Coronavirus Response: Last Chance to Get it Right?

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My colleague, David Gordon, wrote an excellent post, Democracy faces its Greatest Test here and around the World During the Coronavirus, which I highly recommend.

David’s analysis is, I believe, dead on. But I’d frame the challenge differently. In a recent op-ed, Was the Fed Just Nationalized?, monetary expert Ellen Brown quoted this dire warning from Greek economist Yanis Varoufakis:

[T]his new phase of the crisis is, at the very least, making it clear to us that anything goes – that everything is now possible.… Whether the epidemic helps deliver the good or the most evil society will depend … on whether progressives manage to band together. For if we do not, just like in 2008 we did not, the bankers, the spivs [petty criminals], the oligarchs and the neofascists will prove, again, that they are the ones who know how not to let a good crisis go to waste.

I think Varoufakis gets it exactly right. He’s making the point that it’s not merely about defending democracy. The age-old maxim, “offense is the best defense,” doesn’t apply here. Instead, it’s: “offense is the only defense.”

Others are making the same point, including Shock Doctrine author Naomi Klein, who puts it thusly:

So, we are, you know, in a battle of visions for how we’re going to respond to this crisis. We will either be catapulted backwards to a more brutal winner takes all system, or this will be a wake-up call. And as in the 1930s, or after the Second World War, when there were major victories won for public housing, for some kind of a safety net and in other countries — unlike the United States — for universal public health care. It was after the Second World War that Britain got the NHS. Maybe there will be these transformations but it’s going to be a hell of a fight, and it’s certainly not going to come from the Trump administration.

Intercept writer Jon Schwarz says it in this title: The Democratic Party Must Harness the Legitimate Rage of Americans. Otherwise, the Right Will Use It With Horrifying Results.

A recent New Yorker article is titled Reality Has Endorsed Bernie Sanders. If you’re a Biden supporter who has trouble swallowing that title, read it as “Reality Has Endorsed Sanders’ Platform.” Reality, the writer explains, is about Sanders’ ideas, not him:

When Bernie Sanders’s critics mocked his platform as just a bunch of “free stuff,” they were drawing on the past forty years of bipartisan consensus about social-welfare benefits and entitlements. They have argued, instead, that competition organized through the market insures more choices and better quality. In fact, the surreality of market logic was on clear display when, on March 13th, Donald Trump held a press conference to discuss the covid-19 crisis with executives from Walgreens, Target, Walmart, and CVS, and a host of laboratory, research, and medical-device corporations. There were no social-service providers or educators there to discuss the immediate, overwhelming needs of the public.

The crisis is laying bare the brutality of an economy organized around production for the sake of profit and not human need. The logic that the free market knows best can be seen in the prioritization of affordability in health care as millions careen toward economic ruin. It is seen in the ways that states have been thrown into frantic competition with one another for personal protective equipment and ventilators—the equipment goes to whichever state can pay the most. It can be seen in the still criminally slow and inefficient and inconsistent testing for the virus. It is found in the multi-billion-dollar bailout of the airline industry, alongside nickel-and-dime means tests to determine which people might be eligible to receive ridiculously inadequate public assistance.

The argument for resuming a viable social-welfare state is about not only attending to the immediate needs of tens of millions of people but also reëstablishing social connectivity, collective responsibility, and a sense of common purpose, if not common wealth. In an unrelenting and unemotional way, covid-19 is demonstrating the vastness of our human connection and mutuality. Our collectivity must be borne out in public policies that repair the friable welfare infrastructure that threatens to collapse beneath our social weight. A society that allows hundreds of thousands of home health-care workers to labor without health insurance, that keeps school buildings open so that black and brown children can eat and be sheltered, that allows millionaires to stow their wealth in empty apartments while homeless families navigate the streets, that threatens eviction and loan defaults while hundreds of millions are mandated to stay inside to suppress the virus, is bewildering in its incoherence and inhumanity.

If Trump and oligarchy are to be defeated, we must all get behind this message. The messenger can be Sanders, Biden, or someone else. But the message must be clear. It must be bold. And, yes, it must be progressive.