April 26, 2020; Jacobin
It seems easy to point to Donald Trump and his administration as responsible for the crash in the American economy in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. If he had not dismantled the pandemic response team on the National Security Council, or tried to paint such a rosy picture of the pandemic’s impact, we might have been prepared for what was to come. If he had developed a comprehensive national response plan and system, we might not have states vying against each other for resources and trying to outdo each other in the speed of relaxing restrictions.
But according to an opinion piece by Branko Marcetic in Jacobin magazine, we need to acknowledge that this pandemic has pointed out many breaking points in our country. He argues that we must look beyond what we see now to a history of questionable decisions by Democrats and Republicans that have led to this point.
There are three essential breaking points Marcetic points to: equipment shortages, diminished access to healthcare, and wealth disparity. Each of these three crisis points have been brought to you by our government’s complete lack of interest in supporting everyday people and their basic needs.
Let’s start with universal health care, which could have helped ensure everyone had access to treatment and preventative care at little or no out-of-pocket expense. The unwillingness to consider this option is something Republicans and Democrats share.
A series of decisions that slashed Medicare significantly diminished access. The Reagan, Bush, and Clinton administrations—and others that followed—hoped to balance the budget by cutting entitlement programs everyday Americans desperately needed. As a result, they cut life support for hospitals, particularly in rural areas. This New York Times article demonstrates how many people in American are now more than 30 minutes away from the care they would need should they be infected.
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The federal stockpile of medical equipment we now need so badly has been ignored for political reasons. Depleted by the swine flu of 2009, an Obama administration request for funding to replenish it was blocked by Tea Party Republicans. Three years later, the Obama administration redirected almost half of the funding that had been allocated to refilling the stockpile. Each of these targeted the Affordable Care Act: The Tea Party Republicans wanted to cuts funds for the department administering the act, and Obama’s administration wanted to prop up the national health exchange, a key element of his signature ACA.
The lack of access to medical equipment can also be tied to “offshoring.” Administrations both Republican and Democrat have allowed American corporations to take their manufacturing to other countries where labor is less expensive so they could garner more profit. Now, the countries where American manufacturing interests are located are closing their borders and not allowing that equipment to leave.
Another crisis point today is the wealth gap. We are now at a point where the only ones who are quarantined— something we are told is the surest way of beating COVID-19—are the ones who can afford it. One cause of this gap is the practice of “Reaganomics,” called by some the “trickle-down theory.” Administration after administration has adhered to this economic theory, providing tax cuts and other benefits to the wealthiest in our country with the assumption that the benefits will sooner or later accrue to the everyman. They don’t. According to one report, between 1978 and 2018 pay for chief executives rose by 940 percent, while pay for the average worker rose by 12 percent.
The Jacobin article cites a figure saying 60 percent of Americans do not have the savings to withstand an expense of $1,000. Accordingly, they must continue to work, putting themselves at greater risk of infection. Often, they’re performing tasks wealthier people who can afford to stay home are not willing to do, like shopping. The racialized nature of poverty in America means that has a greater impact on people of color, as coronavirus-related mortality rates in Michigan and Wisconsin certainly bear out.
So, according to Marcetic, both Democrats and Republicans chose not to invest in programs that would provide basic support and coverage for the average American. In so doing, they created a shaky, teetering system that the Trump administration’s bungling has turned into a perfect storm.
Because Jacobin is an openly socialist magazine, theirs is an opinion and viewpoint mainstream media does not often include, considering it marginal. But that very marginality needs to be interrogated now. It is important to remember that the roots of this crisis go very deep, and we must make choices about the direction of the country as it emerges, if temporarily, from a pandemic that has laid our fault lines bare.—Rob Meiksins