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Trump shifting attention from virus work

Robert Reich, syndicated columnist

Donald Trump has said he has “no responsibility” for the coronavirus pandemic, fobbing it off on governors and mayors whose repeated requests for federal help he’s denied. Yet he’s now sending federal troops into cities he says are controlled by the “radical left,” even as mayors and governors urge him to stay out.

Trump wants to shift public attention from the virus, which he can’t “dominate,” to the streets of America, which he and his secret police can.

He’s spending time and resources waging a war on his own citizens rather than addressing the pandemic, even as coronavirus deaths are rising.

More Americans are on track to be hospitalized with the virus than at any other point thus far. Rates of new infections repeatedly shatter single-day records. As a result, the U.S. economy is backsliding.

Trump has never offered a national strategy for testing, contact tracing and isolating those who have the disease. He has provided no standards for reopening the economy, no plan for national purchasing of critical supplies, no definitive policy for helping the unemployed, no clear message about what people and businesses should do. He rushed to reopen without adequate safeguards.

It’s been an abominable, chaotic mess — which is why the virus has come surging back.

Yet when it comes to assaulting Americans, Trump has been asserting strong leadership. He’s deploying unidentified federal agents against protesters in Portland, Oregon: attacking them, pulling them into unmarked vans, detaining them without charges.

Trump is also sending troops to Kansas City, Albuquerque and Chicago. He says he’ll send them to New York, Philadelphia, Detroit, Baltimore and Oakland as well — not incidentally, all cities with Democratic mayors, large Black populations and no violent unrest.

Trump can’t find federal personnel to do contact tracing for the coronavirus but has found thousands of agents for his secret police, drawn from the departments of Justice and Homeland Security.

Trump doesn’t want to know about the coronavirus, but he’s keeping careful track of the battles he’s instigating in the streets, demanding up-to-the-minute briefings from the front lines.

Public health authorities don’t have adequate medical equipment to quickly analyze coronavirus tests, but Trump’s police have everything they need to injure protesters, including armored vans, tear gas and tactical assault weapons — “the best equipment,” Trump boasted last week.

Trump has legal authority to attack the coronavirus but none to attack Americans. The founders denied police power to the national government. The local officials in charge of keeping public order reject Trump’s troops. The mayor of Portland was tear-gassed last week. The mayor of Kansas City calls them “disgraceful.” Albuquerque’s mayor announced: “There’s no place for Trump’s secret police in our city.” Chicago’s mayor does “not welcome dictatorship.”

Trump is spreading lies about “riots” on the streets while suppressing the truth about the coronavirus.

His campaign’s fictitious ads portray cities as overrun by violent left-wing mobs, and Trump’s shameless Fox News lackeys are depicting protesters as the “armed wing of the Democratic party.”

At the same time, the White House is instructing hospitals to report COVID-19 cases to the Department of Health and Human Services rather than to the CDC. Trump has muzzled the federal government’s most prominent and trusted virologist, Dr. Anthony Fauci, while the White House tries to discredit him. In the upcoming coronavirus relief bill, Trump doesn’t even want to fund more testing and tracing, or the CDC.

After railing against the CDC’s guidelines for reopening schools as “very tough [and] expensive,” Trump pressured the CDC to issue more lax guidelines, some of which were written by White House officials instead of CDC experts. Ironically, the school attended by Trump’s son, Barron, will not fully reopen because it wants to protect students from the virus. Funny how that works.

The good news is, no matter how hard he tries, Trump won’t be able to shift public attention from the virus to the streets of America.

The violence he’s trying to fuel and exaggerate will not distract people from the deadliness of COVID-19, which is worsening by the day, especially in Texas, Florida and other states that went for Trump in 2016.

Trump’s blatant failure to contain the virus is causing tens of thousands of unnecessary deaths.

In fewer than 100 days, the American people will remember his deadly incompetence and hold him accountable.

Editor’s note: Robert Reich, former U.S. Secretary of Labor, is professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley and the author of “Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future.” He blogs at www.robertreich.org.

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