Common Decency Lives

As we slide inexorably into the tunnel of coronavirus fear and despair, here are some candles of hope.

Back in the days of Andrew Jackson, the French scholar Alexis de Tocqueville toured this country and wrote a book called Democracy in America.  Among the many remarkable things that he reported was his observation that, wherever he went, people organized themselves to deal with their problems.  They didn’t wait for higher authority to tell them what to do.  They saw what needed to be done and did it.

In these perilous times of pandemic, when our national government seems paralyzed, we are seeing just that spirit reemerge.  As this article reports, governors, local officials, small business owners and volunteers are stepping in all across the country.

Governors of both parties have taken affirmative steps to slow the spread of the virus by shutting down venues where large numbers might gather and transmit the disease, including schools.  Universities across the country have made decisions to shut down their campuses and conduct classes on-line.  All major athletic associations, from interscholastic and intercollegiate to professional, have suspended their seasons.

Just in my local area, two recent headlines (The Sunday Item, March 15) inspired me.  First, a regional medical center, Geisinger, rather than wait for the uncertain supplies of coronavirus tests from federal authorities, just developed their own test kit.  Second, faced with the imminent loss of in-school meals for needy students, as schools shut down, a local businessman and volunteers worked to make sure that those students would still get good meals.

This was the spirit that Tocqueville saw; this is the spirit that we all know.   It lives still.

That’s the good news.

The bad news.  Well, for starters, this pandemic threatens the whole country and the whole world.  There is an urgent need for national leadership that sets national responses, and coordinates responses with other countries worldwide.  To date we are not getting that.

More bad news.  The costs of this pandemic will be astronomical and widely distributed. Obviously the entire health care system is and will be severely stressed.  All kinds of supplies and equipment will be in short supply.  Medical personnel will be under intolerable strain.  More broadly, whole sectors of the economy are being shut down.  Closing retail businesses could be fatal to many of them (though very good for Amazon).  Service workers, often working multiple gigs at low wages with no benefits, will suddenly see their thin shreds of security ripped away.  These are precisely the people who often have no health insurance.

We are in short heading into a deep recession that will disproportionately hurt the poorest workers and the smallest businesses.

Only the federal government can mobilize the needed resources and get them to those who need them.  And the federal government (President and Congress) seem to date unable to agree on a remedy proportional to the threat.  We need a major and rapid federal intervention that not only bails out the airlines (as President Trump proposes) but puts substantial cash in the hands of the poorest people and the smallest businesses, because they are most vulnerable to the economic havoc that confronts us.

The “can-do” spirit that Tocqueville saw is indispensable—but it can’t do it all.

More articles by:

John Peeler is the former chairman (now retired) of the Political Science department at Bucknell University.

Weekend Edition
August 14, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Matthew Hoh
Lights! Camera! Kill! Hollywood, the Pentagon and Imperial Ambitions.
Joseph Grosso
Bloody Chicken: Inside the American Poultry Industry During the Time of COVID
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: It Had to be You
H. Bruce Franklin
August 12-22, 1945: Washington Starts the Korean and Vietnam Wars
Pete Dolack
Business as Usual Equals Many Extra Deaths from Global Warming
Paul Street
Whispers in the Asylum (Seven Days in August)
Richard Falk – Daniel Falcone
Predatory Capitalism and the Nuclear Threat in the Age of Trump
Paul Fitzgerald - Elizabeth Gould
‘Magical Thinking’ has Always Guided the US Role in Afghanistan
Ramzy Baroud
The Politics of War: What is Israel’s Endgame in Lebanon and Syria?
Ron Jacobs
It’s a Sick Country
Eve Ottenberg
Trump’s Plan: Gut Social Security, Bankrupt the States
Richard C. Gross
Trump’s Fake News
Jonathan Cook
How the Guardian Betrayed Not Only Corbyn But the Last Vestiges of British Democracy
Joseph Natoli
What Trump and the Republican Party Teach Us
Robert Fisk
Can Lebanon be Saved?
Brian Cloughley
Will Biden be Less Belligerent Than Trump?
Kenn Orphan
We Do Not Live in the World of Before
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Compromise & the Status Quo
Andrew Bacevich
Biden Wins, Then What?
Thomas Klikauer – Nadine Campbell
The Criminology of Global Warming
Michael Welton
Toppled Monuments and the Struggle For Symbolic Space
Prabir Purkayastha
Why 5G is the First Stage of a Tech War Between the U.S. and China
Daniel Beaumont
The Reign of Error
Adrian Treves – John Laundré
Science Does Not Support the Claims About Grizzly Hunting, Lethal Removal
David Rosen
A Moment of Social Crisis: Recalling the 1970s
Maximilian Werner
Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf: Textual Manipulations in Anti-wolf Rhetoric
Pritha Chandra
Online Education and the Struggle over Disposable Time
Robert Koehler
Learning from the Hibakushas
Seth Sandronsky
Teaching in a Pandemic: an Interview With Mercedes K. Schneider
Dean Baker
Financing Drug Development: What the Pandemic Has Taught Us
Greta Anderson
Blaming Mexican Wolves for Livestock Kills
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The Meaning of the Battle of Salamis
Mel Gurtov
The World Bank’s Poverty Illusion
Paul Gilk
The Great Question
Rev. Susan K. Williams Smith
Trump Doesn’t Want Law and Order
Martin Cherniack
Neo-conservatism: The Seductive Lure of Lying About History
Nicky Reid
Pick a Cold War, Any Cold War!
George Wuerthner
Zombie Legislation: the Latest Misguided Wildfire Bill
Lee Camp
The Execution of Elephants and Americans
Christopher Brauchli
I Read the News Today, Oh Boy…
Tony McKenna
The Truth About Prince Philip
Louis Proyect
MarxMail 2.0
Sidney Miralao
Get Military Recruiters Out of Our High Schools
Jon Hochschartner
Okra of Time
David Yearsley
Bringing Landscapes to Life: the Music of Johann Christian Bach