Saturday, May 2, 2020

The Heart of the Matter

[Note: I have been wanting to write an angry, profanity-laced rant on Facebook and have managed to hold myself back. Now that I have calmed down, this is what I'm posting to my feed.]

I have been wanting to post an angry, profanity-filled rant, but that's not good for anybody. So here's what I hope is a more measured way of saying how I am feeling about all of this.

The virus didn't start in this country, but America's decades of rot have made the virus far deadlier than it has to be. Look abroad to countries like South Korea and Germany to see how it could have been handled. Instead, our flim-flam man president tried to deny its lethality, and once he could no longer do that, he took to the airwaves to rant every day without providing relief to the worst hit areas.

I live in one of those areas. New Jersey has almost lost eight thousand people. Essex County, where I live, has lost well over a thousand. Maplewood, the town where I live, has lost over 20.

On the national level, those deaths have gone unmourned. I am sad to say that this fits a pattern. This is a nation where suicide, alcoholism, and drug overdoses have actually brought life expectancy DOWN in recent years, without very little public comment or political action. Americans kill themselves and each other with guns at a fearsome rate but calls to limit gun proliferation lead to armed mobs descending on state capitols and a lack of action. The police commit murder, especially against African Americans, at a fearsome rate, but a sizeable portion of the country responds with Blue Lives Matter bumper stickers. Our country illegally invaded Iraq and established torture prisons there and most people in this country have basically forgotten that ever happened, or that they enthusiastically backed that invasion.

It's hardly a mistake that the virus has been most lethal in assisted living facilites, prisons, and meat packing plants. Our lack of a social safety net means that millions get thrown on the scrap heap or are forced to work under horrendous conditions. The nation's biggest mental health facilities are in prisons. The undocumented workers villified by the president who make the coutnry's meat are now being told they have to risk death at work without any choice in the matter.

On the national level we have not flattened the curve, and in the intervening weeks the national government has failed to increase testing and tracing, blunting the effect of our sacrifices. This weekend has nevertheless seen quarantine restrictions lifted across the country. This despite a majority of public support for these measures across political lines. Why is this?

It's because the Republican Party has ceased to be a political party, and has become a vehicle for an extremist ideology of corporate capitalism and Herrenvolk nationalism. So many Republican officials have made it plain that they see the sacrifice of thousands of lives to pad the stock portfolios of their wealthy donors to be entirely acceptable. After all, they were more than happy to send soliders to die for a lie and to deny health care to poor Americans, so this should hardly be a surprise. The mobs who have come out to demand "re-opening" are in thrall to a dime-store libertarianism that sees any kind of sacrifice for the common good as oppression. Furthermore, there is nothing a conservative hates more than thought of having to do a thing a liberal wants them to do. They have an entire conservative media landscape that defines its own reality and confirms their worst tendencies. Basic public health measures are not polticized like this in other countries that have managed to actually handle this problem.

But I do not want to let other people off the hook, either. The opposition to the Trump regime's malicious neglect has been an ineffectual joke. (Bill de Blasio for one ought to resign in disgrace and Andrew Cuomo getting praise after he failed to act is a sick joke.) This crisis has shown the necessity for universal health care, and that STILL seems to be an impossible ask for the Democratic party's leadership, including its presumptive presidential nominee. So many rank and file opponents of this regime spend all their time getting mad at whatever idiotic thing Trump has said that day without actually DOING anything about it. ( I will admit some guilt here.) Part of that reason is that the party leadership has offered absolutely nothing and completely lacks any kind of alternative vision. The self-styled "left" has perhaps been even more ineffectual. This supposed movement of the masses mostly attracts people with graduate educations, and is inexplicably committed to returning to the ideologies of the failed revolutions of the 20th century. Meanwhile they spend all their time tearing down Democrats because they are so irrelevent that that's the only real power they can exercise.

Beyond all that, too many people in this country refuse to make any kind of collective sacrifice, and the man who embodies the absolute worst of the selfish, greedy invidualism that has infected this country's culture in the last forty years occupies the White House. Once this crew realized that the virus was disproportianately killing the elderly and poor people of color they decided it was time for others to sacrifice, but with their lives.

Honestly, how does a country like this even have a future? I certainly don't really think it does. Living in a dying empire really sucks, doesn't it? If this pandemic can't unite the nation behind common cause, then absolutely nothing ever will.

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