• Ryan O'Connell

Donald Trump Doesn't Care If You Die

May 29, 2020

In my more charitable days, before the plague hit us, I used to think that Donald Trump was a sociopath. Now I realize that our President is a psychopath. What’s the difference? A sociopath doesn’t care if thousands of other people die; that’s not his problem. A psychopath deliberately takes actions that could cause the death of thousands, but that doesn’t bother him at all. The only important aspect, as far as he is concerned, is whether he will benefit personally from these steps. Will he stay in power or not?

Donald Trump has demonstrated a callous disregard for Americans’ safety in many ways during this plague. However, two stand out in particular: his fight against voting by mail and his “order” compelling governors to allow churches and other houses of worship to reopen.

Voting By Mail Doesn’t Cause Fraud

Terrified about losing his bid for re-election, the President has launched an all-out effort to prevent states from making it easier for voters to cast their ballots safely, through voting by mail or absentee ballots. Trump has claimed that voting by mail will lead to widespread voting fraud, which is false.

In fact, there are very few cases of fraud with voting by mail. It’s a bogus issue. Furthermore, certain denizens in the White House like to use it: Trump has voted by mail twice. Kayleigh McEnany, his new press secretary, who has also raised alarms about voter fraud, has used absentee ballots 10 times.

The President’s real concern is that voting by mail would lead to higher turnout by Democratic voters, so he would not be re-elected. When Democrats in Congress tried to include funding in a stimulus bill to help (not force) states to increase voting by mail, Trump admitted,

“They had things–levels of voting, that if you ever agreed to it, you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.”

Utah Republicans Like Mail-in Ballots

Trump’s comment must have come as a surprise to people in Utah, one of the six states that use voting by mail exclusively. Almost all the major elected officials on the state and Federal level in Utah are Republicans.

Furthermore, studies have shown that although voting by mail increases turnout, it doesn’t necessarily favor one party over another.

It’s possible that the pandemic could change that pattern, but who knows? Most Democratic voters live in large metropolitan areas. Most Republicans live in suburbs or rural areas. Trump is probably calculating that in November the virus would be more likely to cut turnout among urban, Democratic voters, rather than Republicans.

In any event, the President is not worrying about Americans’ safety; he is focusing on maneuvers to ensure his re-election.

Playing Hardball With Federal Funding

Unfortunately, the President is not alone in his indifference to voters’ safety. Mitch McConnell and other Senate Republicans are fighting Democrats’ attempts to provide funds to help states switch to mail-in ballots, which involves large start-up costs.

The President has gone so far as to threaten to withhold federal funds from states like Michigan and Nevada, because they are sending voters applications for absentee ballots. Trump's move is an unprecedented attempt to encroach on states’ authority to conduct elections. States, not the federal government, have the power to set rules for their elections, assuming that they don’t violate the equal protection provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment.

So much for states’ rights.

Photo: Gage Skidmore/flickr

Trump’s Drive to Re-Open Churches

Trump is also clearly endangering Americans with his “order” calling for churches, synagogues and other houses of worship to re-open. Here, too, he is riding roughshod over state officials—Democratic governors—who have continued to ban large public gatherings, including religious services. The governors have ample authority to prevent such meetings based on the dangers posed by the virus, especially as these officials are not singling out religious services. Their “police powers” to ensure public safety override First Amendment concerns about Americans’ freedom to worship.

Trump is making a blatant appeal to evangelical Christians, ultra-Orthodox Jews and other groups that have resented, or resisted, stay-at-home orders as infringements on their “freedom”. The evangelicals are a key part of Trump’s base. These groups are also generally hostile to scientific thinking.

Rushing Toward the Pearly Gates

If you want to spread the virus, religious services are one of the best ways to do it. The following elements dramatically increase the risk of infection:

  • A large group

  • Meeting indoors rather than outdoors

  • Congregating for more than 15 minutes

  • Singing hymns

Singing, like coughing or sneezing, is a powerful way to spray droplets. For maximum effect, just add shaking hands (the “peace”) or hugging. The President is encouraging reckless behavior from certain groups that have already put their members’ lives in danger.

Heaven Can Wait

Traditional denominations such as the Catholic Church, mainline Protestant churches and most Jewish organizations are ignoring the President. They base their decisions on science, and their overriding concern is the safety of their members.

The bishop for the Episcopal Church in New York, to which I belong, issued a directive in mid-March ordering the 200 churches under his supervision to close until May 15. He has subsequently extended the date to July 1. We have adapted, streaming our weekly services via Zoom, and attendance has been quite good.

We believe that Christ was resurrected from the dead and that he performed miracles during his time on Earth—notably, curing the sick, which is particularly pertinent now.

But we know that the virus is a natural phenomenon, not a punishment sent from above. We don’t expect the Almighty to treat us differently from other human beings. We don’t expect God to provide some kind of divine shield to protect us from the plague. We think that would be arrogant. Instead, we’re grateful that God gave us the power of reason, which we can use to take preventive steps.

Meanwhile, last Sunday, Donald Trump headed off to…the golf course. He worships Apollo, I guess. I’m happy to keep streaming on Sunday. As far as I’m concerned, Heaven can wait. The Wall Street Democrat

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