Four presidents of the United States have been assassinated: Abraham Lincoln (1864), James Garfield, William McKinley and John F. Kennedy (1963). An additional fourteen presidents are considered to have been the targets of assassination attempts. Keep in mind that there have only been 45 presidents. (On another occasion, when things are perhaps a bit less grim, I’ll speculate about what this rather high number of assassinations and attempted assassinations might reveal about “the greatest democracy” in history.) In any case, the assassinated ones could be considered the “dead presidents.”
But we’re now faced with a different and terrible reality. We have a president who has targeted many of the American people for assassination. In a few words, we have a Death President. Perhaps he could be called Death Vader, with apologies to Darth from the Star Wars movies. Or, perhaps, better as a reincarnation of Palpatine from those movies. Like Palpatine, Trump takes on many different forms and has been able to come back from the presumed dead. He might wind up looking as bad as Palpatine does at the end of The Rise of Skywalker just before he succumbs to Rey.
Donald Trump has not yet died but he has become death. Donald J. Trump is the Death President. It has often been observed that Trump’s adult children, his vice president and presidential appointees, most Republican Party leaders and elected officials, along with the true believers who assemble at Trump’s campaign rallies have displayed cult-like behaviors. There are now troubling signs that the cult is being transformed into a death cult—wiling to risk an avoidable death for no apparent reason other than to demonstrate unqualified loyalty.
Possible reasons for his emergence as a Death President include his noteworthy lack of empathy for human beings; his all but complete ignorance about most things; his carelessness about the consequences of his actions; his conviction that he can get away with anything; his obsession with raising the values of stocks being traded on the exchanges, and his overall contempt for just about every live person and everything in nature.
His determined obliviousness to the physical well-being of Americans is more or less on endless display through his gutting of any and all regulations that might keep the air and water clean and his simultaneous promotion of virtually anything that can pour more carbon into the atmosphere which will, in spite of the fact that “No one saw this coming,” hasten the day when it comes.
Specific indications that he is in fact determined to murder Americans during the current pandemic include his efforts to limit the number of COVID 19 tests to keep the numbers as low as possible and his quack-like promotions of miracle cures.
It’s easy to imagine him saying, “No damn tiny virus is going to take me down. If anyone is going to take me down, it’s me.”
Americans, along with many others around the world (and many more still to come), have died and that, as the president has often said, means “Death.” All too many of them have died in nursing homes, meat processing plants, desperately poor African-American communities (see my most recent Hard Crackers post on “Underlying Conditions”) and crowded immigrant neighborhoods. Most have died alone without even the comfort of being surrounded by their loved ones. Some, no many, have died because they worked in health care facilities and in grocery stores. And, truth be known, police officers (often enough the targets of political attacks in this journal) have also died when they were trying to do the right thing.
But what about the living? As Bob Dylan once wrote, “He not busy being born is busy dying.” All too many Americans seem to be content to watch and enjoy the preparations for their own funerals. As I write, some numbers of them appear to be taking great delight in gathering in crowds outside state capitols to roar their disapproval at the imposition of measures intended to keep them alive. With the new split screen of Trump’s daily news conferences and the mobs outside the capitols, we have the great good fortune of seeing Trump rallies being reborn in the age of social distancing.
And as for the rest of us, with a mixture of subdued optimism and pessimistic thinking, we are looking forward to see what we will do once we are able to assemble and act for ourselves again. It would be good to use this time to understand and to plan for the future. For life! For freedom! For emancipation!
It’s worth noting that “dead presidents” have provided inspiration to artists. Hard Crackers editor Mike Morgan has written: “Dead Presidents is a Willie Dixon song written in 1963, one of his good ones and there were plenty of those. Willie Dixon was the bass player in the Muddy Waters Band, a tough electric blues outfit. His intention in the song was no doubt to explain the difficult circumstances that many people found themselves to be in, mostly through no fault of their own. Willie Dixon was an imprisoned draft resister during World War Two. He refused to fight for a government that treated his community with such wanton abuse. He died in 1992. He is an American music legend.” And Zhana Kurti, another Hard Crackers editor, has reminded me of a 1995 crime thriller made by the Hughes Brothers—it’s a grim account of the lives of three young black men from the Bronx who served in the armed forces in Vietnam. It remains to be seen what uses will be made of Trump.
From “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)”.