17 April 2020   1 comment

President Trump has characterized himself as a “war president” in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. In my lifetime, I have witnessed a number of wartime presidents: Johnson had his war on poverty, Nixon had his war on cancer, Carter termed energy conservation as the “moral equivalent of war”, Reagan had his war on drugs, and W. Bush had his war on terror. On 13 March 2020 Mr. Trump invoked the Stafford Act to declare a national public health emergency. I’ve also been around when the US has fought a number of wars: Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq. And I am concerned that other wars are waiting to be launched against Iran and North Korea. The war analogy is a dangerous one, designed to mobilize public support for actions that undermine the very principles of democratic governance.

Paul Renfro, writing for Time magazine, explains the significance of the war metaphor in contemporary American culture:

“‘Americans know war,’ theologian Stanley Hauerwas notes, and when we ‘are frightened … ironically war makes us feel safe.’ Michael Sherry concurs — building on the work of the late historian Marilyn B. Young — when he calls the United States ‘a nation deeply wedded to and defined by war, though maddeningly reluctant to admit it.’

Still, real war remains distant and abstract for the overwhelming majority of Americans. As scholar Andrew Bacevich indicated in 2011, ‘approximately half of 1 percent of our citizens bear the burden of service and sacrifice’ — meaning 99.5% of Americans are not personally attached to the military or the national security state. The physical and emotional distance separating most Americans from the battlefield allows them to glorify war while knowing nothing of its unspeakable horrors or the sacrifice it entails.”

Paul Pillar, who worked for the US Central Intelligence Agency and ultimately called out the Bush Administration for “cherry-picking” intelligence supporting the invasion of Iraq in 2003 (and who was a personal friend of mine in college), has written an essay for National Interest on the problems with treating a public health emergency as a “war”:

“Donald Trump’s authoritarian tendencies and resistance to oversight make him more like Orban than like the British. With uncertainties about how this year’s presidential election will be conducted—and with Trump’s friend Bibi Netanyahu showing how to leverage the coronavirus crisis into staying in power despite even an indictment for corruption—political maneuvering by Trump that would undermine electoral democracy seems likely.  It becomes all the likelier to the extent he can claim that being at ‘war’ necessitates compromising even democratic principles and practices.

“The issue of how the end of the metaphorical war is complicated when applied to the coronavirus. Given what epidemiologists tell us, a burst of short-term sacrifice in the form of highly restrictive lockdowns and quarantines would be more beneficial than any short-term efforts that might be made in the name of counterterrorism. This kind of anti-viral ‘surge’ would pay more dividends than the military surges in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“The fight against covid-19, however, will not have an ending even remotely analogous to the World War II surrender on the deck of a battleship.  Even those experts who are optimistic about the development of a vaccine are not talking about eradication of covid-19 in the way smallpox has been eradicated.  Shoving aside other principles and priorities for the sake of ‘winning’ a current ‘war’ is inappropriate when what is needed are sustainable, long-term arrangements that accommodate interests of public health, economic prosperity, and political rights and liberties.”

A few days ago, Mr. Trump declared that he had “total authority” over the actions of states, despite the 10th Amendment to the Constitution. An today, he tweeted out to protesters in three states, advocating that the protests should “liberate” citizens from the very strictures his administration had articulated yesterday before the stay at home orders are relaxed. NBC News describes how some citizens interpret the tweets:

“Trump’s tweets, however, pushed many online extremist communities to speculate whether the president was advocating for armed conflict, an event they’ve termed ‘the boogaloo,’ for which many far-right activists have been gearing up and advocating since last year.

“There were sharp increases on Twitter in terms associated with conspiracies such as QAnon and the ‘boogaloo’ term immediately following the president’s tweets, according to the Network Contagion Research Institute, an independent nonprofit group of scientists and engineers that tracks and reports on misinformation and hate speech across social media.

“Posts about the ‘boogaloo’ on Twitter skyrocketed in the hours after the president’s tweets, with more than 1,000 tweets featuring the term, some of which received hundreds of retweets.

Posted April 17, 2020 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

One response to “17 April 2020

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  1. Pingback: 5 May 2020 | World Politics News

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