Look on our works, ye mighty, and despair!
There is a saying that it is easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism.
Entrenched systems of power have established bulwarks against the kind of institutional reform that younger Americans have recently been pushing for. By controlling the political conversation through lobbying, control of mass media, regulatory capture, and authoring of legislation, the ultra-wealthy maintain the status quo in a way that makes changing it seem impossible. The problem is that change is desperately needed if we are going to maintain any semblance of civilization.
While political dynamics have become so rigid that the boundaries of what we can achieve begin to feel impenetrable, the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed that the vital structures of our society—a society that is superficially so robust—have been so weakened that a collapse in one form or another is inevitable. We are the world's superpower, yet faced with a slightly more contagious, slightly more lethal virus than the flu, we are powerless. How did it get to be this bad? How were we so blind to it?
To clarify, depending on the part of the country you live in, it could seem like I'm exaggerating. It may not seem "so bad," or like we're on the verge of collapse. Not long ago the president and many of his loyalists on Fox News and AM radio were still calling dire forecasts around the coronavirus a hoax. At the time it seemed reckless but not unhinged from current events—which were still largely unaffected. In much of the country there is little cause for alarm, so few people are doing much to change their behavior. That's about to change, and the areas hit worst will soon be making the dire choices that Italian hospitals were recently faced with—which patients are we going to hook up to ventilators, and which are we going to allow to die. We are already started on a path that leads to overflowing hospitals in every major city.
A makeshift testing facility in Seattle, Washington Getty Images
The problem is that our entire economy is set up around the same kind of short-term thinking that drive publicly traded corporations. The mentality that "government should be run like a business," leads to cost-cutting measures that only look to the current budget, with minimal consideration given to the kind of intermittent crises that we are bound to face—like a viral pandemic. If it's not particularly likely to happen before the next election cycle, it's better not to even worry about it. This is the kind of thinking that led Donald Trump's administration to push for cuts to the CDC and to disband their global health security team in 2018.
But the systemic issues go much deeper than that and started long before Trump took office. Trump and his ilk can't be blamed for the fact that the US has two hospital beds for every 1,000 citizens. Nor are they responsible for the fact that almost every aspect of America's critical infrastructure receives a near-failing grade from the American Society of Civil Engineers. This includes airport congestion—which has already become an issue with the current pandemic—and important shipping routes that we will rely on to maintain the movement of necessary goods as conditions around the country worsen.
Add to those issues the fact that we have a massive population of prisoners sharing tight quarters with poor sanitation, a substantial homeless population with no way to quarantine, a dearth of worker protections like paid sick leave, and it becomes hard to imagine how we'll get through this unscathed. And, of course, this is still ignoring the elephant in the room—a for-profit healthcare system that discourages millions of uninsured and underinsured Americans from seeking medical advice or treatment until it's too late.
Meanwhile, the economic hardships imposed by the necessity of social distancing are being exacerbated by an economy that is heavily reliant on the whims of financial speculators who create an echo chamber of divestment that heightens every crisis. The stock market, in other words, is going crazy in the worst possible way. It's too soon to say how thoroughly the weaknesses in our system will be tested by the developing pandemic, but even in the best case scenario they are going to be strained to a terrifying extent.
Fortunately, there are efforts underway to shore up some of the most obvious breaking points so we can avoid complete societal collapse. They may turn out to be too little too late, but even if they get us through this current disaster, how long will it be before the next one hits? The best models of climate change predict that we are nearing an era that will be ruled by powerful natural disasters and refugee crises that will threaten economic stability and critical infrastructure and may heighten the threat of infectious diseases. Temporary, reactive measures cannot save us if the next crisis hits a little harder or when multiple crises overlap.
A strong social safety net like the one the US tried to develop under FDR would serve to mitigate the damage from this kind of crisis. But modern American politics has worked for decades—in an effort that became an object of worship under Ronald Reagan—to whittle the welfare state of the New Deal and the Great Society down to a fragile bare minimum.
We need to take seriously the voices of politicians like Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who have called for the kind of broad, sweeping legislation that stands a chance of upending the rigid political dynamics that maintain the status quo. The Green New Deal would be a good start. The alternative, one way or another, is the end of our civilization and the world as we know it.
His latest insanity involved claiming that the coronavirus is both "the common cold," and a bio-weapon designed by China.
There are few people in American media as reliably unhinged and distasteful as Rush Limbaugh.
But to many in his audience of more than 15 million weekly listeners, Limbaugh is a bastion of straight talk. Since the late 1980s, his brand of antisocial advocacy has twisted and infected the nation's political conversations.
What makes Limbaugh so compelling is that he never pulls punches or offers any deference to basic human decency. He will fight for the rights of smokers to choke a restaurant with clouds of thick smoke, will happily claim that Planned Parenthood is committing genocide against black Americans, and will never shrink from accusing Michael J. Fox of "exaggerating the effects" of Parkinson's disease with no evidence beyond the fact that Limbaugh himself can do a morbid pantomime of wild muscle spasms. To regular listeners, these unequivocal stances reflect Rush's willingness to stand up to the leftist authoritarians and the woke scolds of the world. He speaks truth to power… Unless of course Republicans control the levers of power, in which case Rush will speak in power's defense.
That was the case on Monday, when Rush managed to argue—in the span of a few minutes—that COVID-19 (colloquially known as the coronavirus) is both "the common cold," and "a Chicom laboratory experiment that is in the process of being weaponized." Chicom is a reference to China's ruling Communist party, whom Rush is accusing of deliberately manufacturing this new strain of virus as a form of biological warfare. But due to their incompetence or some nefarious ulterior motive that involves getting everyone only mildly ill, their biological weapon is—according to Rush—"the common cold."
As evidence of its mildness, Rush cites the low mortality rate—"98% of people who get the coronavirus survive." Of course, this would seem to undermine the sinister plot that Rush has espied through his omniscience, if not for his clever discovery of Chicom's co-conspirators: the mainstream media. "The drive-by media hype of this thing as a pandemic, as the Andromeda strain, as, 'Oh, my God, if you get it, you're dead.'"
There's no doubt that the media has a history of exaggerating the potential danger of emerging epidemics—ask anyone who had the Swine flu and shrugged it off. It makes for a gripping story to tell viewers that a new disease that's spreading is coming to kill them and their loved ones, but the famously pro-communist "drive-by" media is legitimately too distractible to really focus on overblowing a health crisis while also covering election drama, Megxit, Trump's pardons, and Harvey Weinstein. So if they are giving the coronavirus too much hype, it can only be part of an elaborate conspiracy with Xi Jinping and the Chinese government…but to what end?
As always, in times of uncertainty, we turn to Rush Limbaugh for the answer: "The way it is being weaponized is by virtue of the media, and I think that it is an effort to bring down Trump, and one of the ways it's being used to do this is to scare the investors, to scare people in business. It's to scare people into not buying Treasury bills at auctions. It's to scare people into leaving, cashing out of the stock market—and sure enough, as the show began today, the stock market—the Dow Jones Industrial Average—was down about 900 points, supposedly because of the latest news about the spread of the coronavirus."
Fascinating. Meanwhile the fact that nearly 3,000 deaths have occurred—with more than 80,000 confirmed cases and outbreaks spreading in Italy, Iran, South Korea, and Japan—must all be part of the hype. The fact that the virus is wildly contagious and not well understood is part of the hype. The facts that the entire city of Wuhan—with a population of over 11 million—is under strict quarantine and that containment measures throughout China are disrupting office work, manufacturing, and transportation is all part of a clever, convoluted plan to hurt the presidency of Donald Trump. The fact that tourism and travel have dropped off around the world, and that various companies have reported losses as a result of the virus and the measures taken to combat it, it's all just calculated to undermine President Trump's singular metric of success—the surging "economy" embodied in the stock market.
Because there can't possibly be anything wrong with structuring economic policy entirely around a foundation of volatile investor speculation and a faith in limitless corporate growth. No, the strategy would be perfect if it weren't for the forces of evil aligning against Donald Trump to control global events in a way that hurts his political chances. In that sense, it's only reasonable for President Trump to dangle military aid in front of foreign leaders in exchange for dirt and propaganda against his political rivals. It's the only way he can fight back!
This latest drama comes on the heels of Limbaugh's receipt of the Presidential Medal of Freedom during President Trump's State of the Union Address—an honor which Limbaugh pretended to be surprised by. Some people have criticized the decision to give such a prestigious award to the kind of man who would glibly invent conspiracies about Chinese bio-weapons and downplay the severity of a little-understood contagion. On the other hand, if anyone should know about the dangers of viral respiratory infections—and the deadly pneumonia that can result in people with compromised systems—it's surely Rush Limbaugh. He is, after all, currently being treated for stage four lung cancer and is unlikely to recover.
That last point is worth restating: Rush Limbaugh most likely will not be with us for much longer. It's an important thought to keep in mind when things seem bleak.
Investing on the stock market can be intimidating, but we're here to help
Millennials don't trust the stock market.
That is the finding from the most recent Merrill Edge Report, which found 66% of Millennials trusted their savings accounts would be reliable in 20 years. In contrast, 71% Gen-Xers trust in their 401(k), while 54% of Baby Boomers believe in their pension. Generationally, it makes sense. Rock-solid pensions of the distant past were a foolproof reward for a life's work. The rise of the stock market from the 1980s-2000s made the same 401(k) seem like a safe profitable bet. And, the financial crisis of 2008–spurred on by massive institutional fraud rewarded with federal taxpayer bailouts—combined with years of stagnant wage growth, ever-increasing income inequality, and ever-higher cost-of-living expenses, means younger workers trust their saving accounts and nothing else. Can you blame them?