Missouri.
Barack Obama said what happened last week in Minnesota “shouldn’t be normal in 2020 America” when in fact it has been normal for some time now, including under his watch. After the police killing of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, Maryland, in 2015, Obama called the protesters “criminals.” Oops. But the media has him covered now; Vox jumped in this round with “being a former president is different. Now that he is out of office, Obama is more free to try to lead the social change his candidacy once promised.” Change? Leadership? Obama’s Justice Department did not prosecute Eric Gardner’s killer. Obama’s Justice Department did not prosecute Michael Brown’s killer. So today there is still no justice, no peace. Blame Trump.
If that Minnesota cop was a violent racist, he certainly didn’t take the red pill from Trump’s hand, not with two decades of personal complaints and two decades of signature national violence and two decades of prosecutorial somnolence behind him. Remind us again, who was the black Democratic president of the United States during most of that time? Who was his black Democratic attorney general? And someone is trying to use racism in 2020 to take down Trump?
Wait, breaking news! Trump is threatening to kill Americans! In what The New York Times characterized as “an overtly violent ultimatum to protesters,” Trump tweeted the phrase “When the looting starts, the shooting starts” and threatened to deploy the National Guard to Minneapolis.
Now of course the Times knows but didn’t let on to the rubes it knows that it is nearly impossible for the president to federalize the National Guard for domestic law enforcement (we slogged through the explanations two years ago in another faux-panic Trump was going to order the Guard to enforce immigration laws.) The Guard generally answers to its state governor, and in the case of Minnesota, Governor Walz already called for full mobilization. Again just a tweet, carrying the weight of a feather. So it’s fitting the punishment is a tagged violation of Twitter rules and not impeachment this time.
The problem with using COVID as the Trump Killer was not enough people died. Had the early predictions of millions of deaths sweeping across the nation had any truth in them, that would be hard to ignore. Had COVID zombies using their last strength to fight over the remaining ventilators come to pass, that would have been an October Surprise in May.
COVID also killed the wrong people. One can imagine Democratic strategists shouting “Find me some white cheerleaders in Wisconsin who will never realize their dreams, dammit!” Instead, the dead were a majority poor and black, with about half of all COVID deaths in the U.S. in ravaged and neglected parts of the New York City area no one really cared much about before all this. You can see some of those areas on TV today, filled with protesters fighting cops. A few efforts at trying to tie COVID into a greater tapestry of economic inequality didn’t get very far; nobody had much concern for Amazon warehouse workers when they themselves were out of work and waiting on packages of Nutter Butters.
COVID was fundamentally a crisis of economic inequality; the bodies in New York City are the proof. If it was a failure of leadership, then that failure must be traced back some 50 years, and has less to do with a lack of PPE in 2020 than it does with a lack of national healthcare and a living wage contact traced from Nixon to whoever the next guy turns out to be, because both candidates have promised to do nothing new enough to fix those things.
It is sad and cruel and horrible to say no one cared in the end enough for the virus to beat Trump but that is what happened. Remember it in a few weeks when the news has forgotten George Floyd.
The failure of Trump not failing as a leader during COVID, or with police violence, follows a long string of similar stuff, beginning even before his inauguration. For three years we were told the president was literally a Kremlin agent doing Putin’s business out of the Oval Office based on blackmail. Then there was something about the Ukraine that rose to the level of actual impeachment that is still hard to explain and seemed to implicate Biden as much as Trump. Trump will kill us all was a meme Democrats threw against the wall multiple times, with various North Korean and Iranian wars and of course the virus. And now, forget all that. It’s racism, stupid.
Former cop Derek Chauvin didn’t wait for Trump to send out a tweet, or even take office, before becoming violent. He’d been at that for two decades. The systematic racism in Minnesota has roots deep into (d/D)emocratic governance, and wasn’t enabled by a few tweets. This is the same answer for the virus; the economic inequality which drove the virus in places like New York City has very little to do with Trump or his supposed lack of leadership, same as it had nothing to do with the made-up ventilator shortage. It is no surprise in 2020 two leading causes of death among the poor and black are police shooting and COVID.
If all we do is play politics with tragedy that’s all we’ll ever do toward resolving tragedy. Resolution lies in looking forward to seeking fundamental solutions over looking backward to assign blame. People in the comments below will claim this is defending Trump. That is as wrong as it is irrelevant. If anyone thinks more violence is the answer, or that this will elect Biden, or that his administration will change things, you’re missing the most important point: the revolution has been televised. You’ve watched it already, you just don’t realize which side won.
Peter Van Buren, a 24-year State Department veteran, is the author of We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People,Hooper’s War: A Novel of WWII Japan, and Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the #99 Percent.