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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Suddenly, America is a nation of socialists, asking in dismay, “Where’s the government?”

These are not born-again Bernie Sanders activists but everyday people of all political stripes (including previously apolitical multitudes) who’re now clamoring for big-government intervention in their lives. Nothing like a coronavirus pandemic to bring home the need that all of us have — both as individuals and as a society — for an adequately funded, fully functioning, competent government capable of serving all. Alas, as everyone can see in our present moment of critical national need, government today has been reduced to a rickety medicine show run by an inept, small-minded flimflammer peddling laissez-fairyland snake oil.

“We have it totally under control,” President Donald Trump pompously declared after the first U.S. case was confirmed in January. As it began rapidly spreading out of control in February, he tweeted nonchalantly, “It will all work out well,” adding, “We’re doing a great job.” But an increasingly anxious public found that reliable test kits couldn’t even be purchased from Trump’s hollowed-out government health agencies. Still, he shrugged off all concern and responsibility: “Looks like by April, you know, in theory, when it gets a little warmer, it miraculously goes away.” Not exactly a can-do Rooseveltian response to a national crisis, but he stayed blase, denying scientific reality and assuring us, “One day — it’s like a miracle — it will disappear.”

Of course, it hasn’t, and by March, the inconvenient fact of a rising death toll exposed this imposter of a president as incompetent, uncaring … and silly. So, after weeks of the complete absence of White House leadership, a deadly pathogen is raging practically everywhere across our land; unknown millions of us are being infected; a “closed indefinitely” sign has been hung on the American economy; and even our people’s social and civic interactions — the essence of community life — have been halted.

Right-wing politico Grover Norquist once said he wanted a government so small he could “drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.” Trump is now showing us what such a small-minded government looks like. And what it costs us.

Suddenly, social distancing has become the official ethical standard for human relationships, abruptly supplanting eons of ingrained communal behavior by us humanoids (handshakes, hugs, pub life, ceremonial gatherings, etc.). Awkward. Disconcerting. Isolating.

Yet, as we frantically scramble to deter the health ravages of COVID-19 and grapple with the global economic devastation it’s causing, we might benefit by pondering how social distancing is a self-inflicted cause of the contagion’s disastrous spread. For some 40 years, American corporations and governments have colluded to push economic, political and social policies that have intentionally distanced the financial fortunes of the wealthy from the well-being of the workaday majority.

Consider the interrelationship of multimillionaires with the unseen kitchen staff of restaurants where they dine. To further enrich themselves, such multimillionaires have forced low-wage policies on food preparers, denied health coverage for them and lobbied to kill proposals to provide paid sick leave. So, one kitchen worker sneezes. He or she is infected with coronavirus but doesn’t know it due to having no health care coverage for testing. Even though running a fever, the staffer must come to work so as not to lose the job. Later, somewhere a multimillionaire sneezes. After all, COVID-19 doesn’t distinguish between rich and poor.

The very proposals that plutocrats have been blocking for years (living wages, “Medicare for All,” paid sick leave, family medical leave, free college and trade school tuition, home health care and others) are exactly what a sane government and egalitarian economy would adopt to fend off the wholly destructive inequality that now confronts every American.

While we’re now forced to temporarily distance ourselves from one anther, the lethal disease our country has is the widening separation of rich elites from the rest of us. And the cure is a national push for renewed social cohesiveness . As a friend and fellow writer recently put it, COVID-19 “puts into focus a biological, psychological, economic, and socio-political fact we too often deny: We are a species of completely interdependent beings.”

Populist author, public speaker and radio commentator Jim Hightower writes “The Hightower Lowdown,” a monthly newsletter chronicling the ongoing fights by America’s ordinary people against rule by plutocratic elites. Sign up at HightowerLowdown.org.

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany

White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany was forced to defend President Donald Trump's recent attacks on MSNBC host Joe Scarborough on Tuesday, an unenviable task she nevertheless intentionally signed up for. She desperately tried to divert the attention back to Scarborough — without engaging in the president's conspiracy theorizing — but offered no credible defense of the president's conduct.

Trump has been spreading the debunked theory that Scarborough killed a staffer in 2001 while he was in Congress, even though it was determined she died of natural causes. The staffer's widower wrote a released a letter on Tuesday pleading with Twitter to take down the president's offensive tweets promoting the thoery. He said he was "angry," "frustrated," and "grieved" by the president's promotion of the harmful allegations. Trump is perverting his late wife's memory, he said, and he fears her niece and nephews will encounter these attacks.When asked about the letter, McEnany said she wasn't sure if the president had seen it. But she said their "hearts" are with the woman's family "at this time." It was a deeply ironic comment because the only particularly traumatizing thing about "this time" for the family is the president's attacks, which come nearly two decades after the woman's death.

McEnany refused to offer any explanation of Trump's comments and instead redirected reporters to a clip of Scarborough on Don Imus's radio show in 2003. In that show, Imus made a tasteless joke obliquely referring to the death, and Scarborough laughed at it briefly.

"Why is the president making these unfounded allegations?" asked ABC News' Jonathan Karl. "I mean, this is pretty nuts, isn't it? The president is accusing someone of possible murder. The family is pleading with the president to please stop unfounded conspiracy theories. Why is he doing it?""The president said this morning, this is not an original Trump thought. And it is not," she said, bringing up the Imus clip. But she made no mention of why the president is bringing up the issue 17 years later and with a much larger platform.

When pressed further on the president's conduct, she again diverted blame to Scarborough, saying his morning show unfairly criticizes the president. But again, she offered no substantive defense of Trump.

After McEnany had moved on, PBS reporter Yamiche Alcindor brought it up again: "Why won't the president give this widower peace and stop tweeting about the conspiracy theory involving his wife?"

McEnany said she had already answered the question, which she hadn't, and said the onus is on Scarborough to explain the Imus clip."The widower is talking specifically about the president!" Alcindor shot back. But McEnany called on Chanel Rion, with the aggressively pro-Trump outlet OAN, who changed the subject to conspiracy theories about the origins of the Russia investigation.

"Are you not going to answer that?" Alcindor called out, still trying to get a substantive response to her question, but Rion spoke over her.

At the end of the briefing, another reporter asked whether Trump was looking for any actual law enforcement steps be taken in response to his conspiracy theory. But McEnany had nothing to add, and simply told people to listen to the Imus clip again. As she hurried out of the briefing room, a reporter asked if Trump would stop promoting the theory — but she left without answering.

Watch the exchange about Klausutis, which begins at 48:45.