by Margaret Kimberley, published on Black Agenda Report, September 1, 2021
Donald Trump was the convenient scapegoat for the first year of the Covid-19 crisis. Austerity, low wage work, housing insecurity, and the profit driven health care system were problematic issues before anyone heard the word Covid-19 or indeed before Trump’s presidency. Every failing of the United States already in existence came into sharp relief when the pandemic struck.
Joe Biden has done nothing to alleviate these many crises. Temporary unemployment benefits end in September, and millions of people were denied these funds when republican state legislatures decreed that they wanted people back at work. The Supreme Court struck down the eviction moratorium and 90% of the funds allocated to pay for rent relief remain unspent. Millions of people face the prospect of becoming unhoused.
Meanwhile even a small increase in the number of Covid patients upends health care around the country. Intensive care units are full, staffing shortages abound, and patients who don’t have Covid-19 are also suffering because the system isn’t designed to respond to emergencies.
The words “trust the science” ring hollow when information changes daily. The public were assured that vaccines were a kind of magic bullet but they are not. The unvaccinated comprise at least 90% of those who are seriously ill, but vaccine efficacy wanes and the vaccinated are urged to get boosters for protection.
Biden is little better than Trump in addressing the pandemic. Like his predecessor, Biden’s goal was to get people back to work and make life easier for the private sector. He arbitrarily chose July 4 as the date when all would be right, with hoped for high vaccination rates. He didn’t trust the science either, as the Centers for Disease Control declared that the vaccinated no longer had to wear masks. The World Health Organization was far more cautious and advised against any such declaration. The rise of the Delta variant has driven an increase in cases and Biden administration miscues are responsible.
The United States is as much a failed state now as it was when the pandemic began. Absent a coordinated plan for systemic change, the public have been whipped into a frenzy of hysteria and heaping scorn on the unvaccinated as the cause of every problem. Judges are ordering defendants to get “the jab” whether they want it or not. A judge in Chicago briefly deprived a mother of visitation rights because she was unvaccinated. Local governments are requiring workers to be vaccinated or lose their jobs, and restaurants, theaters, museums, and other public places are now accessible only to those who are vaccinated.
Anyone who questions these actions is shouted down as somehow promoting the spread of disease. The right wing speak out against government overreach but then discredit themselves by dismissing the impact of Covid-19, with some denying its existence altogether. Liberals who ordinarily speak up on behalf of civil liberties believe they must go along with any and all restrictions in order to stay safe.
The solutions needed to minimize the impact of covid are multi-faceted. There is no miracle drug, no miracle vaccine, and nations which seemed to succeed with “zero covid” plans are also coping with an increase in cases.
While individuals declare themselves to be pro or anti vaccines the larger issues are unaddressed. The debates and mistrust stink from the head, that is to say from the oligarchy that runs this country. Covid-19 does not have to be a never ending crisis. It can be managed but only by establishing people centered solutions to every problem in the country.
The pandemic put millions of people out of work, and many of them aren’t going back to the dead end spiral of low wage exploitation. They need more than temporary unemployment benefits. What they need is an entirely new system which gives everyone free health care and doesn’t put one class of people in overcrowded housing during a pandemic. Workers need an assurance that their children will be safe in the classroom and if not that they can still be educated at home. Forcing vaccines and deciding that kids must be back in school regardless of local conditions is a recipe for more illness.
Skepticism abounds for good reasons. What passes for political leadership lurch between pretending that Covid-19 isn’t an issue until hospitals are full of patients or demanding that everyone be vaccinated without changing any of their living conditions. In any case the virus is now endemic, meaning that it isn’t going away. A nation that puts everyone on a knife edge of precarity cannot begin to address what this reality means for millions of people. Systemic change was needed before the pandemic and it is sorely needed now.
Margaret Kimberley’s Freedom Rider column appears weekly in BAR, and is widely reprinted elsewhere. Her new book, “Prejudential“, looks at the history of US Presidents treatment of people of color. She maintains a frequently updated blog as well at patreon.com/margaretkimberley and she regularly posts on Twitter @freedomrideblog. She is a member of the Administrative Committee of the United National Antiwar Movement. Ms. Kimberley lives in New York City, and can be reached via e-Mail at Margaret.Kimberley(at)BlackAgendaReport.com.