The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Trump vowed never to forget the ‘forgotten men and women.’ He just did.

President Trump leaves the White House Rose Garden after delivering remarks on covid-19 testing on Monday. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

In his 2016 election night speech, President Trump echoed President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1932 vow to help “the forgotten man at the bottom of the economic pyramid.” Said Trump: “The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer.”

FDR did a lot to make good on his pledge; Trump very little. His tax cuts, weighted toward the wealthy, will exacerbate income inequality. The scant benefit of the tax bill for most households was largely wiped out by the cost of his tariffs. But at least the economic expansion that Trump inherited from President Barack Obama reduced unemployment to historic lows and led to the first substantial increases in income for most U.S. households since the Great Recession of 2007-2009.

Full coverage of the coronavirus pandemic

Now, in what seems like the blink of an eye, all that is gone. More than 20 million people lost their jobs in April alone, sending unemployment to 14.7 percent — the highest level since FDR was president. The novel coronavirus would have tanked the economy no matter who was in office. But Trump’s ineptitude has made the crisis far worse than it needed to be.

Now it’s no longer a matter of the rich accumulating wealth faster than the poor. The rich are holding on to most of what they have (April was the best month for U.S. stock markets since 1987), while many of the less well-off lose everything. And I do mean everything: It’s not just jobs, homes and health insurance that are being lost but, in all too many cases, lives as well. America’s worst-in-the-world coronavirus death toll falls disproportionately on those who can’t telecommute and can’t escape to country homes.

The American Public Media Research Lab calculates that African Americans, who constitute 13 percent of the population, make up 27 percent of known covid-19 deaths in Washington, D.C., and the 39 states that have released data broken down by race. Latinos have also been disproportionately affected. In California, Latinos are 39.8 percent of the population and 51.2 percent of covid-19 cases. Native Americans have also been hit hard, along with other marginalized communities such as prisoners, nursing-home residents and meatpacking workers. Congress has not ignored the plight of the afflicted, but even stimulus bills totaling nearly $3 trillion have not kept pace with the suffering.

If Trump cares about the unequal impact of the coronavirus, he gives no sign of it. Asked in March whether it was right for celebrities to get coronavirus tests before the general population, he shrugged: “Perhaps that’s been the story of life.”

Trump keeps claiming that anyone who wants one can get a test — but that’s true only in the White House. Trump urges the country to open up while the White House locks down. He has mandated that meatpacking plants stay open and offered liability protections to their well-connected owners while slighting health and safety protections for their workers. His trade adviser, Peter Navarro, disparages news coverage of staggering unemployment as a “pity party.” In the middle of a pandemic, Trump even doubles down on taking away health coverage: He said last week, “We want to terminate health care under Obamacare.”

Does Trump remember his vow to help the “forgotten men and women”? It sure doesn’t seem like it. The Trumps act like cartoon plutocrats straight out of a Thomas Nast drawing. When the plague began, the first lady updated us on the new White House tennis pavilion and Ivanka Trump suggested that we pass the time by camping out in the living room — as if working parents didn’t have a care in the world. Let them eat s’mores!

Ivanka’s husband, Jared Kushner, has inserted himself into the relief process and given preference for protective equipment to “V.I.P.” requests from political allies. Trump himself has made no secret of his belief that only governors who kowtow to him deserve federal help. (“They have to treat us well.”) Thus red states are given preference for aid. Now Trump resists bailing out states whose revenues have cratered by falsely claiming that “they’re run by Democrats in every case” — as if states run by Democrats weren’t part of America, too.

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All this is perfectly in keeping with an administration that shows little concern for equality under the law. Trump’s attorney general, William P. Barr, grants special favors to presidential cronies such as Roger Stone and Michael Flynn while lambasting reformist prosecutors for supposedly not being tough enough on ordinary criminals.

I have always believed that equality of opportunity is more important than equality of outcome. But I cannot ignore the horrors revealed by the coronavirus. No one can. We have become two nations — one sick, one healthy — separate and unequal.

The current crisis should give renewed impetus to ideas such as raising taxes on the wealthy (especially eliminating special-interest tax breaks) and expanding health-insurance coverage and paid sick leave. If we are ever to recover — really recover — from our current afflictions, we will need to address the corrosive inequality that has been exposed and exacerbated by the coronavirus.

Read more:

Jonathan Safran Foer: Meat is not essential. Why are we killing for it?

Jennifer Rubin: A conversation with Amy Klobuchar: Don’t forget rural America

Bree Barton: The early release of incarcerated people may look like clemency. But it can endanger lives.

The Post’s View: Trump is withholding relief from U.S. children — just to spite their undocumented parents

Balakrishnan Rajagopal: The pandemic shows why we need to treat housing as a right

Coronavirus: What you need to know

End of the public health emergency: The Biden administration ended the public health emergency for the coronavirus pandemic on May 11, just days after WHO said it would no longer classify the coronavirus pandemic as a public health emergency. Here’s what the end of the covid public health emergency means for you.

Tracking covid cases, deaths: Covid-19 was the fourth leading cause of death in the United States last year with covid deaths dropping 47 percent between 2021 and 2022. See the latest covid numbers in the U.S. and across the world.

The latest on coronavirus boosters: The FDA cleared the way for people who are at least 65 or immune-compromised to receive a second updated booster shot for the coronavirus. Here’s who should get the second covid booster and when.

New covid variant: A new coronavirus subvariant, XBB. 1.16, has been designated as a “variant under monitoring” by the World Health Organization. The latest omicron offshoot is particularly prevalent in India. Here’s what you need to know about Arcturus.

Would we shut down again? What will the United States do the next time a deadly virus comes knocking on the door?

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