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Radical Politics and Pandemic Nightmares

In this wide ranging interview with educators from the University of Barcelona , I analyze the Covid-19 crisis as part of more comprehensive crisis of politics and morality through what I label as pandemic pedagogy. I argue that in a time of crisis, the relationship between language and politics becomes more vivid, if not urgent and as such makes clear the dominant underpinnings of the ways in which the Trump regime has used language in the service of fear, political opportunism, corruption, and the violation of human rights. I argue that the notion of the plague is more than a medical concept and refers to ideological and political plagues that set the broader context for understanding how Trump’s response to the Covid-19 crisis has produced unimaginable suffering, massive deaths, and the further legitimation of lies and right-wing violence. Trump increasingly weaponizes language to attack almost any form of criticism regarding his handling of the crisis. There are no demilitarized spaces in Trump’s America. Nor are there any spaces left untouched by neoliberal capitalism and its financialization and commercialization of everything. In my view, the pandemic has revealed the toxic underside of neoliberal capitalism with its assault on the welfare state, its undermining of public health, its attack on workers’ rights and its affirmation of the economy and the accumulation of capital over human needs and life itself.

Under such circumstances, a pandemic pedagogy emerges in the propaganda machines of the right wing media such as those controlled by the Rupert Murdoch and Robert Mercer families. These cultural apparatuses echo the Trump regimes support for conspiracy theories, lies about testing and fake cures for the virus, all the while engaging in a politics of evasion that covers up both Trump’s incompetence and the machineries of violence, greed, and terminal exclusion at the core of neoliberal capitalism. One consequence is that truth, evidence, and science fall prey to the language of mystification and legitimates a tsunami of ignorance and the further collapse of morality and civic courage. What this pandemic reveals in shocking images of long food lines, the stacking of dead bodies, and the state sanctioned language of Social Darwinism and racial cleansing is that war has become an extension of politics and functions as a form of pandemic pedagogy in which critical thought is derailed, dissent suppressed, surveillance normalized, racism intensified, and ignorance is elevated to a virtue. The coronavirus pandemic has made clear the false and dangerous neoliberal notion that all problems are a matter of individual responsibility.

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

The full-blown pandemic has revealed in all its ugliness the death producing mechanisms of systemic inequality, deregulation, the dismantling of the welfare state, and the increasingly dangerous assault on the environment. Beneath the massive failure of leadership from the Trump administration lies the long history of concentrated power in the hands of the 1 percent, shameless corporate welfare, political corruption, and the merging of money and politics to deny the most vulnerable access to health care, a living wage, worker protection, and strong labor movements capable of challenging corporate power and the cruelty of austerity and right-wing policies that maim, cripple and, kill hundreds of thousands, as is evident in the current pandemic. The brutality of neoliberal fascism, with its hyped up version of Social Darwinism, is now openly defended in the call to reopen the economy by restricting or eliminating protective measures that would slow the pace of the virus. Most at risk are those populations who have been considered disposable such as Blacks, undocumented immigrants, the racially incarcerated, the poor, and the working class. These populations are now told to sacrifice their lives in the interest of filling the coffers of the corporate elite and the political zombies that rule the United States.

The pandemic crisis has shattered the myth that each of us are defined exclusively by our self-interest and as individuals are solely responsible for the problems we face. Both myths have completely broken down as it becomes obvious that as the pandemic unfolds shortages in crucial medical equipment, lack of testing, lack of public investments, and failed public health services are largely due to right-wing neoliberal measures and regressive tax policies that have drained resources from public health, public goods, and other vital social institutions. The pandemic has torn away the cover of a neoliberal economic system marked by what Thomas Piketty calls “the violence of social inequality.” Inequality is a toxin that destroys lives, democratic institutions, and civic culture and it is normalized through what can be called a pandemic pedagogy produced by a right-wing media culture that has become nothing more than a sounding board for the rich and powerful. As the social is individualized and it becomes difficult to translate private issues into systemic considerations, inequality becomes normalized and the pandemic crisis is isolated from the political, economic, social and cultural issues that fuel it. I conclude this interview by analyzing the role that higher education plays in responding to the pandemic, which mimics a neoliberal logic, and makes clear that the pandemic has to be addressed in a way that redirects higher education to educate its students as critical agents who can both hold power accountable and work in the future to eliminate the economic, political, and educational conditions that allow such pandemics to erupt in such death-dealing forms.

Henry A. Giroux currently holds the McMaster University Chair for Scholarship in the Public Interest in the English and Cultural Studies Department and is the Paulo Freire Distinguished Scholar in Critical Pedagogy. His most recent books are America’s Education Deficit and the War on Youth (Monthly Review Press, 2013), Neoliberalism’s War on Higher Education (Haymarket Press, 2014), The Public in Peril: Trump and the Menace of American Authoritarianism (Routledge, 2018), and the American Nightmare: Facing the Challenge of Fascism (City Lights, 2018), On Critical Pedagogy, 2nd edition (Bloomsbury), and Race, Politics, and Pandemic Pedagogy: Education in a Time of Crisis (Bloomsbury 2021):His website is www. henryagiroux.com.

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