The world is amidst the COVID-19 crisis and in our corner of the planet a presidential campaign is reduced to a single issue: Trump/not Trump. Pick your poison.
At a time that calls for national leadership or least debate on the issues, Congress unanimously passed the two-trillion-dollar Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act handing money to corporations so that they can, among other things, buy up the competition at pandemic prices.
What passes for a liberal agenda is without content
Now that the Great Gray Hope has retreated to Vermont, the bankruptcy of the Democratic Party is further exposed. Sanders’ plea to complete the New Deal with universal healthcare coverage, a green new deal, plus ending endless wars has quickly been blown away, leaving nothing but a vote for the ostensibly lesser evil.
What passes for a liberal agenda is basically without content other than proffering a candidate whose main qualification is that he is not Trump. Joe Biden is sheltering in place, only coming out on occasion to make feel-good “I’m Ridin’ with Biden” videos showing he’s nice a guy.
Of course, nods to progressive measures will be in the Democratic party platform and some scripted murmurs to that effect will be made on the campaign trail. But we should remember the lessons from Obama, who chose as his running mate one of the more conservative members of his party – and incidentally this year’s Democratic standard bearer. Doing Obama one better, Biden has floated the possibility of a Republican running mate.
Once in the Oval Office, we were told to “give Obama a chance” to close Guantánamo, pass a union card check-off, revoke NAFTA, withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan, and prosecute the Bush regime for war crimes. That didn’t happen, so the lesser-evil proponents whined that Obama’s “hands were tied.” And indeed, they were. His hands were tied to the ruling circles that financed his campaign and to whom he was beholden.
This will be the case even more so with Biden, who helped create the student debt crisis. Biden obsequiously reassured a group of billionaire Wall Street bankers that if he wins: “No one’s standard of living will change, nothing would fundamentally change…I need you very badly…I won’t let you down. I promise you.” Despite Biden’s homilies about the middle class, there is no ambiguity about which class he serves.
The argument made by many proponents for voting Democrat is that the evils in the world are personified by Trump. Some liberals seem more troubled by Trump than the pandemic…if they make the distinction.
A couple of months ago, Trump’s prospects for four more years looked auspicious with Bernie burned out and the Democrats left with a candidate who confused with sister for his wife. The economy was doing well for those who do well, especially after Trump’s 2017 tax cuts. What could go wrong for Trump?
The end of epidemiological comfort
Then the pandemic hit and, as we are just beginning to fully comprehend, everything has changed with what geneticist Georgi Marinov calls the end of epidemiological comfort.
Marinov reports that diagnostic tests for the virus are problematic. The disease can be latent or asymptomatic, facilitating its spread. Once contracted, there is no known cure. The disease can be fatal or leave permanent disabling effects. Immunity after exposure may be temporary, weak, or non-existent. And like AIDS, a vaccine may not be forthcoming. At best, a vaccine is years in the making and may be of limited effectiveness. Unlike AIDS, COVID-19 is much more difficult to contain.
Others have a more sanguine medical prognosis on, say, acquired immunity. Still, the economic, social, and political challenges to achieving what approximates herd immunity for COVID-19 in the modern, interconnected global community are daunting. Piecemeal measures, in one region or one country, are like having peeing sections in a swimming pool.
Governments are caught in a bind. Quarantine the population and the real economy is sequestered. Expose the workforce to the virus and it spreads, necessitating containment by quarantining, only made more difficult than if the workforce was quarantined in the first place. A dystopian future is not beyond the realm of possibility, where the ability of essential workers to supply necessities such as food, water, and electricity is compromised.
Neoliberalism’s limitations to provide for the public welfare
Exposed is the failure of private enterprise to meet basic human needs. The “market” has a simple solution for the shortages of medical supplies such as personal protective equipment (PPE). Raise the prices so that those with means can obtain them and those without can risk death.
The public health need for research in combating varieties of coronaviruses was evident after the outbreaks of SARS in 2002 and MERS in 2012. But for big pharma, profits are in treating the symptoms of chronic disease, such as hypertension and diabetes, and not in preventing diseases. The inadequacy of private enterprise to meet public health needs is not due to personality defects of greedy drug conglomerate owners. Rather, it is hardwired into capitalism, driven by profits.
The pandemic has exposed the insufficiency of market mechanisms to meet public welfare functions, counter to the ideology of neoliberalism that government is the problem. The neoliberal model reserves to government the coercive powers of the state, such as police and military, and leaves the welfare functions to private enterprise and charities. The Reagan mantra of small government and deregulation of corporations – actually started by the Democrat Jimmy Carter – no longer has its panache.
A government welfare measure long overdue even before the pandemic is Bernie Sanders’ signature program, Medicare for All. While Trump is providing Medicare payments to hospitals for uninsured COVID-19 patients, Biden and the Democrats are serving as a firewall for the private insurance industry. Outflanking Trump on the right, they propose subsidizing COBRA coverage to newly unemployed workers to pay their private insurance bills, leaving the unemployed who cannot afford COBRA and tens of millions of others without coverage.
Now that it is ever clearer government needs to step in where private enterprise has failed, a corollary question is raised: in whose interest does the government serve. Neither of these questions – the welfare vs. the coercive functions of the state and the class basis of the state – are ones the political class wants to be raised, let alone addressed.
A ruling class consensus is coalescing that Trump will be the fall guy, blamed for the increasingly undeniable defects of the neoliberal model. Let Trump take the hit for his obvious mismanagement of the crisis, while leaving intact the underlying structural imperatives of the neoliberal state’s failing to provide for the public welfare. That is, their solution is to avoid addressing a solution.
The fix is in. Trump will not be enjoying the free and favorable corporate media coverage as in 2016. The evil Donald Trump will retreat to his midtown Manhattan tower and the avuncular Joe Biden will sleepwalk into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.