Tweedledee, Tweedledum, COVID-19, and China in the U.S. Election

Trump’s Main Crime is Criminal Negligence

Trump cannot turn back time and re-do February and early March. He cannot undo the damage caused by his inaction on the virus. The fact is, tens of thousands of people in this country became infected while the president pooh-poohed the problem. He showed ignorance and indifference, acting belatedly–as we (some of us) now know, too late to successfully contain the pandemic.

COVID-19 is now out of control, not peaking, not leveling off but rising. Projections of 200,000 dead by October now seem wildly optimistic as we pass 140,000 July 15. The insistence of the president on the reopening of schools next month, and his threat to deny them funds if they refuse, seems under the circumstances both foolish and cruel, and bound to spread the virus.

The Democratic Party, enraged at its failure in 2016, could not blame itself and its decision to nominate a vicious militarist and stalwart of the Wall Street establishment, Hillary Clinton. So it selected the traditional bugaboo–the Soviets (oops, the Russians)–accusing Trump of colluding with an “adversary” to undermine American democracy and shockingly deny the rightful queen her coronation.

Failing to find a case for impeachment on such grounds (2017-2019), they impeached Trump for delaying the shipment of weapons to Ukraine (to be deployed against Russian-backed forces) (2019-2020) but again failed to drive him from office. The Democratic leadership has combined its criticisms of the president with a solid defense of the anti-Russian foreign policy of past administrations, expressing outrage at his troop withdrawals, his rejection of “regime change” in Syria, his questioning of NATO’s ongoing relevance, his churlish behavior towards allies, his failure to heed dubious intelligence about Russian “bounties” paid to Taliban forces to kill Americans, etc.

They promise a return to normalcy–think Hillary Clinton normalcy in foreign policy.

Trump deserves to be defeated for his main offenses, including the forcible separation of immigrant parents and children, the violent clearing of a street filled with demonstrators to allow him to wave a Bible in front of a church, and most of all, criminal neglect in his response to the virus. His mishandling of COVID-19 has been such a spectacular failure that you’d think it would doom his prospects for reelection. Indeed talking heads on cable TV seem increasingly confident that Trump’s inept handling of COVID-19, along with his racist response to Black Lives Matter protests, will insure his defeat in November. They seem always to be talking about how Trump is dropping in the polls.

But It Doesn’t Matter to His Base

However, shows Trump’s approval rate–which began at 45.5% (on Jan. 24, 2017) and has at its very lowest been 36.7% (Dec. 16, 2017)–has been over 40% since February 2020. It was as high as 45.8% as recently as April 1! On July 14 it was 40.4%. Thus throughout the period of the plague, the president has enjoyed consistent support, especially among under-educated males. The fact that face masks have become politicized speaks volumes on the power of the uneducated.

In other words, the thing that should most damn Trump in fact leaves his fans unfazed. So far, at least. And in the difficult months ahead, as the virus spreads, producing unexpected new tensions and turmoil, they may blame not Donald Trump but CHINA and think Trump’s much better able to handle China than Biden.

Another recent poll shows that 33% of respondents support Trump’s response to the coronovirus and 32% his handling of race matters. This is the one-third of the electorate that accepts Trump at his most ignorant and racist. To retain Trump he will continue to downplay the virus and undermine the authority of his medical advisors, including Dr. Fauci (as he has done indirectly through his trade advisor Peter Navarro’s USA Today editorial attack on the doctor). He will deflect attention from his inaction by harping on the Chinese origins of the virus, the alleged “cover-up,” and Chinese delay in reporting human transmission. He will keep alluding to the “Chinese Communist Party” as somehow culpable. He will allege a Chinese plot to destroy the western economies with the plague while China itself keeps infection numbers low (and laughs at us in our pain).

Both Trump and Biden Are Mired in the Cold War

Thus while the Democrats maintain a Cold War mentality towards Russia as the eternal “adversary,” Trump is coming to depict China–“Communist China”–in that role. Regardless of his personal rapport with President Xi Jinping, whom he has not spoken with for months, he has to blame somebody for his problems. He plainly resents the virus for ruining the best economy in the history of the world, something NOT HIS FAULT as he keeps repeating, and jeopardizing his reelection prospects.

Trump’s inclination is to ratchet up tensions with China. U.S. measures to punish Hong Kong following the passage of the new national security law; provocative naval missions in the South China Sea; attacks on Chinese firms; criticism of human rights all keep Sino-U.S. relations tense. This is not good news for, say, soybean farmers who have permanently lost the Chinese market to Brazil. But it works with much of the base–the sort of supporters who will accept Trump’s claim that “China wants Sleepy Joe sooo badly … Joe is an easy mark, their DREAM CANDIDATE!”or more recently in a Rose Garden homily: “Joe Biden’s entire career has been a gift to the Chinese Communist Party and to the calamity of errors that they’ve made.”

But meanwhile, in our Tweedledee-Tweedledum political system, the Democrats depict Trump as the dupe. A Biden ad from April claims that in the early days of the virus Trump “rolled over for the Chinese.” Over footage of Chinese security forces Biden declares: “I would be on the phone with China and making it clear: ‘We are going to need to be in your country. You have to be open. You have to be clear. We have to know what’s going on.’” (The Trump administration did repeatedly offer to send specialists to China to help investigate the outbreak. Biden implies that he should have insisted; surely countries if told by the U.S. “we need to be in your country” should obey!) Biden is loudly condemning Chinese actions in Hong Kong and against Uighurs, threatening sanctions.

Do not expect the Democrats to mitigate the Republicans’ China-bashing; the two parties will compete to promote the image of China as a frighteningly powerful economic giant that got that way by not playing fair, stealing our intellectual property, taking our jobs, manipulating exchange rates, and using prison labor. The PRC’s effort to develop islands it claims in the South China Sea will not be discussed in intelligent historical terms but Beijing will be accused of illegally building on and militarizing dozens of islands it claims. (The current policy, which the State Department retains from the Obama era, is to challenge all Chinese claims in a region traversed by Chinese mariners for 2000 years instead supporting the claims of the other claimant parties including Vietnam and the Philippines.)

Some of the more “left” people around Biden including Asian-American activist Cecilia Wang protested the China ad, warning that Biden was “already trying to out-Trump Trump.This kind of fearmongering,” she added, “is causing violent attacks on Asian Americans.” But he’s doubled down on China criticism in recent days. Biden wants to draw in progressives, BLM, former Sanders supporters etc. But he remains a Wall Street politician with a lifelong record of service to the military-industrial complex and support for imperialist wars.

Biden: Arrogant Opportunist, Imperialist, Entitled, Doddering Old Fool

Biden poses as the sensitive guy, the candidate African-Americans love, a decent man equipped to lead the campaign against COVID-19. Surely he thinks he will win. And advisors no doubt tell him (as the disgraced MSNBC commentator Chris Matthews used to say), “Americans don’t care about foreign policy.” They don’t need to know Biden’s advisors oppose Afghan withdrawal; still want Syrian regime change; still want Ukraine and Georgia to join NATO; support the Jerusalem embassy move and recommend a “more unified and robust defense of U.S. and allied security interests wherever Moscow challenges them” (as Victoria Nuland wrote the other day in Foreign Affairs). The hope is that the masses will reason: Trump is a moron and a racist. Biden is slowing down mentally but decent and not so racist.

(As evidence of the latter: when to balance the ticket, Obama needed a white Wall Street insider–with a history of opposing school busing, working with southern segregationists, representing credit card companies, cultivating police unions, supporting wars based on lies, mistreating Anita Hill–he offered the job to Biden. Biden agreed to accept it and serve as the First Black President’s loyal sidekick. That has endeared him to the church hat ladies in the Democratic Party, although not to African-American youth who like white and Hispanic youth favored Sanders in the primaries. Many find Biden’s record on race wanting.)

But what if the masses think: Biden–while decent in some ways–is more likely to start another war? What does it mean when a Biden aide says Biden will review the decision to pull 9,500 troops from Germany because he has “profound problems” with the move? Some of us think that there should be no troops in Germany at all. What does it mean that Biden advisors want to maintain the Afghan base of Bagram permanently? Or that they advise “pushing back against Chinese expansion” in the body of water called the South China Sea? Or a “more robust response” to Russia in its own immediate periphery?

I’m not suggesting such considerations will determine the election. Chris Matthews was probably right. But those who suppose it obvious that Biden represents a return to decent normalcy should recognize that Trump’s five predecessors all started wars–in Grenada, Panama, Iraq, Bosnia, Serbia, Afghanistan, Iraq again, Libya, Syria–and that this is part of capitalist-imperialist normalcy. The normalcy that should be ripped down along with the racist monuments, erased with the renamings.

Obama retains a reputation in some quarters as a decent man. Perhaps. But he hired Hillary Clinton, a vicious war-monger, again in his need to “bring people together” in a “cabinet of rivals….” Recall how totally centrist he tried to be! And when Hillary begged him to bomb Libya (as she had begged Bill to bomb Bosnia), he agreed. In consequence North Africa’s most advanced state was totally destroyed. Decent Joe could similarly hire Victoria Nuland or someone of her ilk hell-bent on projecting U.S. power in the world after this wimpy period of Trump’s inaction.

Not Necessarily Better than Trump

I do not agree that Trump is worse than Biden. Forgive me, friends, but I am thinking about the impact of the U.S. president in this world that has suffered racist terror from the United States and its military forces throughout this century. There is a long distance between Wounded Knee, South Dakota and Fallujah in Iraq. But there’s an unbroken thread between the ideology of massacre of Lakotas in 1890 and the ideology of massacre of Iraqis in 2003. It’s called white supremacy.

Maj. Beau Biden “served” (as they say) in the bleeding, destroyed, Iraq in 2008-9, helping to put down resistance to the illegal invasion based on lies supported by his dad. (He was there when the famous Abu Ghraib prison was reopened for about 10,000 prisoners.) His father was so proud of him! And all the media people ever talking to dear Beau thanked him for his service as they must do….in this free society in which everybody is free to praise and thank the military.

Trump is disgusting, moronic, ridiculous, and misanthropic, a pathetic inarticulate buffoon. His mind is narrow, dark and solipsistic; he resents all slights like a pampered child. He has the mentality of a middle school bully-cum-high school rapist. It is painful to watch his sneering presentations in which he strains the viewer’s patience with his infantile proclamations delivered in that pompous lecturing tone punctuated by the jerky body language, persistent nasal snorts and sometimes slurred speech. He is a hideous person, a representative of a grotesque heritage of racism, sexism, misogyny, homophobia, and religious bigotry. Plus the buffoonish reality-TV-show and beauty-pageant showmanship. The mix of smirky expansiveness–that broad flashy grim–with mental vacuity (both not unique to him, by the way; he shares these with George W. Bush) make me sick to my stomach as I think of him back in office.

But Biden is disgusting too, in different ways. He’s also cocky, in an a old-white-man sort of way. He also thinks he’s charming and feels entitled. Elected to the Senate at age 30, running for president in 1988 (curtailed abruptly as you recall by the plagiarism scandal) and again 2008, he obtained the number two position and did what he needed to do. The next natural step–that Beau had urged upon him!–was to seek the presidency. As the most conservative figure among the huge field of Democratic prospects this year, he deserved the support of the DNC–whose main purpose (as you know) was to crush Bernie Sanders and any discussion of “socialism” in this country, ever. He’s just what the doctor ordered: anti-single payment healthcare; anti-police defunding; anti-free college education if willing to compromise to win support.

He’s also on board the traditional bipartisan consensus that never, ever even thinks to challenge the need to maintain 800 military bases in 177 countries when all the other overseas military bases in the world number fewer than 30.

Biden is short-tempered, and has been caught on tape acting like an angry drunk. He shows signs of dementia. He reportedly touches inappropriately. Like Trump, he sometimes says things that make no sense. (With Biden, you notice, he loses track of the end of the sentence and gives up, laughing at himself. With Trump, it’s a matter of looking at the teleprompter, misreading and making no sense but delivering anyway with a stupid form of confidence hoping no one will notice.) His response to radio host Charlamagne in his May 22 interview tells us a lot. Biden cut short a 20-minute interview because he had other things to do, so Charlamagne invited him back for more discussion.

“You’ve got more questions?,” asked the visibly annoyed Biden. “I’ll tell you, if you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or for Trump, then you ain’t Black.” That he almost immediately apologized after being drowned in angry criticism does not negate the fact that Biden thinks Blacks owe him. And that everybody who pukes at Trump will automatically embrace him because “our system” only allows two choices, between two Wall Street parties. He imagines perhaps that the masses love him as the only savior.


But I return again always to Shakespeare’s Mercutio, in this plague year. Stabbed by friend Romeo in the Verona town square, victim of a quarrel that had nothing to do with him, Mercutio swore: “A plague on both your houses!”

May this multi-tiered crisis undermine the system itself, such that we can dream beyond the aging airheads Tweedledee and Tweedledum. Whoever wins, in the real world (as opposed to the world of the ballot box) we will in the aftermath need to tear down not just statues but institutions. We could begin with closing military bases and defunding police. In these matters Biden is surely no better than Trump.

A plague on elections that offer no future, and candidates whose integrity can’t match that of the principled window-smasher or focused arsonist. People who wouldn’t be talking about police murder as they do recently had not the youth of Minneapolis shocked the shit out them by torching the police precinct office where George Floyd’s murderers had been headquartered. This at least is my personal assessment. There was a rapid arc between street demonstrations and the occupation of the area, clashes with police, police retreat, the storming of the building and its systematic, controlled cremation of the building while mostly white people looked on somberly. That was a powerful moment. A statement of rage and loss of patience.

Would that the energy in the streets remain in the streets; my adult children are out there. (I worry about them, being bi-racial, in LA, and potentially in risky situations with police.) I should be out there too; I can in good conscience march around Boston Common. But I can’t vote for Biden or Trump.

Gary Leupp is a Professor of History at Tufts University, and author of numerous works on Japanese history. He can be reached at: Read other articles by Gary.