The coronavirus didn’t break America. It revealed what was already broken.
All of the lasting pain was felt in the middle and at the bottom, by Americans who had taken on debt and lost their jobs, homes, and retirement savings. Many of them never recovered, and young people who came of age in the Great Recession are doomed to be poorer than their parents. Inequality—the fundamental, relentless force in American life since the late 1970s—grew worse.
This second crisis drove a profound wedge between Americans: between the upper and lower classes, Republicans and Democrats, metropolitan and rural people, the native-born and immigrants, ordinary Americans and their leaders. Social bonds had been under growing strain for several decades, and now they began to tear. The reforms of the Obama years, important as they were—in health care, financial regulation, green energy—had only palliative effects. The long recovery over the past decade enriched corporations and investors, lulled professionals, and left the working class further behind. The lasting effect of the slump was to increase polarization and to discredit authority, especially government’s.
Well, first of all, we should recognize that unless we get to the roots of this pandemic, it’s going to recur, probably in worse form, simply because of the manipulations of the capitalist system which are trying to create circumstances in which it will be worse, for their benefit. We can see that in the stimulus bill and many other things.
Now, second, because of the global warming which is going on and puts all of this into the shadow, we will recover from this at severe cost. We’re not going to recover from the ongoing melting of the polar ice sheets. And if you want to understand how contemporary capital is looking at this, take a look at Trump’s budget. It’s true that this is a pathological extreme of the normal capitalist systems and maybe it’s not fair to use it as an example, but that’s what we’re living with.
So on February 10th while the epidemic was raging, going to get worse, Trump came out with his budget proposals. What were they? First point, continue the defunding of health-related elements of the government. Throughout his term he’d been cutting back on funding of anything that doesn’t benefit private power and wealth, corporate power. So all the health-related parts of the government had been increasingly defunded. He killed programs, all sorts of things.
February 10th, let’s continue with it. So further defunding of the Centers for Disease Control and other health-related parts of the government. But there were also compensating increases in the budget, for the fossil fuel industry, more subsidies to the fossil fuel industry. So let’s not only to kill as many people as possible now, but let’s try to destroy all of society. That’s basically what the words mean. Of course, more funding for the military and for his famous wall ...
After the SARS epidemic in 2003, also a coronavirus, it was well understood by scientists that other recurrences of one or another coronavirus was going to come, probably more serious. Well, understanding is not enough. Someone has to pick up the ball and run with it. Now there are two possibilities. One is the drug companies, but they follow normal, capitalist logic. You do what makes profit tomorrow. You don’t worry about the fact that in a couple of years everything’s going to collapse. That’s not your problem. So the drug companies essentially did nothing. There were things that could be done. There was plenty of information circulating. Scientists knew what to do. There could have been preparations. Somebody’s got to pay for it. Not the drug companies. Well, in a rational world, even a capitalist world prior to Ronald Reagan, the government could have stepped in and done it.
That’s pretty much the way polio was eradicated, through a government-initiated and -funded program. When Jonas Salk discovered the vaccine, he insisted that there be no patents. He said, “It’s got to be public, just like the sun.” That’s still capitalism, but it’s regimented capitalism. That was ended at a stroke by Ronald Reagan. Government’s the problem, it’s not the solution. Let’s legalize tax havens. Let’s legalize stock buybacks costing tens of trillions of dollars to the public in pure robbery.
Government is the solution when the private sector’s in trouble, that’s understood. But if it’s just when the public needs something, government’s not the answer. So going back to 2003, government couldn’t step in. Actually, it did to a slight extent step in, and it’s very revealing to see what happened. Obama, after the Ebola crisis, recognized that there are problems. We have to do something.
Obama did several things. One of them was to try to contract for ventilators. Ventilators are the big bottleneck in the system right now. That’s what’s forcing nurses to decide who to kill tomorrow. There aren’t enough of them, but the Obama administration did contract for the development of high-quality, low-cost ventilators. The company was quickly bought up by a bigger one which sidelined the project—it was competing with their own expensive ventilators—and then turned to the government and said they want to get out of the contract, it’s not profitable enough ...
And some of the other things that went on are just too surreal to discuss. USAID had a program, very successful program, detecting viruses that are in animal populations, wild populations that are getting to closer contact with humans because of habitat destruction and global warming. So they were identifying thousands of potential disease viruses, working in China as well. Trump disbanded it. He’d been defunding it, but then he disbanded it with exquisite timing in October...
But then comes new forms of imposed slavery. So well into the late 1960s, federal housing laws required segregation. There was a lot of public-supported housing going on in the 50s. Levittowns and so on, but for whites, no Blacks. Liberal senators voted for this, hated it, but they voted for it because there was no other way to get any public housing passed ...
[Senate Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell is the evil genius behind this. He’s been doing it beautifully. Make sure that the judiciary is stuffed with young, mostly unqualified, ultra-reactionary justices. That ensures that whatever the country wants in the future, they’ll be able to kill it. Just like the Roberts Court, the majority is able to do it now. Republicans know that they’re a minority party. There’s no way to get votes on their actual programs. That’s why they have to appeal to so-called cultural issues—gun rights, abortion and so on—not their actual policies, which are fill the pockets of the rich. That’s the actual policy. Trump is a genius at this. Have to admire him. With one hand he says, “I’m your savior, I’m working for the poor working guy.” On the other hand he’s stabbing him in the back. It’s pretty impressive. He’s most certainly the most successful con man in American history, ever.
I presume it’ll explode sometime, but so far it’s maintaining itself. They’re trying very hard to dismantle whatever elements of democracy there are ... Read the rest at Labor Notes.
Unemployment at 33 million (estimation) as of yesterday
3) A European, an Irishman specifically looks on: Fintan O'Toole from the Irish Times, 4/25/20. All. Of. This. Donald Trump has destroyed the country he promised to make great again. The world has loved, hated and envied the US. Now, for the first time, we pity it
Judy Woodruff has decided to commemorate who has died -- tell their lives, about their families, the worlds they have lost and which have lost them -- every few nights on PBS Reports; Remembering Americans lost to the coronavirus
Gone: Lysa Dawn Robinson - the deep pity of it
.Over more than two centuries, the United States has stirred a very wide range of feelings in the rest of the world: love and hatred, fear and hope, envy and contempt, awe and anger. But there is one emotion that has never been directed towards the US until now: pity.
However bad things are for most other rich democracies, it is hard not to feel sorry for Americans. Most of them did not vote for Donald Trump in 2016. Yet they are locked down with a malignant narcissist who, instead of protecting his people from Covid-19, has amplified its lethality. The country Trump promised to make great again has never in its history seemed so pitiful.
Will American prestige ever recover from this shameful episode? The US went into the coronavirus crisis with immense advantages: precious weeks of warning about what was coming, the world’s best concentration of medical and scientific expertise, effectively limitless financial resources, a military complex with stunning logistical capacity and most of the world’s leading technology corporations. Yet it managed to make itself the global epicentre of the pandemic.
As the American writer George Packer puts it in the current edition of the Atlantic, “The United States reacted ... like Pakistan or Belarus – like a country with shoddy infrastructure and a dysfunctional government whose leaders were too corrupt or stupid to head off mass suffering.”
It is one thing to be powerless in the face of a natural disaster, quite another to watch vast power being squandered in real time – wilfully, malevolently, vindictively. It is one thing for governments to fail (as, in one degree or another, most governments did), quite another to watch a ruler and his supporters actively spread a deadly virus. Trump, his party and Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News became vectors of the pestilence.
The grotesque spectacle of the president openly inciting people (some of them armed) to take to the streets to oppose the restrictions that save lives is the manifestation of a political death wish. What are supposed to be daily briefings on the crisis, demonstrative of national unity in the face of a shared challenge, have been used by Trump merely to sow confusion and division. They provide a recurring horror show in which all the neuroses that haunt the American psyche dance naked on live TV.
If the plague is a test, its ruling political nexus ensured that the US would fail it at a terrible cost in human lives. In the process, the idea of the US as the world’s leading nation – an idea that has shaped the past century – has all but evaporated. Who, other than the Trump impersonator Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, is now looking to the US as the exemplar of anything other than what not to do? How many people in Düsseldorf or Dublin are wishing they lived in Detroit or Dallas?
It is hard to remember now but, even in 2017, when Trump took office, the conventional wisdom in the US was that the Republican Party and the broader framework of US political institutions would prevent him from doing too much damage. This was always a delusion, but the pandemic has exposed it in the most savage ways.
What used to be called mainstream conservatism has not absorbed Trump – he has absorbed it. Almost the entire right-wing half of American politics has surrendered abjectly to him. It has sacrificed on the altar of wanton stupidity the most basic ideas of responsibility, care and even safety.
Thus, even at the very end of March, 15 Republican governors had failed to order people to stay at home or to close non-essential businesses. In Alabama, for example, it was not until April 3rd that governor Kay Ivey finally issued a stay-at-home order.
In Florida, the state with the highest concentration of elderly people with underlying conditions, governor Ron DeSantis, a Trump mini-me, kept the beach resorts open to students travelling from all over the US for spring break parties. Even on April 1st, when he issued restrictions, DeSantis exempted religious services and “recreational activities”.
There is, as the demonstrations in US cities show, plenty of political mileage in denying the reality of the pandemic
Georgia governor Brian Kemp, when he finally issued a stay-at-home order on April 1st, explained: “We didn’t know that [the virus can be spread by people without symptoms] until the last 24 hours.”
This is not mere ignorance – it is deliberate and homicidal stupidity. There is, as the demonstrations this week in US cities have shown, plenty of political mileage in denying the reality of the pandemic. It is fuelled by Fox News and far-right internet sites, and it reaps for these politicians millions of dollars in donations, mostly (in an ugly irony) from older people who are most vulnerable to the coronavirus.
It draws on a concoction of conspiracy theories, hatred of science, paranoia about the “deep state” and religious providentialism (God will protect the good folks) that is now very deeply infused in the mindset of the American right.
Trump embodies and enacts this mindset, but he did not invent it.
The US response to the coronavirus crisis has been paralysed by a contradiction that the Republicans have inserted into the heart of US democracy. On the one hand, they want to control all the levers of governmental power. On the other they have created a popular base by playing on the notion that government is innately evil and must not be trusted.
The contradiction was made manifest in two of Trump’s statements on the pandemic: on the one hand that he has “total authority”, and on the other that “I don’t take responsibility at all”. Caught between authoritarian and anarchic impulses, he is incapable of coherence.
But this is not just Donald Trump. The crisis has shown definitively that Trump’s presidency is not an aberration. It has grown on soil long prepared to receive it. The monstrous blossoming of misrule has structure and purpose and strategy behind it.
There are very powerful interests who demand “freedom” in order to do as they like with the environment, society and the economy. They have infused a very large part of American culture with the belief that “freedom” is literally more important than life. My freedom to own assault weapons trumps your right not to get shot at school. Now, my freedom to go to the barber (“I Need a Haircut” read one banner this week in St Paul, Minnesota) trumps your need to avoid infection.
Usually when this kind of outlandish idiocy is displaying itself, there is the comforting thought that, if things were really serious, it would all stop. People would sober up. Instead, a large part of the US has hit the bottle even harder.
And the president, his party and their media allies keep supplying the drinks. There has been no moment of truth, no shock of realisation that the antics have to end. No one of any substance on the US right has stepped in to say: get a grip, people are dying here.
If he is re-elected, toxicity will have become the lifeblood of American politics.
That is the mark of how deep the trouble is for the US – it is not just that Trump has treated the crisis merely as a way to feed tribal hatreds but that this behaviour has become normalised. When the freak show is live on TV every evening, and the star is boasting about his ratings, it is not really a freak show any more. For a very large and solid bloc of Americans, it is reality.
And this will get worse before it gets better. Trump has at least eight more months in power. In his inaugural address in 2017, he evoked “American carnage” and promised to make it stop. But now that the real carnage has arrived, he is revelling in it. He is in his element.
As things get worse, he will pump more hatred and falsehood, more death-wish defiance of reason and decency, into the groundwater. If a new administration succeeds him in 2021, it will have to clean up the toxic dump he leaves behind. If he is re-elected, toxicity will have become the lifeblood of American politics.
Either way, it will be a long time before the rest of the world can imagine America being great again.
Last: Edward Gorey: Quarantined for self-protection. What I've noticed reading each day the last few days this week:-- One of Trump's cronies took over the Post Office; apparently the president can do this; it will be gradually destroyed, turned into some kind of private enterprise. I worry now about my checks getting to the people I pay; will I be forced to pay online by credit cards? 1916 wasn't it the Post Office was fought over. It's a central institution like the DMV (driving). Democrats did nothing, did not make an outcry as far as I can see; the only way Trump can be defeated is if mailing in ballots is allowed. It's said that Biden's videos from his basement are not very good -- the DNC which put him in place is said to be worried. Right. The Wash Post reported on how Trump squashed the CDC's plan for testing and tracing which would have saved lives; he stopped Fauci from testifying. They actually had a plan on how to do it and how to open the economy while preventing as much sickness and death as possible. Trump overturned Flynn's conviction, or just ignored it. Also tightening grip to stop any general statistics from federal agencies. The Justice Department is fighting in the Supreme Court to destroy what's left of Affordable Care, millions are now w/o health care, to make the whole thing unconstitutional on the grounds that the individual mandate was abolished (irrationally, this small attack is now being used for a frontal one). Many people are dying at home -- of other things beyond Covid10 -- rather than incur lifelong debt. People now fear the hospitals are unsafe because the workers haven't anywhere near sufficient personal protection gear. And Betsy DeVos has reversed the Education department's policy on rape and sexual assault, by making a law or rule that the accuser must come forth, put herself in public and there must be a hearing, a trial; this will be enough to stop the few women who have protested.
So that's just the past week and one half --
Posted by Miss Drake