Robert Reich: Trump Is Actively Pushing Americans Into Harm's Way—And McConnell Is Helping Him | Opinion

Fate has been unkind to the United States. The nation is grappling simultaneously with a pandemic; 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 has not only refused to contain COVID-19 but is actively pushing Americans into harm's way, demanding the nation "reopen" while cases and deaths continue to rise. Meanwhile, he's siphoning federal money intended to dampen the economic crisis into the pockets of his cronies and family. And he is deliberately stoking racial tensions to energize his "base" for the upcoming election.

As if this weren't enough, Trump continues to attack the rule of law, on which a democracy depends in order to deal with these and all other challenges.

But he could not accomplish these abhorrent feats alone. Republicans are either cheering him on or maintaining a shameful silence.

Trump's biggest enabler is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. McConnell's response to Trump's overt appeals to racism? "He's not a racist." McConnell's response to Trump's failure to contain COVID-19? "President Obama should have kept his mouth shut" and not criticized Trump. McConnell's take on 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.

McConnell has been a vocal opponent of the HEROES Act—passed by the House in early May to help Americans survive the pandemic and fortify the upcoming election—calling it a "liberal wish list" and a "blue-state bailout."

In fact, it's a necessary agenda.

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 will otherwise expire on July 31. They argue 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 percent of Americans lived paycheck to paycheck. Now many are desperate, as revealed by lengthening food lines and growing delinquencies in rent payments.

Yet 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-19 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 Trump—including current donors and fundraisers for his re-election—helped their clients rake in more than $10 billion, while an estimated 90 percent of small businesses owned by people of color and women got nothing.

McConnell's response? He's willing to consider more aid to "small business."

But 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 superrich. Is he willing to roll it back to provide more funding for Americans in need?

The inept and overwhelmingly corrupt reign of Trump and McConnell will come to an end next January if enough Americans vote this November.

Republican Policy Luncheon
U.S. President Donald Trump arrives at the U.S. Capitol to attend the Republicans weekly policy luncheon on March 10 in Washington, D.C. Samuel Corum/Getty

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 McConnell isn't interested. He's well aware that more voters increase the likelihood Republicans will be booted out. (Which is also why Trump is claiming, with no evidence, that voting by mail will cause widespread voter fraud.)

If there is another coronavirus bill, differences between McConnell and the House will have to be resolved within two weeks after Congress returns from recess on July 20. 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 Trump.

Robert B. Reich is an American political commentator, professor and author. He served in the administrations of Presidents Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. Reich's latest book, The System: Who Rigged It, How We Fix It, is out now.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.

Robert Reich: Trump Is Actively Pushing Americans Into Harm's Way—And McConnell Is Helping Him | Opinion | Opinion