A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 144

The Wertheim Department Store, Leipziger Platz, Berlin.

Tuesday, September 8

Donald Trump seems to hate amazon.com and its owner, Jeff Bezos. Adolf Hitler hated the big-retail phenomena of his time: chain stores and department stores. But the similarity is only superficial. And the different motivation tells a lot about the two authoritarians.

Trump’s dislike of Bezos has MAGA man ready to destroy the U.S. Postal Service, which he believes unfairly allows Amazon favorable postal rates. The USPS should be charging Amazon “four or five times” the current rates, Trump said recently.

 Why? Because Amazon’s command of the consumer market is damaging mom-and-pop stores, maybe?

Well, that was the thinking of the Nazi Party in the 1930s. One of the Nazis’ constituent groups was small business, the Mittelstand. Germany’s 1933 Law for the Protection of Retail Trade prohibited the expansion of chain stores, and, over the next few years, more and more restrictions were placed on department stores. Early on, public authorities were forbidden to have public contracts with such stores, according to David Schoenbaum’s Hitler’s Social Revolution.

But while Trump might be able to make hay with the defenders of Main Street by railing against Amazon, he hasn’t really sought to do that. One gets the feeling that he hates Bezos only because Amazon’s owner is richer than Trump is. 

Recently, Forbes magazine published its richest guys list, with Bezos at the top for the third year in a row. Meanwhile, Trump’s net worth has dropped to No. 352 this year. “His net worth fell to $2.5 billion from $3.1 billion, as office buildings, hotels and resorts, have suffered during the pandemic,” according to news service Reuters.

Trump can’t stop himself. All he cares about is his own image—even when a bit of posturing against a capitalist behemoth could help him politically. All that matters to Trump is Trump! And shouldn’t that be enough for his rowdy MAGA backers?

For more comparison of Trump and Hitler see: chapter 138 and chapter 141 of this blog.

Dinner: Wine-braised chicken with artichoke hearts, couscous, and a lettuce and cucumber salad.

Entertainment: Nomad, a streaming video on writer Bruce Chatwin by director Werner Herzog. 

A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 47

Friday, April 24

When I saw the Times headline “Goofing Around as a Way of Life,” I assumed the article was a look at the way most corinavirus-quarantined people are existing today. Instead, it examines a documentary film on the rap group Beastie Boys. But the headline could be applied broadly: Most Americans are now just whiling away their days—or as one friend put it, “Netflixing through the apocalypse.”

We’re all confined to quarters, much like misbehaving adolescents or soldiers who overstayed their weekend passes. Maybe pandemic living would be much the same under any social system, but to wax pretentious for a moment, it has made me recall a classic Marxist work, Henri Lefebvre’s multi-volume The Critique of Everyday Life. Perhaps existence would be less tedious had capitalism not turned everyday life into a zone of sheer consumption. We have come to expect to be diverted, fed, dosed, or sexually stimulated on a regular basis. At the same time, to quote French filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard, middle-class life has been stripped of almost all adventures—except for adultery, as Godard suggests in several pictures. Even prior to the pandemic, life for most people in the developed world was just damn boring. 

Speaking of zones of sheer consumption, the pandemic seems about to put the final kibosh on department stores. Lord & Taylor closed its Manhattan flagship store some months back, and now the glamorous Neiman Marcus is declaring bankruptcy. All consumption seems to be moving into the Jeff Bezos zone.

In step with that zeitgeist, yesterday we received five shipments via U.S. Mail: two law books for Emily, a new can opener, a set of towels, and some disposable face masks. More fashionable face masks are yet to arrive. And thanks to my clumsy ordering, eBay has shipped a large Johnson & Johnson’s bath powder to the NYC apartment. We are still dwelling in a zone of sheer consumption—although we’re consuming some different things thanks to COVID-19.

Today, for the third day in a row we’ve had cream of wheat for breakfast. Items from our last Peapod order can be released this afternoon from their own quarantine—meant to facilitate the death of any viruses left on their containers. So our diet may improve a bit. But thinking ahead, I believe we will continue to have some meals consisting of Progresso soup, potatoes, and green salad. Despite all of the mandated sloth, I may have lost a bit of weight.

It is raining hard. Emily is about to listen to a Weill Cornell Hospital podcast on cancer and COVID-19. Pretty cheery stuff, I must say. Maybe I will attempt to read chapter two of Crime and Punishment, also a cheery prospect.

Our bread machine is working away, producing a loaf of light whole wheat bread. It will be ready around 2 p.m., and that is something to look forward to.

Beyond that, there’s tonight’s dinner: more chicken paprikash, noodles, and salad.

Tonight’s entertainment: More of The Hunters and one episode of Four Seasons in Havana, a policier set in Cuba.