It seems uncouth, if not obscene, to talk about politics while we’re in the middle of a global pandemic. To be honest, I’ve avoided talking politics much over the past week or so, as things here in the US went from bad to worse, precisely because we need to pull together. This is a situation that hits everyone, Republican or Democrat, liberal, conservative, progressive, right-wing, whomever. We need each other as fear spreads a bit faster than a disease we’re still struggling to learn about.
That does not mean politics isn’t still happening. Just yesterday, Sen. Rand Paul tried to insert an irrelevant amendment regarding the Afghanistan War into the coronavirus relief bill. Which is not to say that ending the Afghan war isn’t important. It most certainly is! We need, however, to remain focused at the moment.
I’m honestly not interested in the kind of simple-minded partisan finger-pointing because that, my friends, is the blame game. It’s a game children play. Right now, we don’t need children yelling at each other who started what. We do, however, need clarity about responsibility, because when this moment passes – and it will pass, though it will take longer than most people think right now – we will need a season of accountability. I think many thanks are due to the governors of Washington, California, New York, Pennsylvania, and Illinois for acting fast in trying to control a situation that seemed to become more complicated and dangerous by the day. Other states are following suit, except for a few – Texas, Florida, Mississippi, and Tennessee, among others – whose state leaders seem unwilling to act to protect their residents.
Part of accountability is going to be making clear just how badly our federal government responded. One word I’ve seen bandied about a lot is “bungling” and there has been that. If for no other reason, our current federal bureaucracy is led by some of the most inept, unqualified people imaginable. Starting at the top with the President, they are people who have shown themselves unequal to the challenge; precisely the kind of challenge they are supposed to address with intelligence, calm, openness, and a continual flow of the best information available. While the fed’s actions seem to be catching up to the facts on the ground, it is far too little far too late for far too many. Accountability begins with the one in charge, and it seems pretty clear there wasn’t anyone in charge.
Someone today left a comment about how we need to have “smaller government” in the wake of our current emergency. Nothing, however, shows up the basic fallacy of the “small government” ideology than our current situation. First of all, as a general rule, it is impossible to govern a sprawling modern state on the cheap. Second, our current emergency is precisely why we have government agencies that deal with infectious diseases, disaster response, the coordination of everything from the flow of information to the supplying of resources. The best example is something I read from someone in a company that manufactures respirators, of which we currently are undersupplied. While they’re certainly ready to crank them out, absent large orders from the federal government, they’re not going to start producing. While there’s definitely a need, private hospitals, localities, even states, don’t have the resources to place the orders needed. That’s the federal government duty and they aren’t doing it. And Trump’s, “You try to get them yourselves” comment to governors is woefully short of anything resembling leadership.
Funny enough, we’ve found money to support people put out of work by our situation. We’ve found money to help cover medical expenses for the vulnerable. All the things we were told couldn’t be done for one reason or another are suddenly becoming a reality. It seems to me obvious that this is a lesson we need to hold close.
Of course, the pandemic also shows our social and structural weaknesses, brought about by far too many years listening to people who insisted our poor are undeserving. People who receive welfare, WIC, food stamps, Medicaid, and other help all too often work, sometimes more than one job. This shows, more than any graph or chart could, how obscenely inadequate our minimum wage is. Raising the minimum wage, not just to $15/hr but above the poverty line, seems a necessity now. Far too many people who work hard still don’t have any resources, or access to public resources, they need just to get by. The time for public frugality is done.
Our healthcare system, of course, is in a precarious position. Understaffed, often facing more and more stringent budgets, we don’t have anything close to the capacity, tools, and personnel needed to face what’s coming. Precisely because someone had the bright idea to turn medicine into a for-profit industry, we see the incompatibility of the demands of the market and the demands of the Hippocratic Oath. We as a whole people need to decide, sooner rather than later, which one is more important for all of us. Obviously, public health has come into focus with our crisis; but that doesn’t mean the needs which seem acute right now aren’t still there in more normal times. Addressing the many deficiencies of our healthcare system is something that we need to do, together, as a whole country. We have suddenly realized all our lives depend upon it.
We need to hold each other up in the middle of all this. We need to recognize we are all and each of us in this together. We’re all afraid, we’re all anxious for the near future. But we also must pull together and demand accountability, demand changes that make us far more ready to face extreme emergencies. Most of all, we need to remember to elect people who are up to the challenges of governing our sprawling, complex, modern, post-industrial state. Politics is serious business and should be treated as such.