a blog, newsletter, and kaleidoscope notebook about politics, the media, and culture
by tom bunting, a Real Journalist

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The breakdown begins

April 16, 2020 2:17 PM
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The breakdown begins

Our current situation has been going on for just about five weeks now, which is just enough time to let people get really Mad and Crazy. Yesterday, hundreds descended on the Michigan capital to protest the state’s shelter-in-place laws. Similar protests broke out in Ohio in recent days. They were inspired by conservative fringe theories, and funded by the right-leaning Devos family, yet their existence does speak to the fact that our current limbo is untenable. As unemployement continues to skyrocket and our broken media ecosystem continues to rille up the less-hinged members of our society, more protests are likely coming. And they will be coming from people who don’t live in the far-right fever swamp.  

The frutility of the government’s response—which consists of a check equaling one month’s rent in a cheap New York City apartment, a overwealmed and underfunded program for small buisness loans, and an infinite no-strings-attached money cannon for corporations—has exasperated the desperation. Millions of Americans are genuinely struggling to survive. Bank websites across the country crashed yesterday as thousands tried to collect their $1200 relief payments, which polls show most plan to spend on food and medicine. The scale of economic desperation has outpaced the rate of infection in many communities, which further exasperates matters. Fighting an invisible enemy is difficult, especially when the steps taken to combat the invisible enemy is destroying your livelihood.

In a normal, healthy country, the obvious solution to this problem would be a massively increased federal relief program while we all continue sheltering. Liberal politicians like Bernie Sanders and Maxine Waters have introduced policies like a monthly universal payment, a freeze on credit payments, and rent and mortgage moratoriums that begin to approach the scale of relief we’ve seem in European countries. Instead, leaders from New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to Trump seem increasingly lazerfocused on “reopening the economy.” I don’t know what that means at this point, but neither do they.

The futility of the entire “reopen” enterprise was laid bare yesterday, when Cuomo issued an executive order mandadting  all New Yorkers wear face masks “when you’re going to come close to a person” in public. When announcing a similar order in Maryland, governor Larry Hogan called masks “something we may have to become more accustomed to in order to safely reopen our state.”

Wearing masks in public is a fine idea, but where are people supposed to get them? It’s still impossible to buy them on Amazon, and other sources are barely able to keep up on demand from hospitals, much less the entire population of New York, Maryland, and New Jersey. What such a rule would likely mean is greater state control, the kind of authoritarian police crackdowns we’re already seeing in cities like Philadelphia and Los Angeles.

The end result of all of this will undoubtedly be more sick people, the majority of which don’t have the luxury to work from home or pay marked up prices for masks. Such is the hypocrisy of the whole push to reopen the country from buisness leaders and politicians; it’s never going to be their lives on the line. When Lloyd Blankfein sheepishly calls for Americans to go back to the office, he isn’t talking about himself. He’ll undoubtedly continue working in some estate far away from the rest of us, perhaps making the occasion charted limo ride into some secret Manhattan garage. He exists in a protected class, who only have personal wealth to lose if America embraces a more aggressive form of social relief.

Today, we learned that over 22 million unemployement claims were filed in the last four weeks, with experts expecting total unemployment rates to hit 17% by the end of the month. Those are the highest numbers since the Great Depression, and $1,200 checks that can be swallowed up whole by banks aren’t going to cover it. People are going to keep getting angry, but they should know who to be angry at. Not the scientists, not the officials forcing them to stay home; but the craven politicians who expect working people to lose their livelihood and be content with scraps, and the disgusting special interests that they are serving by abandoning the public.