As I wrote earlier on this site, I’m lucky that I can work from home and still earn a paycheck. Of course, others are not so lucky and will either have to risk their health to work—or forgo a paycheck. This pandemic is turning out to be an economic catastrophe, in addition to being a health crisis.
The nonprofit local news site, The City, published a story about workers who cannot work from home. Most of the workers profiled seemed concerned but determined to carry on, but one of them, Fernando Rosario, a 68-year old plumber from The Bronx, is absolutely ignorant.
Writing for The City, Virgina Breen reports:
He watches the news, but doesn’t pay too close attention to swirling media accounts of the virus. “One thing nobody has been able to tell me: Where did this thing come from?” he said. “Like how did it get made?” He has his own method of dealing with the virus threat: “You drink alcohol — vodka — and it gives you protection. It kills everything.”
When Rosario rhetorically asks “how did [the virus] get made,” he’s clearly referencing the crackpot theory, advanced by the president and his ilk, that the virus was “made in China.”
And, no, vodka will give you protection from anything other than good judgement. But that’s clearly obvious.
First, don’t believe the crazy crackpot theories that the novel coronavirus was manufactured in a Chinese lab. It’s nonsense. But by the way Trump mentions “from China” when talking about the virus, it’s clear he’s one of those crackpots. Fuck that guy!
Second, of course, health epidemics and natural disasters—unlike wars and financial crises, for example—are not necessarily caused by humans, but it is up to humans to respond to them. Trump and other autocratic world leaders have failed to appropriately respond to this virus.
I’m over forty years old, and I can only remember two times that I’ve felt scared over diseases. The two times I have been scared over disease was, in the 1980s, during the AIDS epidemic and, now, during the spread of the novel cornonavirus and COVID-19.
The AIDS epidemic was the defining public health crisis of the 1980s. As a child of the 1980s, I was terrified of contracting HIV because it almost certainly meant it would become AIDS. And, in the 1980s, AIDS was basically a death sentence. There was no cure and whatever treatments came along weren’t all that effective. It felt like there was nothing we could do to stop it or to treat it.
Reagan also embodied the then-novel Republican approach to government: starve the beast.
Republicans began dismantling the government by defunding it. Here’s how they did it.
Cut income taxes, especially for the wealthy and corporations.
Use budget deficits as the rationale to cut government spending.
With less money to do their jobs, government agencies would struggle to complete their missions and thus become ineffective.
Repeat the cycle with more tax cuts.
This brings me to 2020. It is becoming clear that Trump’s actions to slash the government spending, including firing the CDC’s pandemic response team in 2018 to cut costs, and to start an ineffective trade war with China has made it impossible for the US to curb the spread of the coronavirus beyond Wuhan, China. John Ferguson, a molecular biologist and an expert in virology, explained that the current crisis was exacerabated by Trump and his cabinet of incompetent apparatchiks (Trump’s unique twist on “Starving the Beast”). Ferguson writes…
If a Democrat were in office – say Hillary, for example, you could be 100% assured that she would be surrounded by competent people. I suspect the virus would have been slowed substantially as compared with our current situation. In fact, if our relationship with China hadn’t been ruined by Trump, it is entirely likely that we would have had CDC personnel on the ground in China helping to contain the virus in China. We certainly would still have a pandemic response team—you know, the one that Trump fired to save a few million.
A generation after the AIDS crisis, the situation with HIV/AIDS is considerably different. Treatments are available, although the for-profit pharmaceutical industry is still gouging the price of life-saving drugs. If you can survive in the Free Market, living with HIV/AIDS is not the death sentence it was in the 1980s. It is essentially a chronic condition, not unlike diabetes. But it took long-delayed government action, by George W. Bush, no less, to finally accomplish that in the 2000s.
In recent years, we’ve had a series of different novel viruses spread. We had SARS, MERS, H1N1, Zika and Ebola. All were severe, and all were contained. As Ferguson further notes:
Do you know why you don’t hear about Zika virus any more? Because it was swiftly handled by a team of competent professionals. There was no panic. It was addressed and then it was largely over. That’s not what’s happening here.
Instead what is happening here is that we have a global pandemic that will likely cause many deaths and ruin the economy for a long time. And let us not speak of the panic. Nothing like this happened with the other recent viral epidemics. But because our federal government was screwed, starved and strangled by decades of Republican rule, culminating in Trump and his band of unfit leaders, all of us are now the ones who are totally screwed.
Last month, Zachary Pincus-Roth, writing for The Washington Post, reported on how The West Wing had become a way for liberals to escape the Trump era. He profiles a couple who, in 2018, produce a podcast about the series that wrapped back in 2006:
The Attrydes, both in their 40s, are apolitical, but still — these days, rewatching a show about idealistic wonks working for a Nobel Prize-winning economist president is “a little slice of heaven,” said Paul, wearing a gray “West Wing Weekly” sweatshirt. “It’s the president we all want but don’t have.”
The funny thing is that I seem to remember when the series launched in the late 1990s that the series was marketed as being about a presidency “we all want,” implying that it wasn’t one we had. And this was during the waning days of the Clinton administration, which admittedly was hardly a paragon of liberalism.
When the Trump presidency began to crystallize last year, I was watching the fifth season of House of Cards. As I was watching the calculating and diabolical machinations of the Underwoods, I often thought about how the Trump presidency made House of Cards look like The West Wing.
What I would give for Frank and Claire Underwood today?!?
In the aftermath of 11/8/16, there have been a lot of uncertainties about the direction of our country, but last month at the CPAC conference, senior advisor to the president Steve Bannon very clearly outlined the game-plan for the Trump administration. All of the goals seemed terrifying to anyone with a sense of history because it threatened to undo nearly 100 years of economic and social progress. But one goal stood out: the dismantling of the administrative state.1
Since the inauguration in January, we’ve seen Trump and his administration use executive authority to tear down parts of the government, piece by piece, and to pave the way for an autocratic, neoliberal state that would have made even Ronald Reagan nervous. One of the first steps to undo the administrative state was to repeal the Affordable Care Act. To do this, Trump needed the help of his party, but as has been clear for a generation now, the Republican Party is incapable of governing.
Economist and former secretary of labor Robert Reich notes as much in a piece, “No, Paul Ryan, Your Healthcare Defeat Wasn’t Because of ‘Growing Pains,'” published yesterday. He writes about the Republican Party…
Their real problem isn’t the “growing pains” of being out of power. In reality, the Republicans who are now control the House – as well as the Senate – don’t like government. They’re temperamentally and ideologically oriented to opposing it, not leading it.
Repealing Obamacare wasn’t the problem. The Republicans had all the pieces necessary to do it: they had a majority in the House and a Senate process in place to pass it. They had a president ready to rubber-stamp whatever bill he received.
The political reality, however, required them to craft a replacement plan, and the party of “nay” couldn’t do it. They couldn’t figure out how to actually make a better plan and sell it to members of their own party, much less the American people.
Aside from trying to repeal Obamacare, the Republicans spent the entire Obama presidency fighting him on two very public fronts: raising the debt ceiling and passing a Federal budget. Those battles culminated in a downgrade of the US government’s credit rating in 2011 and in the government shutdown in 2013. Both are coming up on the Congressional agenda in the coming months, and both will require making an actual plan. Unless the Congressional leadership reaches out to Democrats to counteract the persistent “nay” votes, expect more of what we saw during the Obama presidency. Congress will kick the can down the road and will pass more continuing resolutions to keep the government from shutting down.
This however doesn’t mean that the Republicans can’t succeed in tearing down the government. Dismantling the administrative state won’t always require replacement legislation to do so. There’s plenty of opportunities for Republicans to do lots of, what Robert Reich calls, “irrevocably awful” things between now and when we get to vote for a competent government in 2018.
Bannon actually said “deconstruction of the administrative state,” but he meant “dismantling.” Deconstruction means to take something apart to analyze it, not to destroy it. ↩
A week ago, it seemed like the US was on the cusp of having its first woman president of the United States. We had been preparing for this moment for a very long time, and as early as May, well before the party nominations were wrapped up, the New York Times published this map. They projected Clinton to carry these states.
Were Clinton voters and democrats living in a filter bubble, similar to the one Mitt Romney supporters inhabited that made their candidate’s loss in 2012 unthinkable? Did the Democrats think that they could just run anyone against Trump and that the voters would reject an emotionally unstable, intellectually vacuous, and bigoted white man from New York?
The shock of a Trump presidency has been very difficult to process. It’s embarrassing that we as an electorate voted this way. A man who who has been a huckster and a charlatan will be a peer to the Roosevelts, John F. Kennedy, Abraham Lincoln, and Thomas Jefferson. A man who’s name signified tackiness enshrined in gold will be the chief executive of the country. A man whose companies have declared bankruptcy several times will be the one who will be negotiating treaties and passing budgets. (I wonder what will happen when the debt ceiling will need to be raised in the March 2017: my guess is draconian cuts to spending and an attendant economic recession.)
No matter how embarrassing it is to watch Americans install a caricature of a successful businessman in the White House, the prospect of who will be running the federal government is an even more chilling prospect. Are we setting up to live in an autocracy? It certainly seems feasible with a pliant and spineless Republican Congress who will choose party over country every time. Our only hope is that the petit bureaucrats in Washington do their thing and bring sensible inaction to their jobs, but when did they ever come through for us?
Around here, the election and the aftermath has been a lot like a death. Many of us are in mourning, knowing that a lot of the the progress we made in the last decade will almost certainly evaporate. Many us fear what will come in terms of deportations, anti-semitism, rampant racism, misogyny, science denial, and good old fashioned crony capitalism. And we are stung by the unthinkable reality of an uncertain future as a failed state. As in mourning, emotions overwhelm rational thought.
But once we start to think more clearly, weren’t we unsatisfied with Hillary Clinton as the standard bearer for not only the Democrats but also for American women. Back in the spring, I wondered whether the ascendance of Bernie Sanders as a viable candidate was partly due to women supporting him—not Hillary Clinton—because they were hoping for someone better to be the first woman president. Sanders was more aligned with their interests, despite being a man, than Clinton was simply for being a woman. It reminded me of the days when the Democrats would try to put forward someone like Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton as the first black presidential candidate of their party. We deserved better. And in time, we got Barack Obama. We deserve better than Hillary Clinton and someday we will know who that better candidate will be.
And after this mourning period, we start to move on and begin to see silver linings. One such bright spot Trump’s victory is that the Democrats and the nation have finally gotten rid of the Clintons and their moderate liberalism. They not pulled this country so far right that Richard Nixon could be a liberal Democrat today, as Lawrence Lessig pointed out last Wednesday morning, they unabashedly [sold the party out to Wall Street]. He published that piece hours after many of us awoke to realize that Trump would be the 45th president of the United States, and, at the time, it was cold comfort for what the future could hold. In time, we’ll excitedly move on.
And that is what must happen after the death of a loved one or a similarly stunning loss. We will move on. Things will never be the same again, but we will cope, and as a country, we will get through it.