Fate has been unkind to the United States. The nation is grappling simultaneously with a pandemic that has claimed the lives of more than 136,000; the most severe economic downturn since the Great Depression; and mind-numbing police brutality, which has generated the largest outpouring of grief and anger against systemic racism in memory.
Perhaps America’s greatest misfortune is that these crises have emerged at a time when its leadership is maliciously dedicated to worsening them.
Donald Trump’s biggest enabler is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Mr. McConnell’s response to Mr. Trump’s overt appeals to racism? He “is not a racist.”
Mr. McConnell’s response to Mr. Trump’s failure to contain COVID-19? “President Obama should have kept his mouth shut” and not criticized Mr. Trump.
Mr. McConnell’s take on Mr. Trump’s multiple attacks on the rule of law, including Friday’s commutation of former Trump campaign aide Roger Stone’s prison sentence? Utter silence.
Mr. McConnell has been a vocal opponent of the HEROES Act — passed by the House in May to help Americans survive the pandemic and fortify the upcoming election — calling it a “liberal wish list.” In fact, it’s a necessary agenda.
Mr. McConnell and his fellow Senate Republicans don’t want to extend the bill’s extra-$600-a-week unemployment benefits, which were enacted in March but are due to expire on July 31. They argue that the benefits are higher than what low-income workers are likely to earn on the job, so the money is a disincentive to work.
Rubbish. Few jobs are available to low-income workers, and most are in so-called “essential” work rife with COVID-19. Besides, the U.S. economy can’t be revived unless people have extra money in their pockets to buy goods and services. Even before the pandemic, nearly 80% of Americans lived paycheck to paycheck. Now, many are desperate, as revealed by lengthening food lines and growing delinquencies in rent payments.
Yet Mr. McConnell and his ilk are happy to give away trillions of dollars in bailouts to Wall Street bankers and corporate executives. They quietly inserted into the last COVID relief bill a $170 billion windfall to Jared Kushner and other real estate moguls. Another $454 billion went to backing up a Federal Reserve program that benefits big business by buying up debt.
And although that bill was also intended to help small businesses, lobbyists connected to Mr. Trump (including current donors and fundraisers for his reelection) helped their clients rake in more than $10 billion, while an estimated 90% of small businesses owned by people of color and women got nothing.
Mr. McConnell’s response? He’s willing to consider more aid to “small business.”
But Mr. McConnell urges lawmakers to be “cautious,” warning that “the amount of debt that we’re adding up is a matter of genuine concern.” He seems to forget the $1.9 trillion tax cut he engineered in December 2017 for big corporations and the super-rich. Is he willing to roll it back to provide more funding for Americans in need?
The inept and overwhelmingly corrupt reign of Mr. Trump and Mr. McConnell will come to an end next January if enough Americans vote this November.
But will enough people vote during a pandemic?
The HEROES Act provides $3.6 billion for states to expand mail-in and early voting, yet Mr. McConnell isn’t interested. He’s well aware that high voter turnout increases the likelihood that Republicans will be booted out. (Which is also why Mr. Trump is claiming, with no evidence, that voting by mail will result in widespread voter fraud.)
If there is another coronavirus bill, differences between Mr. McConnell and the House will have to be resolved within two weeks after Congress returns from recess on July 20.
Mr. McConnell says his priority will be to shield businesses from COVID-related lawsuits by customers and employees who have contracted the virus.
If he had an ounce of concern for the nation, his priority would be to shield Americans from the ravages of COVID-19 and American democracy from the ravages of Mr. Trump.
Robert B. Reich, former U.S. Secretary of Labor, is professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley and the author of “The System: Who Rigged It, How We Fix It.” He blogs at www.robertreich.org.