Surviving 2020 With Penguin Power
The year 2020 is already one of the deadliest in American history, and Donald Trump’s obsession with the stock market is going to make it even worse.
To keep the death toll as low as possible, we’re going to have to learn from the mighty emperor penguin.
It’s an odd metaphor, but it stems from the way Trump thinks of anyone who doesn’t support him as expendable.
“The people of our country are warriors… I’m not saying anything is perfect, and yes, will some people be affected? Yes. Will some people be affected badly? Yes. But we have to get our country open, and we have to get it open soon.” — President Donald J. Trump, May 5, 2020.
That, my friends, is where we are as a nation. In the middle of the worst global pandemic in more than 100 years, our president is more worried about the Dow Jones than the death count.
Trump sounds like a general describing “collateral damage,” as he brushes off the loss of as many as 200,000 American lives.
That seems hard to believe — how could anyone show that little compassion for deaths on an unimaginable scale? Remember we’re talking about a man whose reaction to the Twin Towers collapsing on 9/11 was to brag (incorrectly) about having the tallest Manhattan skyscraper still standing. His ego is the only controlling factor in his life, so his complete focus is doing whatever will get him the most praise and votes. For a rich, white man surrounded by wealthy, white advisers, the way forward is always going to be the stock market.
He’d take a 30,000 Dow and 250,000 COVID-19 deaths. He wouldn’t hesitate. That’s the only thing he worships — the bulls of Wall Street.
It is a horrific plan, even for his misguided priorities. Does he think the economy will expand even as we lose more people than we lost in the Civil War? When we’re making a run at the combat death total from World War II?
By the way, I keep hearing the projected U.S. death toll portrayed as another 9/11 every day. That’s accurate, but the wrong metaphor. We’re going to be killing as many Americans every 36 hours as we lost in Normandy on D-Day. Those soldiers died to protect the world from Nazi Germany. By calling the American people “warriors,” Trump is trying to cast their deaths as a sacrifice in a cause as noble.
Trump is using the same techniques he’s returned to throughout his endless campaign. First, he declares an achievement he can mention in every stump speech for the rest of his career. It doesn’t have to be a meaningful achievement. It doesn’t even have to be real — he continually brags about getting Veteran’s Choice passed, something done by President Obama — but he’ll use it. We’ll hear every day about the man who, with tears in his eyes, said: “Sir, thank you for saving the economy.”
It also lets him fire up his base — rural white voters without college degrees who feel threatened by blue-state liberal intellectuals. He doesn’t care about them — they will take the brunt of a second COVID-19 wave focused on rural areas— but he thinks they will be loyal.
Finally, a healthier economy means more rich, white men lining his pockets in exchange for access. The one thing he misses, more than anything else, is the chance to receive the royal treatment at his golf clubs. He hates the media for refusing to pay him homage — he even attacks Fox News on the rare occasions they question one of his decisions. He also surrounds himself with people who will never upstage him. It’s a miracle Dr. Anthony Fauci has lasted as long as he has.
To achieve these goals, Trump is perfectly willing to incite violence against anyone who doesn’t kowtow.
When he saw the pictures of angry, armed people storming the statehouse in Michigan, did he tell them they were going too far? Of course not — he called them “very good people,” days after urging them to “LIBERATE MICHIGAN.”
It didn’t take long for the rage to boil over. Last Friday — the same day Trump praised the protesters — a security guard at a Dollar General store in Flint told a female customer her child had to wear a mask in the store. That’s a rule under the state’s lockdown, but she screamed at him, spit on him, and left. Within a half-hour, she had returned with her husband, who shot and killed the guard.
It will only get worse.
If you’re still reading, I suspect you don’t agree with the way the president is handling the COVID-19 crisis. I’m sure you are also angry about the way he continually divides the country into two groups — his supporters and the enemy.
He will not change. The loss of 70,000 Americans hasn’t bothered him, and neither will the deaths of 100,000 more. There’s only one person in the country with the power to stop Trump’s rampage — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Nancy Pelosi did everything in her power, getting an impeachment through the House, but McConnell shut down any semblance of a legitimate trial.
McConnell’s motives don’t mirror Trump’s, but his obsession makes it convenient to keep him around. He wants to be remembered for packing the federal judiciary with conservatives. Long after he’s gone, they will rip away rights granted to marginalized Americans. In the short term, Mike Pence would be happy to help that cause, but McConnell knows he can’t get elected this fall. Trump can, which would give McConnell a chance to impact multiple Supreme Court appointments.
That, finally, is where the emperor penguins enter the story.
There’s an incredible amount of rage in the nation right now, and Trump will continue to fan the flames as the death toll keeps rising. He will never acknowledge a mistake — he will continue to blame his “enemies” without any concern for the consequences. The danger of violence is going to grow as long as COVID-19 is still in the land.
It is time to protect each other
Most of us will survive the violence, just as most of us will survive the pandemic. However, we’re the only ones willing to protect the people at the greatest risk. The elderly, the marginalized, the chronically ill — anyone the right can paint as expendable.
We need to shelter them from the violence, the virus, and the attempts to turn them into second-class Americans. We can’t do it as individuals, and we can’t do it as bickering special-interest groups. We can do it by adopting the way of the penguin.
I’m sure you’ve all seen a nature documentary involving emperor penguins. There are about a dozen narrated by Sir David Attenborough along with Morgan Freeman’s epic “March of the Penguins,” but they all include the same scene. A colony of penguins faces a blinding snowstorm with temperatures falling to -20F. If they met the storms as individuals or even families, they’d freeze to death, but they huddle together in one giant mass. In the center of the group, away from the wind, the combined body heat can create temperatures approaching 100F. That’s too hot for penguins, so the group circulates members from the outside to the middle and back.
That’s how we can survive everything Trump and the coronavirus throws at us in the rest of 2020 and beyond — as a united group working together. The huddle will only be figurative — penguins wouldn’t last long in a blizzard under social-distancing conditions — but the principle is the same. The strongest do everything in their power to protect the weak, and when they have nothing left to give, they rest while someone else takes up their spot. Done right, a colony will come through the worst blizzards with minimal losses, but the slightest gap can lead to catastrophe.
Our huddle won’t be perfect — this isn’t a plan with exact instructions, and there are no two people who will agree on who needs protection.
Even with flaws, working together is the best chance we’ve got.