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In Amazon’s enthralling thriller series Hunters, leftover German Nazis from World War II are living the high life in America while planning a Fourth Reich built around a biological attack aimed at killing the poor, particularly people of color. Race- and class-cleansing made easy.
Far-fetched liberal posturing? Not if you’ve followed the Trump administration’s blame-the-black-guy rhetoric and foot-dragging behavior in response to the coronavirus pandemic, The scenes from White House pressers remind of the gleefully unrepentant Nazis in Hunters. Because for almost two months, Trump, like a sneering Bond supervillain, allowed the virus to spread knowing that poor communities and people of color would pay the greatest cost, economically and health-wise. It wasn’t until it started affecting the Mar-a-Lago crowd and their businesses (and, therefore, his re-election chances) that the president started to take it seriously.
On March 5, seven weeks after the first death from the virus in China, Vice President Mike Pence, who is in charge of the Trump administration’s response team, said, “With regard to the cost, let me be very clear: HHS has designated the coronavirus test as an essential health benefit. That means, by definition, it’s covered in the private health insurance of every American, as well as covered by Medicare and Medicaid.” As health experts have pointed out, this statement isn’t “clear” because policies don’t have to cover the testing. When a reporter asked Pence whether the testing would include the uninsured, Pence walked off without answering as his press secretary Katie Miller scolded, “Screaming for the camera isn’t going to get you anywhere!” Tell that to the 30 million uninsured in the U.S.
Testing the poor was not a priority even though they, due to the accompanying health problems resulting from poverty and their reduced access to medical care, are more at risk than the middle- and upper-classes who are prioritized for testing. Nor is staying home from work an option for those who live on hourly wages, who must now choose between earning money for rent and food or possibly getting infected and spreading the disease to loved ones. Add to that the closure of schools, which creates a double burden for lower income families: They lose the benefit of school meals, and they are the group least likely to be able to stay at home to care for their children.
Trump did not only delay public health efforts, he deliberately sabotaged them through his lies and actions. Most egregiously, to save money, in 2018 he eliminated the Pandemic Response Team that President Obama had set up in 2014 to fight the Ebola threat. As government health experts warned the public to not shake hands, Trump deliberately and defiantly shook hands with his supporters. As the death toll around the world rose, on March 9 Trump downplayed the coronavirus with a tweet comparing it to the common flu, which medical experts said is a bad comparison because the coronavirus is 10 times more lethal and we have no vaccine or treatments for it. Also, CDC studies indicate that the common flu has a higher mortality rate among the poor than other economic groups. So, no reason to be alarmed in Trump Tower.
Amid the public outrage over his lack of leadership, Trump began to distribute blame to his usual targets. Non-white people. For Trump, the blame falls directly on a black man, the Chinese and the Mexicans. At his March 13 news conference he declared, “I don’t take responsibility at all.” Instead, he pointed the finger at Barack Obama without any evidence. Trump will never get past the fact that Obama was loved because of his intelligence, compassion, humor and humanity. Trump isn’t loved but rather adulated, the way cult members mindlessly follow a stern dictatorial father-figure who tells them what to do and think. Like, well, Nazis. When Trump said, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters..” his followers took that as a badge of honor rather than a Mark of Cain to feel shame over. He was proudly describing them as people who would abandon all honor, all morality, even the rule of law that this country stands for just to bask in his orange glow.
The Trump administration and his Republican minions also took to publicly calling the coronavirus the “Chinese flu” or the “Wuhan flu” in an effort to blame nonwhites. At a Feb. 28 rally (yes, despite his own experts recommending that people not gather in large crowds, he held a rally), he touted the border wall as necessary to keep out the virus: “We’ll have 500 miles [of the Southern border fence] built by very early next year some time, so, one of the reasons the numbers are so good” — a reference to why we didn’t have a higher number of cases at that point, which he attributed to the unbuilt wall rather than the fact that we weren’t testing many people. “We will do everything in our power to keep the infection and those carrying the infection from entering our country. … Whether it’s the virus that we’re talking about or many other public health threats. … Now you see it. With the coronavirus, you see it.” So far, no cases of coronavirus in the U.S. have been linked to anyone entering the U.S. from Mexico.
Ironically, it was the NBA, not the USA, that led the way for responsible business practice by suspending its season. Perhaps they were more sensitive to the needs of all Americans because 76 percent of their players are people of color.
Comparing politicians to Nazis has become a favorite pastime in America, to the point that we have diluted the meaning. Everybody can’t be a Nazi just because they disagree with you. They have to exhibit a will to exalt the fortunes of their “people” — based on race, religion, class, political party, etc. — above the welfare of others, even to the point of exterminating all others.
The Nazis in Hunters are powerful people in business and government, devoted to protecting only those they deem worthwhile humans. The government’s early response to coronavirus was not a Nazi conspiracy, but it was “Nazi-adjacent,” meaning that the same attitudes regarding race and class were being employed in determining who’s worthy of government protection. Despite the limp efforts of Pence and his administration lackeys to now praise Trump for his mythological early and decisive actions, his actual failure as a leader will forever be Trump’s legacy of shame.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is an NBA Hall of Famer and contributing editor at The Hollywood Reporter.
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