Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – On Monday, the prime minister of Lebanon and his entire cabinet resigned en masse, reports Bassem Mroue at the Associated Press. Last week an enormous explosion destroyed Beirut’s port and part of the city, killing over 200 persons and wounding thousands, and leaving 300,000 homeless. The explosion came about after volatile ammonium nitrate was stored at the port carelessly for seven years, despite expert warnings that it could flatten the city. Government corruption and neglect were at the root of the tragedy.
Hassan Diab, a former engineering professor at the American University in Beirut and former minister of education, became prime minister in December after massive protests ousted his predecessor, Saad Hariri. By custom, the prime minister in Lebanon is a Sunni Muslim, but Diab joined a government dominated by the Shiite Hezbollah and its allies. He is a technocrat rather than an old-time sectarian, machine politician, as were most of his cabinet ministers, and became prime minister because he was the sort of leader the crowds seemed to be demanding.
When he resigned, he said of the old political class of warlords and elite sectarian families, “They should have been ashamed of themselves because their corruption is what has led to this disaster that had been hidden for seven years. I have discovered that corruption is bigger than the state and that the state is paralyzed by this clique and cannot confront it or get rid of it.”
Diab had hoped to stay on for two months to arrange for new elections and a smooth transition, but three of his ministers resigned this weekend after demonstrators massed in downtown Beirut and briefly took over government buildings, declaring one of them the “HQ of the Revolution,” and he saw the writing on the wall.
Still, while president Michel Aoun accepted Diab’s resignation, he would ask him to stay on in a caretaker role. Protesters remain in the streets and are demanding new elections under a new electoral law. It is not clear how a new electoral law would be crafted in the absence of a government, nor is it clear that parties such as Hezbollah would allow significant changes in the rules of the game.
There is a difference between a parliamentary system and a presidential one, and in the latter resignations over policy failures are rare. But as an American I can’t help but be struck that Diab and his colleagues resigned over the deaths of some 200 Lebanese, while the death toll from COVID-19 in the US, according to Johns Hopkins, has reached 163,462. Trump and his cabinet cannot be blamed for all of those deaths. They are, however, responsible for a hefty chunk of them, often estimated at 40 percent. That percentage is based on Trump’s reluctance to initiate a lockdown in late February, waiting instead until mid-March. But since then there have been many more missteps, and new information has surfaced.
It turns out that we didn’t have a national response to the pandemic in part because Jared Kushner concluded that it would mainly hit states that usually vote Democratic, like New York. We still don’t have a nationally backed system of rapid testing, and we don’t have nearly enough contact tracers. There is in short no Federal policy or significant Federal aid and coordination to country health departments. Then, Trump rushed the country to reopen on Memorial Day, before the curve had been flattened. He persuaded his lackeys, who hope to succeed him, like Florida governor Ron DeSantis, to open too early. He bullied and threatened governors like Michigan’s Gretchen Whitmer, who would not go along, and in the latter case encouraged the occupation of the State House by armed right wing Trumpies. He has politicized wearing masks, which reduce transmission by 80%, and discouraged people from wearing them. He has held large rallies in Tulsa and elsewhere, which certainly spread the disease.
So by now I think more than 40% of the deaths can be laid at Trump’s doorstep. But even if we say it is only 40%, that would be over 65,000 Americans that Trump killed. On September 11, al-Qaeda killed almost 3,000 Americans and our country jumped into a 20-year global war.
But Trump by his peculiar combination of narcissism, contrarianism, irrationality, and political guile, has polished off more Americans than died in the entire Vietnam War.
So if he were even as upright as the corrupt and venal Lebanese government, he would resign. But poor little Lebanon is a piker when it comes to corruption compared to Trump.