Terminal Conditions

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

As I write, the United States is approaching 80,000 deaths from COVID-19. Undoubtedly, this number will exceed 100,000 in the next few months. As a consequence of the incompetence and arrogance of the Trump Administration and the denial of scientific evidence by various Republican Governors, the situation will worsen, especially for the most vulnerable. Everyone from the working poor to shuttered populations in prisons, detention campus, and nursing homes to people of color will continue to suffer disproportionately.

One only has to compare the number of dead in the U.S. to either Germany or South Korea to comprehend fully the deliberate death-dealing disaster enabled by Trump and his minions. In South Korea, quick and effective action by the government, learning from past pandemics, resulted in very few deaths. As of now, the 600 who perished in South Korea from COVID-19, in a population of over 50 million, would be roughly equivalent to around 4,000 deaths in the U.S. In contrast, there are now almost twenty times that extrapolated number.

Like South Korea, other countries with competent, compassionate, and science-based leadership (Germany, New Zealand, Norway) are moving towards re-establishing the economic, social, and cultural fabric of their countries. On the other hand, the U.S. economic, social, and cultural fabric is in tatters. While much of this shredding can be attributed to the policies of Trump and his Republican allies, a longer look reveals a conscious tearing of this fabric by the financial and political elite for at least the last forty years.

On cannot separate Trump or Trumpism from the reign of the neoliberal order that has marked capitalism in the U.S. and around the world since the 1970s. As the recently passed economist Paul Kennedy pointed out in his invaluable 2017 book, Vampire Capitalism, “During the last 40 years or so a disruptive and largely predatory model of capitalism has become established…whereby a minority of low or non-paying capitalists…have been able to commandeer a large portion of the wealth generated from economic growth while failing to either reinvest this in ways that creates jobs and raises the incomes of everyone else or to remunerate their employees in proportion to the latter’s contribution to creating new values.”

In the name of salvaging the economic order from the ravages of the coronavirus pandemic, the Washington establishment in the Congress, the White House, and the Fed has shoveled money to these same capitalists. Instead of more reformist approaches taken by any number of European countries to guarantee the incomes of the working class, the federal government enacted legislation that provided only a pittance of relief to those most in need. Indeed, in those states run by Republicans over the last decades getting unemployment has become even more difficult.

In addition, policies adopted at the federal and state level, mostly enabled by Republicans, have created dire conditions for the health and welfare of the public. Such policies, according to Henry Giroux in his 2018 book, The Public in Peril consisted of “deregulating restrictions on corporate power, cutting taxes for the rich, expanding the military, privatizing public education, suppressing civil liberties, waging a war against dissent, treating Black communities as war zones, and dismantling all public goods.”

The hollowing out of public treasuries by corporate and oligarchic interests further exacerbates the income inequality that has become a trademark of contemporary capital. Such inequality has a profound impact beyond just the socio-economic domain. Economic inequality informs the degree to which social, cultural and even psychological bonds are disrupted and destroyed. All of which adds to the terminal conditions now confronting not only predatory capitalism in the United States, but also to the safety and sanity of much of the U.S. population.

The appeal by Biden and his corporate cohorts in the Democratic Party to repudiate Trump and restore so-called “decency” rings rather hollow when one considers this recent bipartisan history of neoliberal privatization and deregulation. As egregious as this is, the political prating about re-establishing U.S. leadership in the world neglects both the awful imperialist past and the present declension of U.S. global power. In particular, the impact here of the coronavirus pandemic has ironically underscored American “exceptionalism” as nothing more than an ideological cover for a flailing global power and failing state.

Although defeating Trump and Trumpism is an essential task for the health of this country and the planet, this is only one step in a longer process of rejecting the political-economic mechanisms of inequality. In addition, there must be a reckoning with the persistent racist and xenophobic currents in American life. If we are to avoid reinforcing the terminal conditions that exist in our society, our only hope is a radical agenda that truly represents our egalitarian and ecologically sound aspirations.


Fran Shor is a Michigan-based retired teacher, author, and political activist.