It’s a Sick Country

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

Working is a risky business these days. I’m not a coal miner, a heavy equipment operator or a logger. I don’t work in a steel mill where molten iron is poured into molds. Hell, I don’t even work in a kitchen where hot oil spatters and ovens bake at 400 degrees. I work at a library. The thing is, though, we work with the public; a public that in regular times carries and transmits communicable diseases.  It is a public I like serving. However, it’s not a public I want to die serving.

Therein lies the dilemma. Administrators fearful of funding cuts and trustees who in their daily lives can easily avoid contact with the masses are determined to open. The thing is, sick library workers can’t check out your books. Just like sick cooks and servers can’t prepare and serve you food. Not safely, anyhow. Nor can sick teachers teach your children.

There’s no rush to reopen among those who actually do the work. On the other hand, the ignorant and misinformed are joining forces with the impatient and the greedy to do exactly that. The hubris underscoring their demands could kill tens of thousands more.

Nonetheless, the fools rush in, caution to the wind, their god at their backs, and their credit cards in hand. Collateral damage is to be expected. Just like in wartime the collateral damage—that is the dead and permanently injured–will not be the rich and powerful. If justice was a thing, there would be trials. In the United States of Billionaires, there are no trials for the rich and powerful, only tax cuts and bailouts. The disappearing middle class—that grand invention of postwar US capitalism—goes to trial and pays a fine. The poor and the disenfranchised all too often face their judge in the form of a police officer’s bullet (more likely a fusillade of bullets.) It’s those freedoms they renamed their French fries after, don’t you know?

A friend of mine from the past who I rarely hear from any more was lamenting his work schedule one summer back in the 1970s. He was putting in fifty and sixty hours a week. Tired all the time even when he managed to score a dexamyl or two to propel him through a night of partying, he asked a rhetorical question one evening as he faded in and out of sleep on the couch in our apartment. Do I work to live or live to work? If I recall, he answered that question by quitting one of his jobs. He chose the former; time to live and put work in its place. Everyone who has to go back to work to pay their rent, buy food, and other such things that should be considered essential are now asking themselves a different and even more existential question. Do I risk my life to work or do I risk losing everything to keep myself safe from the risks working presents in a world where certain wealthy people’s bank accounts matter more than working people’s lives?

There’s a sickness in this country called the USA. It’s a chronic ailment that is now acute. It is a disease that is part conceit, part greed and underscored by a selfishness so vast those who suffer from it walk through their lives mostly unaware of their infection. Very few actions are weighed according to how they could affect others; only by how they might affect the ever-present me. This is true whether one is discussing the actions of the government, a financial enterprise, or parking in a supermarket parking lot. There is one prime motivation—what’s convenient for the individual is assumed to be the morality (if you can call it that) that supersedes any other concern. That’s what underscores the people who might as well be spitting in your face because they refuse to wear a mask. It’s also why politicians and the forces they serve demand schools open and lockdowns cease.

Donald Trump is a twenty-first century Caligula. His sense of reality is based in a childhood of privilege and prejudice. It is the latter which attracts some of his low rent supporters: the nazis, the klansmen and women, the sexists and homophobes. It is the former which brings the rest of his support on board. No matter how reprehensible and boorish the rich might find Trump’s behavior and pronouncements, they welcome his tax cuts and the power his regime brings them. They don’t mind making fun of his hairdo and his garish sense of interior decorating as ling as their assets continue to grow and he keeps the riff-raff fighting amongst themselves. Even those in his class who oppose him are quite silent regarding their tax cuts and the destitution they are beginning to cause. When it comes to the cops and shooting Black people, their protest is almost deafening in its silence. A whisper of alarm might follow another of his regime’s announcements that anti-environmental protections are being removed, but you don’t hear about any Democrats taking their investments out of those corporations that will benefit the most from the removal of said protections.

Trumpism is useful only in its exposure of the essential nature of the US political and economic system. The fact that the candidate the Democratic Party leadership has anointed to run against Trump is not only the most right-wing of all the candidates who began the race, it is further proof of the sham that most US voters consider a genuine two-party system. While the world is destroyed by those who own the political system in the name of profits, the media and the Democratic opposition argue about the propriety of Donald Trump giving his acceptance speech for the Republican nomination at the White House or at the Gettysburg Battlefield. Although one can hope that Trump’s appearance at Gettysburg will spell the beginning of the end for him just as it did for the Confederate Army in Pickett’s Charge, the truth of the matter is that where Trump gives his acceptance speech doesn’t matter.  It’s what his re-election will mean that does.

Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. He has a new book, titled Nowhere Land: Journeys Through a Broken Nation coming out in Spring 2024.   He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: