I’ve spent a lot of time on Twitch since the pandemic started, most notably in the Pokémon GO Battle League sphere, and the phrase “Who was worried?” is a common refrain. It’s a sarcastic comment, uttered by the streamer or someone in Chat, indicating they were very much worried about the final outcome, but are jokingly playing it off as if it were never in doubt.
As far as the future of the planet and life on it is concerned, like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I believe the long arc of the moral universe bends towards justice and that we will act in our best interest to avert a climate disaster. That said, am I worried? To say “no” would be a lie.
Not merely to pile on outside references, but in accounting, the term “going concern” refers to a business that will be able to meet its financial obligations and, well, survive for the foreseeable future. The presumption of going concern is fundamental to the concept of financial reporting. If a company isn’t expecting to be able to go on after a year’s time, that is, needless to say, important information for current or potential investors to know.
Planet Earth is, of course, not a business, but in terms of our ability to inhabit it for the foreseeable future, there is ample room for concern. Quite simply, we are not meeting our obligations as stewards of this big blue marble we call a home, and unfortunately, we are taking other species along with us.
As I’ve discussed in a post from last year, if our collective response to COVID is any indication, there is ample room for worry. That is, if our handling of the pandemic is to be considered a dry run for heading off a climate catastrophe, one can be forgiven for lacking confidence. Broadly speaking, in a time of great need for people, particularly those members of one or more marginalized groups, the response has been to double down on/accelerate the failed policies and systems which helped fuel our initially dilatory reaction to COVID’s spread. From a pure healthcare perspective, patient outcomes have been markedly worse for lower-class Americans and/or Americans of color.
Since the writing of that piece, the proliferation of various versions of the COVID vaccine is undoubtedly encouraging. Just the same, only about half of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated. What’s more, with the rise of the Delta variant in this country, nearly every state is reporting increases in the number of cases. For all the talk of “getting back to normal” and the idea of the end of the pandemic, it feels like we are celebrating before we’ve crossed the finish line.
After all, outside of America, the COVID picture can be very different. Look at India. Look at the United Kingdom. Look at Brazil. With news of the spread of a Lambda variant in South America and elsewhere—in other words, another mutation—we’re showing that a lot of work still has to be done in terms of vaccination and of promoting behavior/policies designed to limit the spread of infectious diseases.
The degree to which COVID and climate change are interrelated, like many things surrounding this disease, is still being explored. Regarding how climate change impacts the spread of diseases like COVID, while there may not be direct evidence that climate change affects the spread, as animal habitats get destroyed, there is an increased likelihood that pathogens may be spread by different species coming into close contact. How humans raise livestock and consume meat also can contribute to the spread of infections, not to mention limiting our consumption of meat can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
As for the reverse, according to Climate Central, an independent organization of scientists and journalists devoted to researching and reporting climate change information to the general public, forced quarantines and a shift toward remote learning/work initially helped curb CO2 emissions, but an end to restrictions and a push to open things back up have all but negated those gains. While, as it must be emphasized, we would or should not encourage a deadly pandemic just to prove a point about climate change, there is a lesson to be learned about how changing how we live our lives can make a quantifiable impact. By focusing on implementing renewable energy sources and electric transportation systems, we can realize the environmental impact so many of us wish to see.
At this stage in the game, however, how we approach both COVID and climate change is not an issue of what we wish to see, but what we need to do. We’re at a tipping point for being able to ensure future generations will have a habitable planet on which to dwell, and right now, we’re not meeting our end of the bargain. Who’s worried? Me, for one, and I know I’m not alone.
If you’ve watched a nightly news program in recent weeks, you’ve probably seen the effects of accelerating and deleterious climate change. Drought. Extreme heat. Floods. Wildfires. Does climate change cause these disasters? No. We’ve had these phenomena on Earth since before the Industrial Revolution. It does make them more probable and severe, though. And it’s liable to only get worse.
As climate journalist Emily Atkin expresses in a recent post on her newsletter HEATED, it’s time for all of us to become climate activists in some shape or form. Telling the tale of Pakistani teenage climate activist Jaweria Baig, a woman who has seen the devastation of climate change in her home country and has consequently chosen the path of activism over her studies, she identifies this moment in time as an all-hands-on-deck scenario. She writes:
In more than a dozen interviews over the last two weeks, activists from across the climate movement have issued a common call to arms: If you have ever thought of becoming more involved in the fight for climate justice, it’s time to stop thinking, and start doing.
The proverbial writing is on the wall. A leaked report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change revealed that we’re reaching environmental tipping reports sooner than expected, on top of those shifts which are beyond the point of no return. We can still meet the climate targets outlined in the Paris Agreement, but only if we significantly reduce our use of fossil fuels. This means fighting the fossil fuel industry, a collective which has lobbied and misdirected against environmental action, head on.
As Atkin stresses, even small actions on the part of individuals is needed in the interest of bigger systemic changes. Whether it’s asking Microsoft to reduce its carbon footprint by eliminating corporate flights through the use of its Teams software for meetings instead; pressuring members of Congress to support infrastructure legislation that insists on dramatic and transformational changes to benefit the environment; petitioning advertising agencies and social media platforms to stop working with fossil fuel companies/ban their ads; supporting indigenous groups opposing pipeline projects; or simply donating to causes that promote climate education rather than fossil fuel propaganda, there are contributions to be made without having to become a full-time climate activist. It’s about mobilizing people power and raising our voices to challenge those with the most power to do their part to act before it’s too late.
Atkin closes her post with these serious considerations:
Some people may read this and believe it is pointless. That we are too late. That none of it matters. The fossil fuel industry knows this is not true. Their fear of a determined, pissed off public is why they promoted campaigns of climate denial and “individual responsibility” in the first place. They knew if people were unsure about the problem, they’d waste time fighting about it instead of mobilizing to fix it. They knew if people were confused about the solution, they’d waste time trying to change themselves and each other instead of the system.
However worse the climate crisis gets now depends on how quickly society transforms. How quickly society transforms depends on how many people demand it. The most harmful lie being spread about climate change today is not that it is fake. It’s that nothing you can do can help save the world.
We all have in a stake in this, especially those of us who will still be around to see the impacts of a worsening global climate. The pandemic is an opportunity to start working together on an international basis and prepare for the bigger threat facing humanity, not to engage in tribalism and “America First” rhetoric, especially when our own human rights record and role in pollution is certainly not above reproach. If we don’t take that opportunity, the planet will survive, but our future very much is in doubt.
In the United States, there is a growing sentiment that the global pandemic is “winding down” and that we are moving past a life dictated by COVID-19 restrictions. Someone evidently forgot to inform the coronavirus of this, though, and some health experts are similarly wary about putting a rubber stamp on this whole health crisis.
The World Health Organization, for one, has cautioned against calling the pandemic “over” when significant portions of the world are facing vaccine shortages and variants that are potentially more transmissible and/or more deadly, according to a report by Berkeley Lovelace Jr. for CNBC. As WHO director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus stressed, “The pandemic is a long way from over. It will not be over anywhere until it’s over everywhere.”
Lovelace’s report, in part, details a tale of two countries. In the United States, for example, COVID cases have been on the decline and some medical experts have suggested fully vaccinated people can eschew the mask-wearing and social distancing guidelines previously established by the Centers for Disease Control, at least among themselves.
In India, meanwhile, daily cases are in the hundreds of thousands and the country recently set a new daily record for deaths. Researchers are still trying to get a handle on what the B.1.617 variant means for transmissibility and to what extent vaccines will safeguard against it. Experts are, for the most part, optimistic on the vaccine aspect, but this assumes that vaccine distribution is orderly and that people are complying with the recommendation to vaccinate. Depending on the country and even geographic/demographic factors, that’s not a given.
Even in nations like the U.S., reaching so-called “herd immunity” may be difficult if not impossible. In addition to new variants popping up, vaccine hesitancy (I mean this in terms of people who are indeed “hesistant” and not out-and-out anti-vaxxers), ineligibility for young children to get immunized, and low access to vaccines for poor/racialized members of the population makes it all the more probable we won’t completely eradicate COVID-19. Much like the flu, it will become endemic. This is to say that it will likely become less deadly over time, but nonetheless, a seasonal occurrence.
There’s also the possibility that relaxing mask and social distancing guidelines, while not to completely undo the progress we’ve made on COVID recovery, could cause spikes and prolong our collective suffering. Of course, context matters. Going maskless makes more sense if you’re walking alone outside with no one else around than if you’re riding the subway, assuming local or state guidelines even permit you to do the latter.
Even so, the rush to return to relative normalcy could prompt people to become too relaxed when it comes to meeting up in public places. In addition, and not merely to be cynical, but people may claim to be fully vaccinated and not actually have followed through with the required dose(s). The honor system is only as good as the buy-in of those involved, and judging by the refusal of many to wear masks correctly (hint: it goes over your nose) or at all, not everyone may have your best interests in mind.
In all, “going back to normal” makes sense to a lot of Americans, but that reflects a worldview which potentially overlooks struggles in other countries, overestimates the availability of vaccines, and reflects an exasperation with being in quarantine for over a year. We’re not at the finish line yet, despite ample room for optimism.
While a significant part of the push to get back to normal, whether people are getting vaccinated or observing mask-wearing and social distancing guidelines is only a portion of the larger discussion we should be having. For one, as difficult as it was for people to forge new routines in response to COVID’s disruption of daily life as we knew it, it’ll be as difficult if not more so to transition back to the old way of doing things. In addition, some people, places, and jobs haven’t quite recovered from the pandemic or never will. It’s not as if we can simply erase the damage done by a global health crisis that has lasted more than a year. The ripple effects will be felt for years to come.
By no means do I wish for a deadly pandemic to continue just to prove or drive home a point. Worrying whether the wrong interaction with someone will possibly lead to their death, my death, or both gets exhausting. In the headlong rush to get past what has truly been a dark time for much of the world, though, what does seem to be lost to a large degree in the conversation is how “normal” wasn’t all that good for many Americans.
Before the pandemic, for example, greedy corporations like Amazon were effectively paying zero taxes and taking advantage of monopolistic business practices to rake in profits. The pandemic only made Jeff Bezos richer and gave the company that much more latitude to, say, run a multi-million dollar campaign to thwart a unionization attempt in one of its warehouses in the U.S. Millions of young people are being crushed under the weight of our collective student debt. Our infrastructure is crumbling. Black Americans are still getting killed disproportionately by police. Our planet is still hurtling toward a climate catastrophe.
The pandemic hasn’t obviated our responsibility in addressing these problems. Now we are looking at putting COVID in the rear view mirror and going back to brunch, content to ditch the masks absent any meaningful reflection on how broken our society already was. Our battle to overcome COVID-19 is an opportunity to rethink how we redo things at a structural level. Unfortunately, we seem dead set on learning little to nothing from our communal suffering, with the worst actors apparently intent on driving us further into the abyss and more quickly.
There’s still time to take a deep (and hopefully fully-vaccinated) breath before we turn the page on COVID, a disease we very likely will continue to see in some form in the years and decades to come. It would be a shame if we didn’t use that pause to think about how far we have come and how far we as a global community have to go.
Bernie Sanders is my guy. I will always feel indebted to him for inspiring me to become more educated and involved as a student of politics, and he continues to show leadership as one of the most progressive members of the Senate. That said, Bernie is not always right, and one of the areas in which he falters is racialized issues, in particular, policing in the United States.
Daunte Wright’s recent killing (I’ll leave it up to you to call it a “murder” or “manslaughter,” or opine as to whether the distinction even matters) at the hands of now-former Brooklyn Center police officer Kim Potter has re-intensified calls not only for justice for the victim in this case, but a reimagining of policing in communities across the country. Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), a noted ally of Bernie’s during the 2020 presidential election primaries, took to Twitter in the wake of Wright’s death to post about the role of policing in the U.S. from both a current and historical perspective. She wrote:
It wasn’t an accident. Policing in our country is inherently and intentionally racist.
Daunte Wright was met with aggression and violence. I am done with those who condone government-funded murder.
No more policing, incarceration, and militarization. It can’t be reformed.
Tlaib’s sentiments are strong ones, and are understandable regardless of the circumstances, though especially so given the pervasiveness of black Americans and other Americans of color being killed disproportionately by police, not to mention the geographical proximity of this incident to George Floyd’s murder which sparked the fervent protests and activist energy that dominated headlines in 2020. Not done on the topic, Tlaib tweeted again with a longer thread supporting her position. She tweeted:
We continue to see death after death at the hands of police officers with no meaningful accountability for the officers or departments involved.
We’ve seen [money] pumped into training and half-measures, only to see the killing of Daunte Wright mere miles from the Derek Chauvin trial justified as a “mistaken” use of a gun instead of a taser. If you can’t distinguish between a gun and a taser. If you can’t distinguish between a gun and a taser, you shouldn’t be carrying either.
I understand that many are concerned about public safety, but it is clear that more investment in police, incarceration, and criminalization will not deliver that safety.
Instead, we should be investing more resources into our community to tackle poverty, education inequities, and to increase job opportunities. We should be expanding the use of mental health and social work professionals to respond to disputes before they escalate.
Data and research supports this. We need to reimagine how we approach public safety and the opportunity for every person to thrive.
The only way we will all have safe communities is to invest in our people, not double down on failed overpolicing and criminalization.
As you might imagine, not everyone agreed with Tlaib’s stances (you yourself might balk at discussion of “defunding” and “abolishing” the police). One such dissenter was the aforementioned Bernie Sanders, who when asked whether he is in accord with his progressive comrade, responded flatly, “No, I don’t.” He elaborated, “I think that what we need to do is understand that there needs to be major, major police reform all across this country. We are tired of seeing the same thing, week after week and year after year. We do not want to see innocent African-Americans shot in cold blood.”
Putting aside the notion of whether Rashida Tlaib would say she is “done” with Bernie, his views, absent additional context, beckon explanation. How are we expected to reform policing without some degree of defunding or dismantling existing structures? Do we simply need to throw more money at the problem? That hasn’t worked with, for instance, the military/industrial complex or any number of alternative examples.
Obviously, race and demographics are relevant here. Tlaib is a 44-year-old woman of Palestinian descent who represents Michigan’s 13th congressional district, a majority of which the constituency is black. Bernie is a 79-year-old white dude who represents Vermont, a state that is predominantly non-Hispanic white. To say their experiences have been and continue to be very different is a bit of an understatement, even noting their broad agreement on a number of issues.
Discussion of defunding and abolishing policing is also fraught with political complications. For many, especially on the right and center-right, the mere suggestion of giving less to our embattled men and women in blue is near-sacrilegious. The police, for them, means safety and order. In a world that seems increasingly confusing and uncertain, to take anything away from those who pledge to protect and serve is a bridge too far and, even within the left, serves as a potential wedge issue.
In a highly-polarized political sphere replete with disingenuous talking points, misleading soundbites, and clickbait headlines that diminish the opportunity for deliberation with nuance, any matter is liable to become politicized and provoke negative knee-jerk reactions. Such is not a reason, however, to necessarily shy away from forcing a conversation about the role of policing in our communities, as contentious as it may be.
Approaching a year since George Floyd’s death at the hands of police, if progress has been made on making our societal order more just, clearly, more has to be done. Expectedly, this starts with the work of progressives in and out of government office, but this requires solidarity. For all the talk of wanting to reform policing, Bernie Sanders’s distancing of himself from Rashida Tlaib’s remarks is evidence of how far the left has to go if it is to build real power as a force for change. As Daunte Wright’s untimely passing indicates, we can’t afford to wait on this issue.
Meditating on deadly and discriminatory practices in policing, in many respects a relic of the slave patrols of the antebellum South, is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to confronting the inequities of systemic racism that pervade present-day America. Daunte Wright’s tragic death has garnered significant media attention—as it should. Every black person killed at the hands of police deserves to have their story told.
How many tales of abuse by cops go unrecounted, however? Extending the conversation to the milieu of criminal justice, how many African-Americans have faced injustice in the form of overzealous prosecution, half-hearted defenses of those accused, and/or harsh sentences based on statutory prescriptions for “law and order?” Within this sphere, we are liable to ingest but a fraction of the often-hostile environments created for people of color for the cases that go to trial, already a slim portion of criminal proceedings. If slavery was abolished, its legacy lives on in the terrorization and potential devastation of black communities by policing that violates constitutional principles (e.g. the Fourth Amendment) as well as courtroom and carceral procedures which prize expediency over human lives.
When we speak of police reform, these are the deeply-ingrained realities we must comprehend and tackle. Such is a big ask for a system in which rampant prejudice isn’t a flaw, but a built-in feature. Especially in situations where profit is to be made off the detention of individuals regardless of the level of offense or mitigating personal circumstances, the battle for recognition of those accused’s humanity is surely an uphill one.
So, can policing in the United States be reformed? It depends on who you ask, but failing to even be able to come to a consensus among progressives on this front dampens the ability to change public opinion in favor of solutions backed by science and to everyone’s benefit (i.e. economic upturn). That leftists like Bernie would so easily dismiss wholesale transformation of the current system suggests a lack of communication among progressives. Once again, the responsibility will fall upon activists to pick up the pieces.
Donald Trump, at the time the lamest of lame duck presidents, got himself kicked off of Twitter, Facebook, and other platforms. For many liberals and progressives alike, this was a real “Ding dong, the witch is dead!” moment.
Of course, the events leading up to Trump’s widely-celebrated ban were not particularly inspiring, unless we are talking about emotions like fear and abject horror. On January 6, Trump supporters, buoyed by the urging of their preferred candidate to go to the Capitol building in Washington, D.C., stormed the place, prompting an evacuation and a halt of the counting of the Electoral College votes. What under normal circumstances is characteristically a rather prosaic affair became a chaotic series of events, the fallout of which is still being reckoned with as details of how it got so out of hand continue to emerge.
Trump, for his part, didn’t do much to stamp out the proverbial flames, offering a weak condemnation of the rioters and the eventual deadly violence before ultimately giving a statement telling the mob he egged on in the first place to go home. All the while, he expressed his “love” for the protesters and repeated his absurd claims that the election was stolen. Since then, he has—surprise!—refused to take responsibility for his role in fueling tensions that led to the debacle. Welp, if there’s one thing we can say about our Donald, it’s that he’s consistent!
It was therefore perhaps unavoidable that a score of social media sites would make the decision to ban Donald Trump indefinitely from their ranks, while other companies, if not banning Trump specifically, removed servers frequented by his followers or dropped Parler, a messaging app known to be frequented by right-wingers—particularly conspiracy theorists—and a forum on which planning for the so-called “insurrection” at the Capitol was evidently discussed.
Perhaps most significantly for Trump following his electoral defeat, he and his brand have taken a hit. Shopify, for one, removed all official Trump campaign merchandise by disabling his online stores. The Professional Golfers’ Association of America also voted to terminate their relationship with the Trump name, which means his Bedminster course won’t be hosting the PGA Championship next year. I, for one, am despondent I won’t be able to wear my MAGA hat and watch golf’s finest tee off from Trump’s private golf club—I don’t know about you.
So, yes, Trump was banned and all is well, right? That depends on who’s answering and how the ensuing discussion goes. The American Civil Liberties Union, for one, while not explicitly condemning the decision to outlaw Trump and his ilk, nonetheless expressed reservation about Big Tech’s part in all of this. The ACLU’s senior legislative counsel Kate Ruane put forth these views in the wake of Twitter’s announcement of Trump’s permanent suspension:
For months, President Trump has been using social media platforms to seed doubt about the results of the election and to undermine the will of voters. We understand the desire to permanently suspend him now, but it should concern everyone when companies like Facebook and Twitter wield the unchecked power to remove people from platforms that have become indispensable for the speech of billions—especially when political realities make those decisions easier. President Trump can turn to his press team of FOX News to communicate with the public, but others—like the many Black, Brown, and LGBTQ activists who have been censored by social media companies—will not have that luxury. It is our hope that these companies will apply their rules transparently to everyone.
Predictably, conservative outlets like Breitbart, Newsmax and the Washington Times jumped on Ruane’s statement as justification for why banning Trump was the wrong course of action for Twitter et al. Look—even the liberal ACLU thinks suspending Trump was wrong! That tells you something! Meanwhile, the kneejerk reaction of some on the left bordered on incredulity. Are you kidding me? Trump’s ban is a godsend and long overdue! Don’t rain on our parade, ACLU!
On both sides of the aisle, these protestations lack nuance, a seeming hallmark of much of today’s political discourse. Such does not seem terribly shocking coming from the right given that misleading information and misdirection are standard operating procedure for news outlets sympathetic to Trump and increasingly so the further right we go. As noted, the ACLU did not enthusiastically get behind a global social media Trump ban, but it’s not as if they gave the man a glowing review either. Speaking for the Union, Kate Ruane said that “we understand the desire to permanently suspend him.” That’s not a ringing endorsement, and Ruane pointedly mentions his sowing seeds of doubt about the democratic process. Highlighting this statement as a defense of Trump or a rebuke of Facebook and Twitter for banning him is decidedly disingenuous.
Re criticisms from the left, meanwhile, they run the risk of failing to see the forest for its digital trees. Donald Trump’s reach, president or not, should not be understated. That said, the power of Twitter and other large communications platforms to shape politics in the United States and abroad should not be undersold. We’ve seen what impact Facebook can have in the negative sense for its role in helping to spread hate speech fueling genocide in Myanmar and for allowing Cambridge Analytica, a consulting firm with ties to Ted Cruz’s and Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaigns, to harvest the data of tens of millions of Facebook users without their explicit consent. That’s an awful lot of authority in the hands of a privileged few entities.
In the span of a short statement, then, we can appreciate how much there is to unpack regarding this thorny issue. An arguably better tack is to consider some of the questions surrounding the debate about whether banning Trump is the right move. So let’s give it the ol’ college try, shall we?
Did Donald Trump do enough to warrant expulsion from Twitter and other media?
Um, have you been paying attention for the last half a decade? As even those who side with the ACLU’s view on these matters would tend to agree, if Trump were a regular person without his stature and his following, he would’ve been banned years ago. Google/YouTube, in particular, was rightly criticized for, in delivering its own public statement on why it was suspending the outgoing president, essentially admitting it was applying standards that already existed but weren’t being enforced until this point.
For particularly salient perspectives on this dimension, we need to look no further than those who are the primary targets of Trumpian rhetoric. Dianna E. Anderson, a non-binary, queer author/writer, took to Twitter to voice her “strong disagreement” with the ACLU on the Trump blackout. As they reason, the ACLU tends “to lean on a slippery slope argument when it comes to free speech, which ignores the power dynamic that happens when all speech is allowed without any kind of moderation.” For Anderson, fascists and Nazi-adjacent types are “fundamentally eliminationist” and argue from the cover of free speech to limit the freedoms—speech included—of everyone else. From this vantage point, removing Trump is de-platforming someone with dangerous views and making the Internet that much safer for members of minority communities.
Doesn’t this just risk making Trump a martyr of sorts and fueling accusations of anti-conservative bias by social media companies?
If one is worried about conservatives playing the victim card, then they will be all but paralyzed to inaction because these right-wingers do it all the time. All. The. Time. Trump is undoubtedly the biggest, whiniest baby of them all, but for all the barbs about the “snowflakes” on the liberal end of the spectrum, it’s conservatives who are consistently crying foul over perceived slights.
Their assertions, it should be stressed, have no basis in reality. Going back to Facebook, conservative posts are consistently among the most shared and viewed. In a similar vein, YouTube has been a haven for some truly repugnant right-wing content creators. Professional blockhead Steven Crowder got little more than a slap on the wrist for repeatedly hurling homophobic epithets and other demeaning comments at video producer and activist Carlos Maza for his work with Vox. If these companies exhibit a liberal bias, they have a funny way of doing it by letting literal white supremacists run rampant on their services.
This is where Ruane’s point about censorship of activists from vulnerable populations really comes into play. Whether specifically to silence these voices based on their politics or to preserve the appearance of “balance,” the failure of social media companies to consistently and transparently apply their stated codes of conduct or their overreliance on algorithms and other automated systems of content oversight have made at times for an inhospitable environment for leftist content creation. For smaller, independent creators, this is an especially onerous reality.
These are private companies. Isn’t it their prerogative to say who can and cannot be allowed on their service?
Whether bans like the one on Donald Trump are “censorship” is a sticking point in the ongoing conversation about the role of social media in our everyday lives, and in some respects, may be a bit of semantics. As the ACLU itself defines the word, censorship is “the suppression of words, images, or ideas that are ‘offensive’.” It is unconstitutional when carried out by the government. Because a certain amount of ambiguity exists with respect to censorship and First Amendment rights, often necessitating the intervention of the courts, and because freedom of expression is among our most cherished rights, cries about the censoriousness of these companies often draw the attention of people irrespective of party affiliation or lack thereof.
This is usually the point when objectors will point out that companies like Facebook, Google, and Twitter are private companies and can restrict who they want however they please. True as that may be and despite the risk these tech giants run by operating in uneven or heavy-handed ways, the theory that social media apps/sites should be regulated by the government as an essential public service or “utility” exists in opposition to the absolute discretion of the Mark Zuckerbergs of the world.
To insist on the ability of these companies to self-regulate ignores the monopolistic power they possess, the scope of their influence, and their already-exhibited inability to prevent abuses of their platforms’ capabilities. It’s why calls to “break up Big Tech” have only gotten louder in recent years and will no doubt continue to crescendo in certain circles. Heck, Elizabeth Warren made it a key component of her campaign platform. Big Tech may not be a government unto itself, but left unchecked, it stands to wield its influence to further stifle competition and undermine our democracy.
Banning the likes of Donald Trump amid cries of social media censorship and concern for the political influence of Big Tech altogether makes for a thorny discussion without easy answers. Especially after a whirlwind Trump presidency that saw real harm done to the United States and further damage to its democratic framework—a framework that has been under siege for quite some time, mind you—this can be frustrating. The Trump era is over, man! Let us kick up our feet and relax for a moment! Stop harshing our post-Inauguration mellow!
Far be it from me to throw the wettest of blankets on this celebratory mood, but beyond the urge, nay, the need to hold Joe Biden and his administration accountable for his campaign promises and pursuing policies that will benefit Americans regardless of their socioeconomic status, discussion of the effects social media has on our lives, for better and for worse, is an important talk to be having as well.
I’ve heard it said that the focus on Trump’s social media status is a distraction because it takes away from the dialog we should be reserving about stemming the monopolistic domination of companies like Amazon, Facebook, Google, and Twitter. To a certain extent, I disagree, in that I believe the insistence of Dianna Anderson and others that fascists be de-platformed is also critical. At the same time, however, I do worry that ceding power to Big Tech, without due restriction, is a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul. Or, in this case, Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk.
Should Donald Trump have been kicked off social media? Yes, I think so. Is conservative backlash to be worried about? Perhaps, but not to the extent it precludes his removal. Lastly, is this or should this be the end of the conversation? Not in the slightest. Until the Internet becomes a place that is safe for users from minority groups and does not privilege the interests of corporations and certain influential individuals, we have a lot more work to do in ensuring a free and fair medium.
By now, you’re aware that Donald Trump, Melania Trump, three Republican senators, and other members of Trump’s circle have tested positive for COVID-19.
The president was hospitalized at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and has since left. At this writing, though, he still seems to be pretty darn sick. It’s hard to know what to think when the White House is less than forthcoming on matters of his health and, you know, has a penchant for lying. Still, while the battle against COVID hasn’t been easy for Trump, it doesn’t appear that he will die from contracting the virus—much to the chagrin of liberals and other conscientious objectors to his presidency.
Noting how Trump and his enablers play fast and loose with the truth, some public figures, Michael Moore among the notables, suggested he could’ve been faking it, that this all could’ve been some sort of elaborate hoax. While I was not inclined to make that leap—mostly because I don’t think Trump et al. are competent enough to orchestrate something like that—I could pardon those dabbling in conspiracy theories, especially after the utter debacle that was the first (and hopefully last) presidential debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden.
If you watched the debate, I’m sorry for your sake, though I suppose there’s some solidarity to be had in the shared pain we experienced. At only 90 minutes, it still felt too long, and watching with other leftists, we felt a communal longing for some sort of drug to make the proceedings more bearable.
If you skipped the debate to watch something with more redeeming value like, say, playoff baseball or paint drying, what was so bad about it? Well, dear reader, let’s delve into it, though I warn you, it’s not for the faint of heart.
The dashes on the transcript denote stops and starts
Before we even to get to the topics raised by moderator Chris Wallace of FOX News fame, let’s address the prevailing theme of the night: crosstalk. There was an untold number of interruptions during this debate, mostly on the part of Mr. Trump, and when he did insert himself in the conversation, it was usually for the purpose of digressing or redirecting the discussion in some disingenuous way.
Mr. Biden, though not rattled by Trump’s disregard for debate convention, was clearly irritated by it, referring to his opponent as a “clown” at one point and asking him point blank to “shut up, man.” If any children were watching, they certainly did not receive a lesson on how to interact with others in a respectful way.
Re the Notorious A.C.B. (yes, some people are trying to make that a thing)
With that behind us, let’s get to the, ahem, substance of the debate. Wallace’s first question got right to the topic on the minds of many: the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to replace the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court.
Trump, speaking first, basically defended her nomination by saying that Republicans won and they had every right to fill that seat. He then stuck his tongue out and made antlers with his hands, waving his fingers in an instigative manner.
Biden, in his rebuttal, replied that the American people should have a say on how that vacant seat is filled by who they elect to be president and vice president. He didn’t really iterate why Coney Barrett’s nomination was wrong insomuch as he speculated what doom her confirmation might mean for the Affordable Care Act and the precedent set by Roe v. Wade (and deservedly so).
Trump and Biden then basically quibbled on how many millions of Americans would be disadvantaged by the other’s health plan until Wallace finally and mercifully moved onto the next topic.
Let’s talk about our crappy healthcare plans that aren’t Medicare for All
With the ACA already on the lips of the combatants, the moderator pivoted to their healthcare plans. Starting again with Trump, Wallace asked the Republican Party nominee, like, do you have a plan? Trump, taking umbrage was all, of course, I have a plan: lower drug prices. Apparently, that’s it. Cheaper drugs.
Biden wasn’t off the hook either. Wallace followed his pointed inquiry of Trump by asking the Democratic nominee why his public option wouldn’t destroy private insurance. Biden responded by saying that the public option would only be for those people who qualify for Medicaid. Trump tried to say that Biden was in cahoots with Bernie Sanders and his socialized (!) medicine, but Biden inferred that because he beat Bernie in the primary, he couldn’t be promoting such a plan. Because that’s how that works.
Trump replied by saying “Obamacare” is a disaster and that premiums are too high. Biden, in a nod to Wallace’s original question, pointed out that Trump still doesn’t have a healthcare plan. Trump countered by babbling on about the individual mandate and not wanting to be blamed for running a bad healthcare plan and wanting “to help people.” Evidently, that is why he killed the individual mandate and wants to tear the ACA down with nothing to replace it. Are you following? Good. Now please explain it to me.
On handling COVID-19, which totally has no relevance to Trump having to go to the hospital whatsoever
“Why should the American people trust you more than your opponent to deal with this public health crisis going forward?”
This was the question Chris Wallace posed to the debaters, and Joe Biden was up first. Biden, to his credit, gave a solid answer, though give Donald Trump an assist for, well, doing a terrible job. A key highlight was Biden’s attention to Trump’s admission that he knew how serious a threat COVID represented back in February, but that he downplayed the danger. Now, more than half a year later, his administration still doesn’t have a plan.
Trump, apparently of the opinion that more than 200,000 dead Americans is a great success, extolled his decision to close off travel from mainland China—a move that critics judged to be late in coming and haphazard at that. He went on to further toot his own horn, carrying on about how Dr. Anthony Fauci and various Democratic governors said he did a “phenomenal job.” I’m not sure who these governors are, but if they did feed Trump’s ego, they probably just said that so they would actually get the relief they requested.
From there, Wallace turned to talk of a COVID-19 vaccine and its potential availability. Faced with the insistence of CDC head Robert Redfield that a vaccine would not be widely available until summer of next year, Trump professed that, per companies like Johnson & Johnson and Moderna, a vaccine will be ready “very soon.” Biden was all, like, yeah, right, you dum-dum. And Trump was all, like, your college grades sucked. Really. He talked about Biden’s academic performance while in college. Because that’s relevant now.
Because this is 2020, the year without joy, even more about coronavirus
To reopen or not reopen? That is the question.
Trump said yes, citing hurting businesses, and expressed the belief that Democratic governors refusing to open their states back up are playing politics, intentionally hurting the economy to make him look bad. Biden, meanwhile, said no, not without a plan and without the money for PPE and sanitization measures.
Trump then said, well, Joe, why don’t you talk to Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer? And Biden said, shush (literally, he asked if Trump would “shush for a minute”), if you listened to them, you might actually know what you’re doing. Biden, as we all know, sternly opposed to malarkey over the course of the campaign, was having none of it.
Following the shushing, Wallace steered the conversation to the topic of masks and rallies. Trump was all, like, masks? Masks? I love masks! If I need to wear a mask, I do! Right now, I don’t need one. That guy over there, though? He’s kind of a mask freak, if you ask me. And Biden was all, like, masks and social distancing save lives.
Which is when Wallace interceded on the subject of campaign events, underscoring the different approaches these men have taken. And Trump was all, like, hey, man, my supporters are packed together, but I have my rallies outside. Ol’ Sleepy Joe doesn’t hold big rallies because he can’t get anyone to attend. And Biden was, like, nuh-uh. And Trump was, like, yuh-huh. If it seems like I’m being hyperbolic, I am exaggerating, of course, but only to an extent. Many of these exchanges were childish, especially on Donald “My Rallies Are Bigger Than Yours” Trump’s part.
The point at which Trump was probably very glad the debate shifted to the economy
“You gotta open the states up. It’s not fair. You’re talking about almost like being in prison.”
So said Mr. Trump, who, if he actually had to spend time in prison, might not be so apt to use that metaphor. The debate shifted toward talk of the economy, with Wallace asking each candidate to explain their concept of the recovery, whether as a V-shaped recovery (Trump) or a K-shaped recovery (Biden).
In Trump’s mind, he was instrumental in building the world’s greatest economy—and then came along the “China plague.” No, seriously, he called it that. Now Joe Biden wants to shut down the economy. And what will that do? Depression! Divorce! Alcoholism! Drugs! Look, I care about the people. Let’s open things back up.
Amtrak Joe from Scranton, PA, on the other hand, spoke to the existence of a K-shaped recovery in which millionaires and billionaires have made hundreds of billions since the start of the COVID crisis and small-town, working-class Americans have felt the pinch. Also, that guy only paid $750 in taxes. The nerve!
Trump, taken aback by such an accusation, insisted he paid millions of dollars in taxes in the first two years of his presidency. Biden responded by asking, well, can we see your tax returns? And Trump was all, like, welllllllll, these are very complicated returns. And then Wallace chimed in to the effect of come on, dude, tell us how much you paid in taxes in 2016 and 2017. And Trump was all, like, I just told you: millions. Besides, don’t blame me for the tax code. Blame Senator/VP Biden over there, he’s the worst.
Biden said, no, you’re the worst.
Chris Wallace then smacked his head repeatedly on the table, whereupon he blacked out briefly before regaining consciousness and continuing to moderate the debate.
More on taxes, because nothing gets Americans fired up like talk about the tax code
Wallace moved to asking Biden whether his proposed tax increases for high earners would hurt the economy. And Biden, seemingly waiting for the chance, started unveiling his economic plan. Whereupon Mr. Wallace sprayed Biden in the face with water, shouting, “Taxes, Mr. Vice President! Taxes!” Biden, newly reoriented, vowed to raise the corporate tax rate. Trump countered by professing that when he lowered taxes, the economy boomed. BOOMED!
That was when Wallace smugly drew from a freshly-lit cigarette, paused for a moment, smiled, turned to Trump, and said, “Actually, Mr. President—Obama’s economy was better.” And Trump was all, like, the f**k did you just say to me? And Biden, with a twinkle in his eye, was all, like, you heard the man! And Trump was all, like, let’s talk about Hunter and Burisma. And Biden was all, like, you’re full of beans! And then the moderator blew an air horn, signaling the end of the segment, while Biden got his brass knuckles ready, silently and unobtrusively.
The segment in which a bunch of old white guys talk about race
“Why should voters trust you, rather than your opponent, to deal with the race issues facing this country over the next four years?”
Such was the question posed to Donald Trump and Joe Biden. Biden, answering first, spoke vaguely of equity, equality, and decency. (If you had “decency” on your presidential debate Bingo card, you can mark that space off now.) He, unlike his opponent, did not try to “both sides” the events at Charlottesville. He did not authorize the use of tear gas against peaceful protestors so he could have a photo op.
Trump responded by—look, I could tell you what he said, but it’s a bunch of nonsense. He’s supported by law enforcement (not helping your cause, bub). Biden’s a tool of the “radical left.” (Does anyone have a Bingo yet?) The people want law and order. Sleepy Joe’s afraid. Are you going to cry, Joe? Huh? Are you going to cry? Waaaaah!
Wallace then steered the discussion to the Breonna Taylor case and none of the officers involved being charged with homicide, asking Biden if there is a separate and unequal system of justice for blacks in America. And Biden was all, like, duh! Biden, to be clear, called for accountability for police who have done wrong but prefaced this by saying that there are “some bad apples” among the bunch. He conveniently ignores the idea that, as the saying goes, a few bad apples spoil the bunch, but we wouldn’t want to upset the men and women in blue, would we?
Trump fired back all, like, so you’re cool with looting and rioting and burning things down? And Wallace was all, not so fast, bruh. You directed federal agencies to end racial sensitivity training. To which Trump replied, “Because bruh, that shit is racist!” And Wallace was all, like, WTF, mate? And Biden, unprompted, tearfully recalled the prejudice he felt as a young Irish Catholic boy in Scranton. Tired. Poor. Yearning to breathe free. Biden then lifted his lamp beside the golden door. America.
And then—sigh—this went on for another eight minutes. I’ll give you some quick notes. Wallace asked about the increase in homicides this summer, which Trump again tried to blame on Democratic leaders, except that it has happened in Republican-led jurisdictions too. Wallace asked about “reimaging policing” and Black Lives Matter, and Biden started talking about community policing, but that got sublimated into arguments about who was or wasn’t calling for defunding the police and who would or wouldn’t hold violent offenders accountable. Oh, and fun times, Trump refused to explicitly condemn the Proud Boys, a white supremacist group. Cool, cool.
Oh, wow—they’re actually talking about climate change
Yes—this happened! Wallace, recounting Trump’s greatest hits, so to speak, on the subject of the environment (arguing against the influence of climate change on the wildfires in the West, pulling out of the Paris Agreement, rolling back Obama-era environmental regulations), asked the president what he believes on this subject matter. Trump answered with his usual word vomit, blaming California for not managing its forests better and not really addressing the issue at hand.
Wallace, it should be noted, pressed Trump on why, if he truly believes in the science on climate change, he would roll back standards published during Barack Obama’s tenure. Trump, saying the thinking part out loud, justified his actions with the lower upfront price tag associated with certain types of energy. Because who needs a planet to enjoy those savings, amirite?
Biden, when confronted with Trump’s insistence that ending the use of fossil fuels and reaching zero net emission of greenhouse gases would tank the economy, rejected his rival’s position, emphasizing how a commitment to renewable energy would create jobs, not cost them. It would also save money currently spent on disaster relief by mitigating the damage done by the effects of climate change. Alas, when Trump tried to pin the spooky, scary socialist Green New Deal on Biden, Biden flatly rejected any allegiance to that framework. But hey, this line of questioning was more than I could’ve hoped for from this debate before it began.
Trump doesn’t know the meaning of the phrase “election integrity”
“How will you reassure the American people that the next President will be the legitimate winner of this election?”
Oh, boy—that’s a doozy. Biden was up first and basically rambled his way to an exhortation of the public to vote. As for Trump, well, he—sigh. He said, in his rambling way, that there is going to be “a fraud like you’ve never seen” and that the election is “rigged.” You know, presumably, unless he wins.
After a brief interlude in which Biden waxed philosophical on potential involvement by the courts, expressing his concern that any court would be invoked at all, especially a Supreme Court with the likes of Amy Coney Barrett on it, Wallace dropped the question on the minds of many: “Will you pledge tonight that you will not declare victory until the election has been independently certified?” Trump did not. Biden did.
I referred to this debate earlier as a debacle. Other critics were even less charitable. Dana Bash of CNN notably referred to it as a “shit show”—on live TV, no less. Her colleague Jake Tapper called it “a hot mess inside a dumpster fire inside a train wreck.” Man, these CNN personalities are so dang colorful with their metaphors!
As one might imagine, some critical responses would seem to carry more weight than others. Professional lunkhead Sean Hannity seemed to relish a format that was more pugilistic than political. Journalist/author Jill Filipovic, meanwhile, grew nostalgic for the days when Hillary Clinton was the Democratic nominee, wishing she could’ve been the one to tell Donald Trump to shut up. #feminism
Regardless of who won—if you ask me, it was Biden in a landslide, carrying the day by not self-destructing—the whole affair was an ugly one. At one point, Chris Wallace had to reproach the Republican Party nominee for not adhering to the rules established for the debate. At another point, Trump went after Hunter Biden for personal issues he faced while Biden mourned the loss of his other son, Beau. If that’s not ghoulish behavior, I don’t know what is.
In all, the first presidential debate was widely panned, including its moderator’s performance. In deference to Mr. Wallace, however, I don’t know how much he could’ve done anyway. He didn’t have a gavel to bang or the ability to mute Trump’s microphone when he violated the rules. The man’s a reporter, not a miracle worker.
At the end of the day, President Trump’s health is still the biggest story of the past week and change. The disastrous parade of interruptions and digressions that was this debate, however, shouldn’t get buried, for it was an insult to the American people. We, the American people, deserve better, and sick or not, Trump deserves the lion’s share of blame for how it turned out.
I would like members of the “just vote” crowd to ponder if they, given the chance, would say the same to the families of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor if they met them face to face.
Despite what they may mean as catalysts in the push for change, the murders of Floyd and Taylor are tragedies. The victims are gone (at least in corporeal form) and no amount of “justice,” retributive or otherwise, could hope to bring them back. Accountability for all those involved and meaningful reform are only some measures of consolation.
In Floyd’s case, the four officers at the scene were charged and face an eventual trial, though at this writing, cameras have not been approved for use in the courtroom. Lest we forget, it wasn’t until the Attorney General’s office stepped in that prosecutors levied charges with teeth against these police in the first place. In Taylor’s case, the city of Louisville reached a $12 million settlement with her family and planned reforms, but no one has been arrested. As many critics have agreed, Breonna’s family deserves that much money and more, but that is not true accountability or justice.
What else do the deaths of Floyd and Taylor have in common? They occurred in jurisdictions led by Democrats. Minneapolis mayor Jacob Frey and Minnesota governor Tim Walz are members of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, not to mention both state senators. Louisville mayor Greg Fischer and Kentucky governor Andy Beshear are Democrats.
Beshear, Frey, and Walz may get some of benefit of the doubt having only started their tenures last year or in 2018, but Democrats have held the gubernatorial seat since 2011 in Minnesota and have controlled the Minneapolis mayoral seat since 1978. It’s not as if there hasn’t been ample time for action, even if we’re accounting for assumed Republican resistance to reform (and let’s not let them off the hook either).
Eric Garner. Rayshard Brooks. The list goes on. These people were killed at the hands of police despite living in places run by Democrats either at the municipal or state level. This is not to say that elected officials should be held accountable for every act of violence that happens on their watch. That said, their responses in these situations merit scrutiny, and regardless, that police brutality is so pervasive independent of party control flies in the face of the “just vote” mentality.
This is where I reassure the reader that, despite my misgivings, I believe fundamentally that everyone who can should vote. A free and fair vote is the cornerstone of any representative democracy (how free and fair it is merits further discussion, but I am speaking purely in the abstract) and elections matter, often increasingly so the more local they get.
Lord knows I have been told as much repeatedly by Democrats and other staunch defenders of Joe Biden. This presidential election is of utmost importance. I would tell you that “it’s the most important election of our lifetime,” except people always say that and, even if it’s true, I feel like I’m beating the proverbial dead horse by repeating this line. You probably don’t need convincing on this dimension.
Indeed, I don’t take issue with voting or, for that matter, who one votes for. I might tell you your vote is ill-advised, especially if you’re voting Republican, but that’s your choice. It is specifically the “just vote” mentality as a means of dismissing legitimate concerns that I seek to admonish here because it fails to appreciate the magnitude of struggles for marginalized people and because it gets weaponized against progressives as a means of quelling dissent within Democratic Party ranks.
The examples of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor are extreme, though salient, topical, and illustrative of how ingrained injustice is from a racial and socioeconomic perspective. Expanding the conversation beyond police violence, the theme yet applies. San Francisco, despite a reputation for liberalism, has been the site of high rates of homelessness mediated by a pronounced housing shortage. Seattle, likewise regarded for being more liberal, has suffered its own homelessness crisis.
Independent of the affiliation of elected leadership, widening income and wealth inequality underscore the hardships faced by so many Americans. The pandemic has only intensified these woes, exposing the fragility of our way of life after suffering a shock to the system like a global health emergency. New York governor Andrew Cuomo, for some reason asked to speak at the Democratic National Convention, referred to COVID-19 as a metaphor in a nod to this theme. Strictly speaking, if this all is a metaphor, someone forgot to tell the virus because it seems pretty real to me. That said, it does put existing societal ills under a microscope such that their existence and pervasiveness are easily visible.
Over 200,000 people have died in the United States as a result of COVID-19 infection, and more states than not are headed in the wrong direction in terms of the rate of increase of positive tests. Meanwhile, congressional leadership is fretting about the price tag of a second round of stimulus checks and politicians are extoling the virtues of “affordable” health care, including a vaccine which is still in its testing or theoretical phase. All the while, the richest among us are making bank off this health crisis. Our suffering is their opportunity. It’s downright deflating, but not surprising under a system in which capital is prized above all else—plant and animal life, people, the planet itself.
This is the world “just vote” has given us: a world in which engagement dies after the votes are counted and people wear their modest civic participation around like it’s a major achievement. Privilege that it is, voting should be an afterthought and not the sum total of one’s efforts. It is not a panacea. The party loyalists who insist otherwise seeking a return to normalcy and the ability to go back to brunch or back to sleep are standing in the way of progress, plain and simple.
Adding a new wrinkle to the sense of urgency surrounding the 2020 presidential election is the passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Though anytime someone is regarded with iconic status, our recollection of that person tends to be rosier than their full record perhaps warrants, the “Notorious RBG’s” advocacy for women’s rights and personal crusade against gender-based discrimination can’t be ignored when discussing her legacy. Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a veritable trailblazer when it came to her service on the Supreme Court and she earned her place in history.
For the “vote blue no matter who” crowd, Bader Ginsburg’s seat was already a key component of their cajoling of uncommitted left-leaners into electoral acquiescence. Think of RBG! Think of the Supreme Court! In fairness, this is one of the more compelling arguments they could make. A strong imbalance on the court in favor of conservatives could endanger any number of human rights, notably reproductive rights. Coincidentally, Democratic causes and candidates have raised more than $100 million since RBG’s passing, and one might imagine a number of these donations were made with the fate of Roe v. Wade in mind.
That congressional Democrats and Joe Biden appear to be taking a stand against Republican efforts to try to ram a replacement through the confirmation process is encouraging. Though no one in their right mind would have wished for Bader Ginsburg’s death, that her passing could be the spark for a unified front by the broadly-stated “Left” communicates the sense that there is something worth fighting for within the Democratic Party structure. In a year that has been all but a bust for progressives on the national stage, this infuses the march to November with a new energy.
Of course, these gains won’t last forever and even if Democrats regain control of both the White House and the Senate, their feet will need to be held to the fire. We know “just vote.” We’ve seen it, heard it, and lived through it. There’s a better way forward. Our very future depends on it.
In the universe of the TV show The Leftovers, based on Tom Perrotta’s book of the same name, one day, suddenly and without provocation, 140 million people disappear. If you think people are affected by this “Departure,” ahem, you’d be right.
The first season picks up three years after the Sudden Departure, but in that time, things haven’t returned to normal—far from it. Organized religions, already struggling to stay relevant, have further ceded territory to cults like the Guilty Remnant, whose members wear white, smoke, and don’t talk. Dogs, apparently driven insane by the incomprehensibility of 2% of the world’s population up and vanishing, wander the streets in wild packs. In the fictional town of Mapleton, New York, Kevin Garvey Jr., has taken over as police chief for his father, who is institutionalized and claims to hear voices. So, yeah.
The events of The Leftovers are fictional. Still, amid this pandemic, we’ve seen scores of people leave us over the past half a year in real life, or they or we have contracted COVID-19. While not so inexplicable or sudden, it nonetheless leaves a mark on us survivors, be it physical or emotional/psychological. Coping with this is difficult, and trying to carry on with any semblance of normalcy is damn near impossible.
Simply put, these are strange times. Hell, unless you’ve also lived through the Spanish flu—and if you have, God bless you—these are unprecedented times. Consequently, acting as if each day is just another day seems out of step with the peculiarity of it all and sets the individual up for a significant amount of cognitive dissonance, not to mention it arguably doesn’t prepare them well for how long these “uncertain times” (stop me if you’ve heard that phrase before) might last.
In The Leftovers, the craziest characters seem to be the ones who act as if everything is the same or as if they’ve moved on. The series begins as Kevin Garvey the Younger, the symbol of law and order, tries to remain rational and preserve the status quo during the three-year commemoration of a Rapture-like event. It doesn’t go as planned. The anniversary vigil, disrupted by the Guilty Remnant’s protest, ends in violence as fights break out.
At this writing, more than 25 million positive tests for COVID-19 infection have been recorded and more than 840,000 people have died as a result of infection. More than half of the world’s reported cases belong to the top three countries in terms of total cases and deaths: the United States of America (“We’re #1! We’re #1!”), Brazil, and India. Major world economies like those of the U.S., Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the United Kingdom have reported steep drops in gross domestic product in 2020’s second quarter.
In the U.S., over a million unemployment claims were filed last week. A housing and rent crisis looms with tens of millions of people facing September obligations due and a stimulus deal not close. To top it all off, it’s hurricane season and protests for racial justice continue while African-Americans are still getting gunned down with regularity by police and protesters themselves are subject to police brutality and violence from counter-protesters. This is not standard operating procedure, by any means.
With all this in mind, to think and behave as if to “keep calm and carry on” is straightforward feels as quixotic as Kevin Garvey’s quest to keep the peace in Mapleton. I keep thinking back to a Tweet back in March from comedian Rob Whisman regarding the relative meaninglessness of all the minutiae with which people concern themselves. He ends with the quip, “‘DO I look good in yellow?’ Who cares when doorknobs are poison?”
Seriously, though. For better or for worse, COVID-19 has changed the economic, political, and social calculus in the short term, and with the idea that the concerns of the present could be more durable than many of us would like to admit, this seems like as good a time as any to reassess our priorities as a society. On one hand, this moment, stripped of many of the usual distractions, can help sharpen our focus and imbue us with a newfound sense of purpose.
On the other hand, however, the changes we hope to see won’t happen overnight, and what’s more, the forces that benefit from an unequal and unjust society have become that much more entrenched in their resistance to transformation, even in a pandemic. As dramatic as it sounds, this is the fight of our lives, and in the fighting, it will take inner strength on top of what we’re already expending coping with a loss of life and a sense of loss for the world we are leaving behind.
Because there will be setbacks. There will be pain. There are times when we’ll feel deflated and we’ll have to pick ourselves back up again. You already may be feeling like this, a sense of dread hanging over the mounting number of cases and deaths. And while business leaders and politicians alike may aver “the best is yet to come” or treat COVID-19 precautions like some exciting new feature, you might feel depressed. That’s called being a human being.
On top of an economic crisis, leadership crisis, and overall health crisis, we’re facing an authentic mental and psychological health crisis. Sure, it’s something we must overcome—the alternative is not a good one, to put it mildly. But, yeah, if you’re not doing OK right now, it’s understandable and OK to admit that. Don’t let people tell you it hasn’t been that long or that the number of deaths is “acceptable” or that COVID-19 isn’t *that* deadly or that things have gotten that much simpler as a result of the pandemic. Shit sucks right now and you’re not crazy for feeling how you feel. Pretending otherwise is the real craziness.
If I sound like a cheerleader for The Leftovers, it’s only because I am. Its premise requires perhaps more buy-in from its viewers than some shows because of its supernatural elements, but that investment pays off beautifully. The show gets better as it goes along and stays strong despite an end to the source material (unlike another HBO show we all know, am I right?). I’d like to believe that has something to do with Tom Perrotta’s direct involvement with the series, but regardless, I feel it’s a criminally underrated show, especially in light of its increased applicability to today’s real-world circumstances.
I should note that The Leftovers received middling critical reception for its first season. While some of the criticism was reserved for its deliberate pacing and what was seen as an incoherent or confused narrative, a number of detractors focused on its grim or depressing tone. As if to say that in a world where 140 million people suddenly vanished without explanation or provocation, maybe it shouldn’t feel so “bleak” and “oppressive.” Right, but how would you personally deal with an event like that? Besides the notion that the show has its clear moments of lightheartedness and optimism, wouldn’t you imagine that some characters aren’t handling it all that well? What did you expect exactly?
As the series goes along, though, replete with additions and subtractions to the cast and shifts in location, the Kevin Garvey of Season One undergoes his own dramatic transformation, turning from a man who tries to preserve order amid chaos into someone who plunges himself headlong into uncertainty, even as it may concern the space between life and death itself. At first, his encounters with his demons are unsolicited, but confront them he does, and the result is a more complete and nuanced character. By the end, questions still linger for the central players and the audience alike, but we understand that Kevin has come to terms with aspects of his existence as part of our fundamental search for meaning and purpose. Again, I think viewers are richly rewarded for their investment, but I recognize The Leftovers isn’t for everyone.
It’s been less than a year for the world dealing with COVID-19. While we’ve seen some incredible instances of selflessness and service from essential workers and everyday people of every make and model to meet the need created by such widespread human suffering, we’ve also seen incredible greed from corporations and the wealthy, brutality from those who have pledged to serve and protect, and inaction from our elected representatives. Presented with its demons, the U.S. has only begun to confront them, and for many people, delusion and denial still prevail. After all, we’re either going to elect Joe Biden or Donald Trump in November. Progress, that is not.
At some point, America is going to have to rip the bandage off and truly expose its various wounds, some of which run deep. And it’s going to hurt. There will be more sadness and pain on top of what we’re already feeling. However, if we’re going to make real positive change in this nation, we’re going to have to—pardon the expression—take the mask off. And we need to be honest with how we feel and what we think in the process.
No one in their right mind would’ve wished for a deadly global pandemic like the one we’re experiencing now. The ultimate hope of many, meanwhile, is that we might learn something, anything about how to live our lives in a way that is better for us all and more sustainable given the uncertainty of the planet’s very viability owing to climate change.
Months into our communal COVID-19 response, however, it is difficult to see what has changed for the better exactly. Thus far, our inept or deliberately poor handling of this crisis has only served to lay bare the imperfections in our society and its underpinning systems, manifested in woeful inequality and callous indifference to the suffering of marginalized peoples. For all the masks we now don to combat the spread of coronavirus—and for some, that still is a work in progress—2020 has been, in many respects, a “mask-off” year. This, despite hundreds of thousands of deaths, economic disarray, and a complete upheaval of what is considered “normal.”
A recent New York Times report on disparities in the availability and quality of health care in New York City along socioeconomic lines is more or less a microcosm of the overall trend. The article, a joint production by Brian M. Rosenthal, Joseph Goldstein, Sharon Otterman, and Sheri Fink, details how outcomes have been markedly different for private facilities in Manhattan versus hospitals in poor neighborhoods.
Against a backdrop of disproportionate suffering for low-income neighborhoods, of which the majority impacted are blacks or members of the Latinx community and many of them immigrants or “essential” workers (so much for being truly essential), the piece, while acknowledging the myriad factors which affect how the infected recover or don’t recover, points to the potential significance of where someone is treated. Citing hospital mortality rates, the authors highlight how patients at community hospitals have been three times more likely to die from COVID-19 than their counterparts at private medical centers.
Mediating this gap are less access to drug trials, reduced staffing, and worse equipment, a function of underfunded public facilities. Meanwhile, private networks like New York-Presbyterian, NYU Langone, and the Mount Sinai Health System have better resources—monetary or otherwise—not to mention the support of government policies and a sizable revenue stream by way of Medicare and private insurance. Thus, while the top private networks rake in cash, the city’s public hospitals struggle to stay afloat financially and face closures. As you might expect, these facilities on the brink of ruin tend not to be located in Manhattan, but rather the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens.
Under normal circumstances, these contrasts in the affordability and availability of care are alarming and dangerous. In a pandemic marked by overcrowding of hospitals and bed shortages across regions? It’s a recipe for disaster. And while the authors of the Times piece give a 3-to-1 ratio overall for the disparity in patient outcomes (which, to be fair, is disputed by some respondents contacted by the authors within), depending on the location and other circumstances, it potentially could be wider. This reality is one the likes of New York state governor Andrew Cuomo and NYC mayor Bill de Blasio would be loath to lead with in their coronavirus press conferences.
In the early stages of America’s COVID-19 response, New York and New Jersey were hit particularly hard by the pandemic. These states have since seen declines, but now infection rates are rising in a majority of the U.S.’s 50, particularly in states like Florida and Texas which sought a hasty return to business as usual only to have to backtrack even faster. Even in states like NY and NJ that have largely weathered a first wave, fears of a second (and worse) wave spurred by outbreaks in other states have caused authorities to dial back movement into “Phase Two” of their reopening plans, even if in part. If the country has gotten coronavirus under control, someone sure forgot to tell the virus.
Indeed, America now stands at a potential tipping point with respect to its ability to do just that, with Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar suggesting that the “window is closing” for the United States to control COVID-19 outbreaks. That’s right—this is coming from a member of the Trump administration, an entity not known for having a solid relationship with the unvarnished truth. If someone like Secy. Azar is saying this, you know we’ve got a serious situation on our hands. Hell, even Donald Trump is extolling the virtues of masks of late. You know, despite not actually wearing one. Do as I say, not as I do. Not even a deadly pandemic will transform this guy.
The question is, though: Does America recognize this tipping point and is it ready to do what is necessary to avoid catastrophe? From the appearance of things, the answer would be a resounding no. Not when there yet is no national mask mandate in place. Not when lingering reports of “coronavirus parties” among teens and young adults exist. Not when umpteen videos of “Karens gone wild” can be found on social media where privileged women, predominantly white, are throwing a fit at the slightest hint of an inconvenience.
This pandemic is tough to handle, no matter who you are. If we can’t adhere to certain principles in trying to reduce the virus’s spread, however, and if we can’t keep our shit together when being told to wear a mask in Trader Joe’s (not for nothing, but is that really so much to ask?), how are we supposed to get through this without complete and utter devastation done to the nation? Four months into the COVID-19 response, we apparently haven’t learned a whole lot about how to handle it—and at this rate, we have a long, long way to go still.
If you’re reading this from outside the United States, first of all, welcome. I’m not sure how you found this post, but thank you for your time. To you, though, I pose this query: Do you believe I am writing this piece to try to engender sympathy for the U.S.A. or me? My love for my country notwithstanding, no, I’m really not. Because I get it. At this point, I’m not sure we deserve it. For all the times America has exported its brand of “democracy,” putting its interests ahead of the rest of the world’s and serving up diplomacy in the form of bombs and truncheons, we’re not a sympathetic figure in terms of foreign policy. We’re the New York Yankees of the world stage. If you’re not from here, to be honest, I don’t really know why you’d root for us.
Of course, unless you outright hate us, I don’t think you’re rooting for us to all die of coronavirus either. COVID-19 and its associated symptoms are something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. Even if you don’t die as a result of infection, recovery might take weeks, and in many cases, there are lasting effects for the afflicted. While research is yet preliminary, patients may suffer from fatigue and damage to multiple organs as a result of contracting COVID. Simply put, you don’t want this disease, whether you’re 75 or 25. For this reason and more, say, holding a party and essentially playing a game of Russian roulette to see if you get infected is beyond stupid.
With the Fourth of July weekend upon us, I don’t wish to be a killjoy—you know, any more than I usually am. By pretty much every objective measure, though, America has been near the bottom if not the absolute worst at responding to the spread of coronavirus, especially when considering the nation’s capabilities and its advance warning from China and Europe. Furthermore, the virus does not care that it’s Independence Day. It has zero chill. It gives zero f**ks. This isn’t a game and it isn’t political. Wear a mask or other face covering if you’re around other people, practice social distancing when and where possible, wash your hands/use hand sanitizer, and strongly consider staying home if you can manage it.
It’s summer and, after months of fear, heartache, and uncertainty, we want to celebrate. Now is not the time to get reckless, however, and at heart, I wonder what it is we’re celebrating after all we’ve seen.
Admittedly, I am sometimes reticent about opining on movements like Black Lives Matter and the types of protests set off by George Floyd’s murder at the hands of uniformed police. I feel that black activists should be in the lead on advancing the national conversation on issues relevant to BLM, and moreover, I realize I am not the most educated and certainly not the most qualified to speak on these matters, my experience grounded in middle-class, mostly white suburban life.
All these things considered, and under the premise that “silence is violence,” I feel as though I have to say something, to take a stand. Over the past two weeks, I have had numerous conversations with friends, family, and co-workers regarding the protests and riots that have swept America and have even manifested in other countries where disproportionate brutality against blacks is very real. Some of the responses were illuminating, to say the least, and suggest to me that we need to keep (or, in some cases, start) having uncomfortable conversations about race, class, politics, social issues, and every intersection therein.
The following are some thoughts on topics related to the wave of protests we’ve seen. These thoughts are mine, meaning I take full responsibility for them, though I acknowledge that people with more complete perspectives have helped influence my views as they currently stand.
George Floyd was murdered.
Not killed, murdered. Derek Chauvin had his knee on Floyd’s neck for close to nine minutes, with Floyd indicating at various points that he couldn’t breathe and numerous observers noting that Floyd wasn’t resisting (a common defense of police officers in situations like these which clearly doesn’t apply). Chauvin should’ve gotten at least a second-degree murder charge and the officers accompanying him likewise deserved their aiding and abetting charges for doing nothing while Floyd was being effectively choked to death.
I don’t give a shit about Floyd’s medical or criminal history.
So what if Floyd had underlying health conditions that contributed to his death. So what if he had a criminal record, and no, I don’t know anything about whether he does or doesn’t have one. The man had someone kneeing on his neck for close to nine minutes. That’s why he died.
I also don’t care if he was apprehended for paying with a counterfeit $20 bill. If Dylann Roof can shoot up a church in a racially-motivated attack and walk away with his life, it’s ridiculous to invoke Floyd’s reason for apprehension. George Floyd shouldn’t have died as a result of that encounter, full stop.
There’s no way Amy Klobuchar should be considered as a vice presidential nominee.
I feel like this goes without saying now, and even before the revelation she failed to hold Chauvin accountable for his role in prior incidents as Hennepin County attorney, Klobuchar was arguably a weak pick given her poor standing with voters of color and the idea that she wouldn’t have much to offer in the way of policy ideas to buttress a campaign in Joe Biden’s that has been largely devoid of specifics. With what we now know, picking Klobuchar for VP would feel downright suicidal.
Looting is not violence.
I get that people see looting and have strong opinions about it. I mean, who wants to have their things stolen or destroyed? Also, there’s the matter of not all businesses/structures being the same. If the target is, ahem, Target? I’m not very sympathetic. If people are looting a small business, especially a minority-owned business? That’s more deserving of sympathy.
To the extent that some individuals might be using these protests as an excuse to purely wreak havoc, I can’t say I support their actions. That said, looting is still a form of protest against an unjust system, one that has thus far resisted peaceful attempts to promote reform. Furthermore, property can be rebuilt or replaced. Human lives cannot. For this reason, equating looting with police brutality is a false equivalency and anyone wielding this argument in bad faith should be summarily dismissed.
Who has been responsible for most of the violence since these protests began? The police.
In video after video, the scene is set: Protests are peaceful until the cops come or decide to intervene. Whether it’s beating people with batons, pepper spray, rubber bullets, tear gas, or simply going out of their way to push, kick, drag or otherwise physically abuse civilians, uniformed police have frequently been among the worst agitators and perpetrators of violence of anyone involved. Even when there has been provocation, such as throwing bottles or rocks, often there’s a clear disparity of power and resources at work. These officers will be equipped with riot gear and weapons against otherwise unarmed protesters. If it comes down to it, that’s not a fair fight, and it’s not even close.
In one particularly egregious example, Aaron Torgalski, a member of Buffalo’s police department, intentionally knocked a 75-year-old man to the ground, whereupon he hit his head and started bleeding profusely. Not only did most officers not immediately rush to help the man, however, but some officers either walked past him or seemed to barely notice him lying motionless on the ground. To make matters worse, Buffalo PD tried to claim the man tripped and fell, when video evidence clearly indicates otherwise.
At this writing, the victim (who was white, not that it should matter, but just in case you were thinking this was purely about race) is thankfully stable but in serious condition. Regardless, this kind of unprovoked attack is reprehensible. It should be noted too that protesters aren’t the only ones who have felt the wrath of police brutality in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder. Numerous journalists have been arrested, beaten, shot at, or otherwise intimidated by police despite clearly identifying themselves by their profession.
In one instance, CNN correspondent Omar Jimenez was arrested on live television by Minnesota state police. Sure, there were apologies following this incident, but it’s absurd that it even happened in the first place, and journalists shouldn’t have to be afraid of doing their job. These examples of police violence against journalists are part of a disturbing global trend of increased violence against journalists. So much for the constitutional guarantee of a free press.
No, Senator Cotton, don’t send in the troops
That President Donald Trump would seek to invoke the Insurrection Act to send the military to states and quell protests unsolicited is enough to give one pause. That he would be echoed by sitting members of Congress, meanwhile, is unconscionable.
Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, who indicated on Twitter earlier in the week that he would support offering “no quarter” to rioters (which, to be clear, is considered a war crime), penned an editorial titled “Send in the Troops,” which ran in The New York Times Opinion section on June 3. That the Times would even run this piece railing against antifa and “insurrectionists,” let alone have its inclusion later defended by editorial page editor James Bennet, has prompted a sizable backlash from the public and staff alike, notably for its potential to put black people in danger.
Cotton’s editorial, which the Times eventually said in a statement did not meet the publication’s standards for editorials, has been labeled as “fascist” by several critics. Whatever you call it, Cotton should never have written it and The New York Times should never have published it. Shameful.
Antifa is not a terrorist organization
It’s not even a real “organization,” lacking formal leadership. Either way, anti-fascists haven’t been responsible for any killings here in the United States. Police forces, on the other hand, obviously have.
The “outside agitator” narrative is BS
One last thing: Claims that “outside agitators” were responsible for destruction and looting in various cities have long been used to undermine protest movements and were cautioned against by Martin Luther King, Jr.
They discredit the ability of protesters to organize effectively, they distract from the central issue of police brutality, they downplay the spiritual connection of these protests, they are designed to make protesters’ cause look unsympathetic, and on top of all this, they can be used to justify violence against protesters because they communicate the sense that these are not our fellow constituents who are being beaten and harassed. You are advised to regard this narrative with skepticism, especially if the source appears suspect on this issue.
As always with mass protests like these, the question of what to do next is a pressing one. To act like we haven’t tried to formulate answers prior to George Floyd’s death, though, obscures the efforts of activists to design and implement interventions meant to reduce deadly police violence. As part of Campaign Zero, a campaign created in the wake of Ferguson protests after Michael Brown’s killing designed to end police violence, its organizers have outlined eight ways police forces can modify their use of force policies to produce better outcomes.
Failing to require officers to de-escalate situations.
Allowing officers to choke or strangle civilians.
Failing to require officers to intervene and stop excessive force.
Failing to restrict officers from shooting at moving vehicles.
Failing to develop a Force Continuum (which limits the types of force and weapons that are used in situational responses).
Failing to require officers to exhaust all other reasonable means (before deadly force).
Failing to require officers to give a verbal warning (before firing).
Failing to require officers to report each time they use force or threaten the use of force (on civilians).
A review of 91 of the 100 largest cities in the United States revealed no police departments of those surveyed employing all eight interventions. Fewer than half required officers to de-escalate situations (#1), outlawed the use of chokeholds/strangleholds (#2), required officers to intervene to stop another officer from using excessive force (#3), restricted officers from shooting at moving vehicles (#4), required exhaustion of means before deadly force (#6), or reported all uses of force including threatening a civilian with a firearm (#8). Minneapolis, in theory, requires officers to intervene in cases of excessive force. Until very recently, it did not ban choking or strangling civilians. Whatever the rules at the time, on both counts, the officers culpable in George Floyd’s death failed their duties, demonstrating the notion guidelines must not only be created, but enforced.
As noted, restricting the use of force is just one part of Campaign Zero’s agenda, which also involves ending “broken windows” policing, community oversight and representation, independent investigation/prosecution, expanded use of body cams, training, an end of for-profit policing, demilitarization of police forces, and fair police union contracts. Calls for de-funding, if not abolishing police forces, have been widespread. In light of the short shrift community social programs seem to suffer in so many cities at the expense of soaring police budgets, the former, at least, seems overdue.
These are common-sense reforms. As protests continue across America, what is vital in preserving momentum for enacting real change is having the uncomfortable conversations we need to have and should’ve been having with those around us who don’t approach these matters from a progressive bent and who conceivably might be allies in the struggle to recognize that black lives matter. We can’t keep refusing to talk about politics and social issues because it is awkward or upsetting. We have to rip off the proverbial bandages and examine the deep wounds in our society for what they are if we ever hope to heal as one people.
George Floyd’s killer and his accessories have been charged. The winds of social change are blowing. Long after these riots and protests subside, however, and outside the scope of ending police brutality, there is much more work to be done to address systemic racism in our world and widening income and wealth equality that threaten to swallow the lot of us whole. This includes stepping outside our bubbles and challenging the views of those not yet committed to a better future for all.
We all have a part to play in this. Whose side on are you on?
Stop me if you’ve heard this sentiment before. At least outwardly, a spirit of fraternity is abundant these days. Celebrities are donating and raising money for charitable causes. Commercials from businesses across industries pledge their services and solidarity “in these uncertain times.” Average people are dotting their lawns with signs thanking first responders, medical professionals, and other essential workers, and are delivering meals to neighbors in need.
When many of us express our appreciation for people “on the front lines” of the COVID-19 response or feelings of conviviality, I don’t doubt that we mean it. Nevertheless, reducing the need of society to lift up all its members to a slogan can belie the reality that not everyone is impacted by this strain of coronavirus to the same extent. Moreover, even when speaking to our togetherness with good intentions, we may be papering over systemic flaws COVID-19 has exposed in such a raw way.
Though perhaps not with the same political charge, notions of “we’re all in this together,” to me, evoke a similar dimension of negating vulnerable populations as is evident from the promulgation of the phrase “all lives matter.” To emphasize a point, in good faith, this concept is understandable, if not admirable. Regardless of one’s ability, age, ethnicity, gender identity, religion, sexual orientation, work status, or other identifying characteristic(s), their life should have value. As a human being, this is meant to be an inalienable right.
In practice, however, the phrase “all lives matter” works to preempt and silence discourse around Black Lives Matter. It is designed to discourage recognition of the value of black lives as if to say that raising consciousness about issues facing blacks somehow aims to put them above all other groups. First of all, this wrongly assumes all ethnic groups are on equal standing in terms of opportunity when this is clearly untrue to anyone who, you know, gives a damn about these things. It also falls prey to a logical fallacy. If all lives matter, black lives must matter as a function of being part of all lives. Unless you need a helpful Venn diagram to sort this out.
What’s more, negating blackness or any other sort of pride among/solidarity with people of color lends itself to elevation of other groups who, perhaps through no or limited fault of their own as individuals help perpetuate a status quo steeped in patriarchy and white supremacist ideologies. Despite recognition of the desire of many uniformed police officers to serve and protect their communities, waving a banner of “blue lives matter” often signifies a reflexive defense of bad actors and a failure or unwillingness to confront a criminal justice system that disproportionately impacts people of color in a negative way and incentivizes the transformation of small-town police forces into miniaturized military units. For all the professed iteration of camaraderie among uniformed police, the blue lines painted on streets in some towns may just as well serve as symbols that members of minority groups aren’t truly welcome there.
It is through this lens that we may view how our newfound oneness may be exaggerated or how efforts to further divide us may be obscured by shows of humanitarian concern. After all, who is being victimized at a much higher rate than their percentage of the population should dictate? Americans of color, for one, particularly black Americans.
In city after city, blacks make up the majority if not the vast majority of deaths related to COVID-19. This is not an indictment of their personal habits, but rather a tragic set of circumstances that underscores existing inequalities facing communities of color. Blacks and Latinos are more susceptible to the symptoms of COVID-19 owing to various preexisting conditions mediated by income and wealth inequality, lower access to affordable healthcare, prejudices against people of color by medical professionals (conscious or unconscious), and other factors. It’s not just here in the United States either. In countries like the United Kingdom and South Africa, blacks are several times more likely to die from COVID-19 than whites. This problem is not uniquely American.
Those who lack the means to practice social distancing and/or stay home to help safeguard themselves from infection, irrespective of race, are likewise and frustratingly large casualties of this disease. Seniors, notably those residing in nursing homes and comparable facilities, have been hit especially hard by COVID-19, and the staff caring for them are at elevated risk to boot. The homeless, already regarded with a blind eye or derision by much of society, are particularly vulnerable in their own right herein, not to mention asked to bear insult on top of injury in places like Las Vegas where they’ve been directed to sleep in rectangles on the pavement to observe distancing guidelines.
Low-level offenders in jails and prisons and migrant detainees, again predominantly people of color. Rural America, for which access to healthcare is already frequently suspect. In any direction you look, there is hardship to be found, with those used to bearing the brunt of the country’s inadequacies and ills forced to suffer even more, unprotected by a social safety net which politicians have neglected to adequately defend or have been active in trying to erode.
At the same time the public sector up and down the levels of government has failed Americans, the private sector hasn’t necessarily stepped up to the plate in its own right. For all the glorification of “essential” workers in this moment, in so many cases, they have encountered shortages of personal protective equipment, forced to labor for already-too-low wages without the possibility of paid sick leave in work environments where social distancing protocols aren’t observed. If they try to take action against their employer in the form of collective action, they run the risk of termination. To make matters worse, as states push to reopen amid fears about the economy and as Republican leaders seek to shield employers from liability, workers’ rights and health will be increasingly jeopardized. In this respect, employees are not seen as essential, but expendable in the relentless pursuit of capital.
This is the economic, political, and social landscape we find ourselves in now. As much as we as push for positive transformation, our efforts won’t make nearly the difference we need them to make without a fundamental rethinking of how our institutions should work, what needs to be done to fix them if not completely rebuild them, and who benefits or doesn’t benefit from its operation and structure. This is to say that hope for change and belief in the the power of people to change are only as good as our collective vision of how to lift up everyone regardless of how we may differ and despite concerted attempts to resist real progress.
So many Americans are seeking a return to normalcy, whether that comes in the form of easing social distancing restrictions in the face of potential danger, opting for an old-guard presidential candidate who reminds them of less turbulent times, or not having to worry about how their oil stocks are plummeting. Whether that “normal” is equitable, sustainable, or even in their best interests, though, is worth scrutinizing amid our communal suffering.