BY MARC STEINER OCTOBER 12, 2020
Marc Steiner: Welcome everybody to The Marc Steiner Show right here on The Real News Network. We are in the midst of the intersecting madness that is facing our country. “Who would have thought it could get any crazier with a wheezing madman at the helm,” as Abby Zimet wrote in the Common Dreams, all bets seem to be off. We don’t know where this is going to lead us and what’s going to happen next.
Trump leaves the hospital early, says, “Don’t worry about COVID,” as he gasps for breaths on the White House portico. Then cancels the COVID stimulus package that leaves millions in the lurch, but will allow them room to confirm a youthful right-wing Christian ideologue to the Supreme Court, and the madness and uncertainty will continue on through this election, that’s for sure.
So to help us sort through this and to think through what’s going on here, we’re going to once again talk with James Zogby, former member of the DNC, advisor to Bernie Sanders’s campaign, founder and president of the American Arab Institute. And Jim, welcome back. Always good to have you with us.
James Zogby: Thank you, Marc, thank you.
Marc Steiner: So where do you want to begin? On the portico?
James Zogby: I think that when you call Trump a narcissist, the assumption is that it’s somebody who primps in front of a mirror and sits under a tanning light to make his skin orange. It’s actually more dangerous than that and we’re seeing it play out. This is a pathological narcissism that is so only concerned with himself that he puts others at risk. And in this case in a personal way, but actually throughout his entire administration. And one would say through his entire business career has given not a whit for anybody else. Declaring bankruptcy five times. No one thinks about the number of small businesses that had to follow in bankruptcy themselves, or the number of workers that were laid off, or the number of banks that had to pay a price and through them, their customers, because this guy only thinks of himself.
And now we’re seeing it play out, like I said, in a personal way, where doctors, Secret Service, the staff in the White House, the basic service employees in the White House are all at risk, in addition to, of course, the country as a whole. Because this man thinks only of himself, his image. Seeing him standing on the portico, not just taking his mask off, but then coming back out and primping to make sure he got his jacket buttoned right, and the right look, and the thumbs up, this is a danger to everyone around him. And he happens to be the president, which puts us all at risk.
Marc Steiner: Let’s examine some of these contradictions here though, the dangers and all of this go beyond just Trump himself. When he was diagnosed with COVID and many physicians, epidemiologists seeing the treatment he received, which is a treatment that is an unproven yet. But the steroid he’s been given has a lot of side effects, irrationality, weight gain, just going off the deep end. We don’t know if that’s happening or not [crosstalk 00:03:20].
James Zogby: He’s doing well on the weight gain and on the being mentally out of control anyway. This just accents existing preconditions, yeah.
Marc Steiner: Correct. But I think that what this also means though is that the people around him who are pushing the country in a certain direction don’t really care about the madness because they can use the madness. So what you’re seeing now is he’s saying no to the stimulus package, which will allow them to move ahead with Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination, and the impact that could have. And so you have that on the one hand, and the other hand, you have the impact on working people and people in America when he says no to the stimulus package that they were actually working on some way to get through. So this has dire consequences for people in the immediate future.
James Zogby: That’s why I think, with good reason, we blame not just his irrationality, but we have to blame those who enable the irrationality, and have made the Faustian deal that they will tolerate and support him as long as he gets them the conservative judges they want, the tax breaks they want, the deregulation they want. And while people focus on Amy Coney Barrett, in terms of the fanatic religious movement she belongs to and her ideology or philosophy on social issues, she’s a corporatist. We will see more support for doing away with, stripping away federal regulation on emissions, on making clean water, clear air, all of that.
The powers of the presidency will be affirmed. He’s in such a rush to get this through because he knows that his people are already preparing lawsuits about the election should he lose, and he wants a sure majority on the Supreme Court. This is a danger and the people who are enabling him, like I said, from Mitch McConnell to the Stepford wife he has as a vice-president are folks who are actually more to blame than this crazy man. They could have done a 25th amendment. The Republican party could have disowned him in 2016. They made this deal with the beast. The beast has devoured them and now they’re afraid to turn on him and that’s a danger.
Marc Steiner: So before we jump into this election and also this court nomination which is about to happen, and I see no way of stopping it, we can talk about that in a minute. When he tweets out, “Don’t be afraid of COVID. Don’t let it dominate your life.” So when he tweeted that out, that has huge consequences. COVID is growing by leaps and bounds, especially in Republican held states, where the right wing just wants to deny that this is a real danger, that you’re interfering with people’s individual liberties. It’s where a mask could do anything concrete to stop it. Now he’s standing up there as if nothing’s wrong with him, when clearly there’s something is wrong with him. This is in the midst of this pandemic. It’s not just Trump. It’s all the people around him are just letting this thing flow. And this is a real danger to all of our citizens.
James Zogby: Look, I asked earlier in the week whether or not this should be looked at in the same way that one looks at HIV positive. It is a crime if a person diagnosed HIV positive willingly exposes other people to that illness. And here you have a person who should be charged, in the case of President Trump, with reckless endangerment, with criminal negligence, with putting people at risk, even if nothing more than the Secret Service agents that he’s dealing with.
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This is not a flu. People look at it as a, “Well, you get sick for a little while and you get…” At least 20% of the cases result in people having a permanent disability at the end of this. It’s something that we don’t talk about enough, that I’ve spoken with enough folks at hospitals that I’ve recently had exposure to because my wife had a stroke and was in the hospital for quite a while. The folks are telling me that they’ve gone from dealing with stroke patients to COVID patients in terms of mental impairment, in terms of physical disability, people having trouble walking, keeping their balance, et cetera.
So he is putting people at risk. For it to be the president of the United States doing this and sending the message, “Don’t be afraid. Go out and risk getting yourself infected,” is the height of narcissism, of selfishness, of just a total neglect of responsibility as a leader. If you were a parent, we would take the children away from him because he is endangering their lives. He happens to be the leader of the country, and there’s no way we can act unless Republicans put him on a short leash and they have not shown the willingness to do it.
I think that the Democrats are right to say, “We’re not going to go to a damn hearing when two members of your committee have been diagnosed positive and have been…” Mike Lee’s been going around hugging and kissing people for weeks when people were saying don’t do it and he infected other people. These people are so cavalier about this, and either have a point to prove, or are just totally irresponsible. So I think Democrats should not have anything to do with this at all until Mitch McConnell agrees to put in place precautions.
Marc Steiner: Well, what would happen if in the Amy Coney Barrett hearings, if that actually happened. Supposing what you’re suggesting happened and Democrats didn’t participate, what would happen?
James Zogby: Well, they could do it remotely. They could do it remotely. We still don’t know if more Republicans are going to be infected. Look, two of the Republicans on the committee are out with the disease. You can’t vote remotely. You have to show up and vote. That’s two down. That means it’s a right now a 10-10 split. If Susan Collins can be counted on, and I’m never sure if Susan Collins can be counted on for anything other than to be unsure, that would put a majority against moving her forward. If that’s the case, I think Republicans have to think twice about it.
But at the same time, the question about the full floor vote, you have to, again, vote in person. And right now you got three Republicans infected. Lord knows how many more by the time we get down to the wire on the vote. It may very well be that we don’t have a Republican majority able to cast the vote. So I think this is a bit up in the air right now in terms of how we go.
Marc Steiner: Because the nomination itself, Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination, it’s concerning to a lot of people. Whether you take things like people like Chris Hedges have written about the Christian nationalism, or whether you take the people who just worry about reproductive rights and the corporatist nature of her decisions that have taken place, and what this seals on the Supreme Court. As many people don’t really understand the depth of weight the court has on defining our democracy and how that would change the entire nature of the political struggle in this country if she’s on the court.
James Zogby: I think that’s absolutely true. I think that’s why McConnell has violated the McConnell rule to push her through and why the president is so insistent on getting her in before the election. He wants to secure a strong enough majority that as in the case of Gore v. Bush, should it come down to that. I think it very probably will that he’ll have the majority he needs. When he said at the debate, “This isn’t going to end well,” he was actually giving us a signal as to how he’s going to play this out. They’re going to use voter suppression. They’re going to use legal challenges, and they’re going to go to court questioning the very legitimacy of the vote and the count in several states.
If people aren’t intimidated and go vote, there’s going to be a lot of intimidation. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see violence instigated by the right in order to justify the suspension of vote or the bringing in of national guard, which itself will be an act of voter suppression, making it difficult for some people to cast their votes on election day.
So I think we’re in for a very difficult next four weeks. And then after the election, it’s going to be even more difficult as this plays out. What we’d love to see is such a clear Biden victory, that there’s just no question at all. I’m afraid that we’re going to have questions and we’re going to see this play out in a very ugly, ugly way between now and the end of the year.
Marc Steiner: Well, let’s conclude with this piece then because what you just said. I’m thinking about the interconnect about what we’re facing here after the election and what we’re facing coming up to the election. You mentioned some of the things here. The subverting voter rights, voter suppression, counting mail-ins, not counting mail-ins, all these spurious reasons. This sets up a great deal in terms of what could happen. You are also, Jim, you’ve been known, you’re a very level-headed man from my experience from watching you do your work. So you’re not given to this hyperbole, “Oh no, they’re coming across the Hill.”
But what you’re describing here is a real potential danger that A, the election could be stolen. B, that violence could take place. There were articles being written recently, and I know this for a fact just talking to relatives who are among the police, that white supremacists are inside the police department. They’re inside the military. I don’t want to be a reverse [inaudible 00:14:06] guy here, but I’m just saying that there are real dangers of violence ahead plus voter suppression. We could be facing an extremely serious and dire political situation in the coming months. Do you think that’s real or do you think that’s hyperbole?
James Zogby: I think it’s very real and not hyperbolic at all. I’ve long said that I worried less about what would happen before the election, although now I’m worried about that too, than I was about what would happen after the election. When we saw folks armed with semi-automatic weapons on state capitol doorsteps demanding an end to lock down in their states, when we heard the president make veiled and not so veiled references to the second amendment rights, when we saw the president encourages people to go and confront Black Lives Matter demonstrations, and support those who used actual violence at these rallies, see his cavalier use of national guard. And this, what is somebody recently called, the Praetorian guard, his use of several little government agencies in unmarked cars and non-distinguishable uniforms to carry out.
I am very afraid that we have a situation that we’ve never seen in this country before, even during the Civil War, where you have the president actually encouraging the use of armed independent white nationalist militia to cause disruption. And even if he doesn’t, I believe that they are on the verge of doing it anyway. If it looks like he’s losing, they’re going to use violence.
And so look, I want a Biden victory, but at the same time, it almost doesn’t matter in terms of the violence and the potential for violence that we might see. Because these people are there. The polarization is real, and the agitation is real, and the encouragement from the president is real. I am concerned that people will take this into their own hands in the day of the election and the days that follow the election. I think it’s not exaggeration. I think it’s a danger.
Marc Steiner: So very quickly, because I said this was the last question, what you just said, this will be the last question. So let’s talk a minute for about what political responses are to this. Clearly, there were 23 million people hit the streets in the wake of George Floyd’s death and all these demonstrations against racism in this country. It’s a huge number of people and most of the people were not African-Americans who were in the streets saying no to this. Most of those demonstrators, 90% of them or more, were peaceful demonstrators, but so that’s one end. There’s the political end, the Democratic party is split in many ways between progressives and centrists. So what do you think a political response could be, should be, and will be?
James Zogby: Number one, and there has to be a mass turnout on election day both to win, but also I think to confront those who are using voter suppression tactics. They can’t be the only ones at the polls. It’s a risk and a danger. But you saw in Virginia here just recently when they had the first day of open voting, you had folks, Trump banners and flags blocking the entrances for early voting. That’s an early sign of what is to come.
So I think that they have to be confronted and challenged on an equal playing field. Is there the risk that violence couldn’t occur? Of course, but there also has to be a putting the burden back on the Republican party. I have to believe that there are people in that party who will assume some degree of responsibility if they see this incitement and encouragement to violence continue to take place.
And so the burden is actually on them, and we need to shift the burden to them to say, “What are you going to do about it? And when it begins, will you join us in calling for folks not to stand by, but to stand down and to not engage in this activity?” I see no other recourse. We certainly aren’t going to see our folks armed with AK 47, confronting them. That’s not the approach to use.
The courts would not be an immediate response. You can’t get an injunction in time to be able to do anything about this. I don’t trust police departments to act as intermediaries. We’re in a situation that’s a long, involved political battle here and we have to mobilize our own people. And at the same time, use a moral appeal to folks on the other side who have a conscience left to encourage their people to stand down.
Marc Steiner: Great. There’s still more to talk about. We can’t do it all today. Jim Zogby, I always appreciate the time you take with us. Look forward to many more conversations. Let’s see where the political road takes us and what struggles lie before all of us. Thank you so much for joining us.