Thursday, April 23, 2020

Can this country be saved? (Should it?)

When I was a kid, my bathroom reading was a column in the Ladies Home Journal called "Can This Marriage Be Saved?"  I don't know why, as a kid not even ten years old, this column fascinated me.  Maybe it was the endless screaming matches between my own parents giving me a hope that maybe the magazine people could finally get things to quiet down.  (The screaming between my parents eventually stopped in April 1967 when my father decided he'd had enough, but then my mother's screaming became directed at my sister and me, so I'm not sure what we gained.)

Today, we wake up every morning in a country where neighbors are posting on NextDoor where you can find toilet paper and where people are lined up at 3 AM to buy cheap surplus chicken from  processing plants that are either closing or are in danger of closing because of COVID-19 outbreaks. We live in a country where you can be guilt-tripped because you aren't getting no-contact takeout food, which you aren't getting because you've realized that restaurant food has never been about the food, but about the companionship of enjoying it with friends.  It's a country where your hair salon has a GoFundMe to try and pay the rent so that at some indeterminate time in the future it can reopen, where you write checks for your hair stylist, the woman who waxes your eyebrows, your petsitting service, and the woman in your city who for years has been feeding kids in her low-income neighborhood and now finds herself an indispensable resource for a need that seems bottomless. It's a country where hedge funds gobbled up loans that we were told were meant for small businesses, where a pittance of $1200 for every adult in the country was deemed to be sufficient to carry over  people who had to close their restaurant, their beauty salon, their massage therapy practice, and the people who worked for them.

Some of us have been screaming for two decades about the mindless, knee-jerk patriotism that rose after 9/11/01.  It never really went away, as a party in power for much of that time sold us off piecemeal to billionaires who believe themselves ordained by God to have all the wealth in the world.  Meanwhile, the opposition party stubbornly remained locked in a bygone era, trapped in a 1990s "centrism" that was never in the center and was less a sea change than a function of the most charismatic politician since JFK.  That "America Fuck Yeah" patriotism had no resemblance to the country we actually lived in -- the one where a college education, unless you were a brilliant STEM grad from a top college who'd had an internship at Google, maybe got you a job at Starbucks if you were lucky.  It was one where undocumented workers who were required because Americans don't do backbreaking work for pennies an hour, were being exploited by their agribusiness employers for pittance wages. It was one where even tech workers were having to train their own lower-wage replacements, whether here or in India, before being let go.  Black men were being summarily executed in the street, or in their cars, because someone of the same race was seen in the same neighborhood, or because they'd committed some petty crime that for a white person would have meant pretrial intervention and probation.  The middle class was being systematically eviscerated, while the billionaire-owned GOP pointed their attention down the ladder and said "Look!  Look at that [black person/immigrant/Muslim/Jew/whoever]!!  HE's your problem.  HE's the one taking what is rightfully yours!"

And the middle class bought it -- enough of them to put Donald Trump in the White House.

Yesterday I spoke with a friend who I haven't talked with since November.  One of the reasons for that is that every time I talk with her, she insists on rehashing the entire sad story of the 2016 election, and what "we" have to do now -- as if I'm arguing with her.  The amount of energy she expends on what was absolutely a travesty is toxic -- and wasteful.  After I finally was able to get a word in edgewise, I asked her "What is this doing for you?  What is this doing for anyone?  What is this doing for anything?"  Eventually I got her to ask the question, "So what do we do?  How do we fix this?"

It's so much easier to stay stuck in 2016, to rehash the injustices done to Hillary Clinton -- a candidate who, if her husband was the most charismatic politician of the tech era, was probably the least charismatic, and certainly the most tone-deaf one -- than be a cynic like me and face the inexorable fact:  That if we were ever "America the Great", we certainly aren't anymore.  The myth has been held together with spit and glue ever since Ronald Reagan's first act in office was to fire all the air traffic controllers.  The public has been bought with $300 "tax rebates" while billionaires got millions in permanent tax cuts; and poisoned by right-leaning corporate media.

And now here we are, in what George Packer accurately called in The Atlantic this week, a failed state:

The crisis demanded a response that was swift, rational, and collective. The United States reacted instead 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. The administration squandered two irretrievable months to prepare. From the president came willful blindness, scapegoating, boasts, and lies. From his mouthpieces, conspiracy theories and miracle cures. A few senators and corporate executives acted quickly—not to prevent the coming disaster, but to profit from it. When a government doctor tried to warn the public of the danger, the White House took the mic and politicized the message.
Every morning in the endless month of March, Americans woke up to find themselves citizens of a failed state. With no national plan—no coherent instructions at all—families, schools, and offices were left to decide on their own whether to shut down and take shelter. When test kits, masks, gowns, and ventilators were found to be in desperately short supply, governors pleaded for them from the White House, which stalled, then called on private enterprise, which couldn’t deliver. States and cities were forced into bidding wars that left them prey to price gouging and corporate profiteering. Civilians took out their sewing machines to try to keep ill-equipped hospital workers healthy and their patients alive. Russia, Taiwan, and the United Nations sent humanitarian aid to the world’s richest power—a beggar nation in utter chaos.
 When the Trumpublican Party passed massive tax cuts for corporation and billionaires in 2019 along with some smoke and mirrors designed to make the masses think they too were getting tax cuts, pundits and economists warned that these unnecessary tax cuts would give little room for stimulative spending in the event of a recession.  And here we are, but it is an election year so politicians of ALL stripes decided it was necessary to throw a pittance of hush money at the masses.  And right on cue, there was Steve Rattner, on the supposedly "liberal" MSNBC this morning, already talking about the "spending cuts" that will be necessary when this is over.

We all know what "spending cuts" means:  It means eliminating or gutting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.  "But they can't do that.  They'd never be re-elected" you might say.  Oh, it won't happen this year, at least not before whatever passes for an "election" in November.  But you can bet your life that the minute that election is over (and you may rest assured that the GOP WILL prevail, by hook or by crook, most likely the latter), the knives will be out.

Perhaps this is why SARS-CoV-19 has been allowed to run rampant -- to cull the herd enough that there will be little opposition to finally fulfilling the GOP dream.

(Side note:  I have not even addressed the influence of Russia and Vladimir Putin's string pulling on the current occupant of the White House.  Some things are best left to the professionals.  For that, I refer you to Greg Olear, who knows of what he speaks.)


  1. Hey Jill - first time in a long time I've visited.Read your final post in the old B@B. So sorry for your troubles. The price we pay for good genetics is watching others who came up shorter in that lottery fall away... and of course becoming aware that although we're not there today (maybe), we are also in the process of moving on. I interviewed a glass blower years ago, who told of being repeatedly approached by owners of expensive, beautiful glass sculptures that had been damaged asking, "Can this be repaired?" He had come up with a stock answer, which has always stuck in my mind: "Of course I can't fix it. It's ephemeral, delicate, vulnerable. That's what makes it so valuable."

    Hope you are enjoying Durham. I have a couple of friends who live in that area and enjoy it very much. Carol and I are still in the Albany NY area, living as well as we are able, and enjoying each day here, especially in this time that calls on us to think in terms of the big/basic questions. I see you are still doing that - one foot in the "real world" and the other in the everywhere. It's the creative act of maintaining that dynamic balance that is the great challenge and reward of my own life, and I hope of yours.

    My best to you. I've always enjoyed your writing, and am glad I can continue to do so.

    Ned Depew

  2. Failed State! That's it, right there, the nub of the situation. My guess is, in a few years Republicans will not be worrying about immigration. They'll be worried about em-igration. "Build the wall" will become a mantra of the power structure, not to keep immigrants out, but to keep Americans in. Never mind that we are already a failed state. We are also closer than many think to become the new East Berlin.

    Yours very crankily,
    The New York Crank


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