The Dystopian Coronavirus America

A parade of armed white nationalists took over the Michigan statehouse demanding that Gretchen Whitmer “Liberate Michigan” and reopen. The police stood there and did nothing, with some likely smiling inside. Fast forward two months to Portland, Oregon, where protesters outside a federal building were tear gassed and beaten with batons by federal agents.

Covid-19 is supposedly a “plandemic,” yet it has killed at least 164,000 Americans as of August 12th. In Salem, MA, a Facebook friend reported hearing a group of young men hanging out in a downtown parking lot around midnight. One of them was singing “We Shall Overcome,” misappropriating Pete Seeger’s protest song. The group had previously gone through Salem center, using knives to slash “Masks Required” signs. It wouldn’t be surprising if in a month, after one of them recovers from a serious bout of Covid-19, they reflect on their stupidity to a local newspaper.

Better educated “plandemic” Americans comb through research reports, looking to cite out-of-context lines to justify their attitudes. Some on Facebook, may find a rare doctor who supports the “plandemic” theory and repost as “insightful.”

Please tell that to my friend’s 65-year old aunt in Florida with Covid, who after a week on a ventilator, remains on oxygen at a rehab. Tell that to a friend of a friend – an African American nurse who got Covid-19 twice, the first time symptomless, the second time it took a heavy toll. Tell that to Boris Johnson, who even before his Covid infection would be preferable to Trump, and since then has had a seeming attitudinal shift. He’s brought Great Britain out of the worse (so far, at least) and now advocates for a ‘New Deal’ to address the pandemic’s economic fallout.

The United States is one of the few countries to so fully embrace the concept that a pandemic, which ravages the country, is either a hoax or really not all that bad. Undoubtedly, this has a lot to do with national leadership, which, like Brazil, does not take it seriously. In consequence, there has been a vacuous national response consisting of misinformation and occasional half-hearted advisories, only to be followed by contradictory statements or tweets.

Yet it also has to do with who we are as Americans.

But first off, it should be noted that it nothing to do with bastardized concept of “freedom.” “Freedom” does not entails causing the virus to spread – as do those who want everywhere open without restrictions and not use masks – as the virus directly inhibits the well-being and freedom of others. Also, it should not be forgotten that the same people who supported heavy-handed police responses to unarmed BLM protesters cheered on the foot soldiers of white supremacy (with their swastikas, nooses and Confederate flags) as they took over a state government building in Michigan.

It has to do with money consistently being siphoned out of the American public sphere, from public education to the increasing monopolization of the mass media.

Spending on K-12 education has decreased since the Great Recession, school closures have increased and, although high school graduation levels are up, many graduates cannot do math problems or read proficiently. Lack of a good education is evident in an alarming amount of Americans’ diminished ability to think critically or to judge with logical coherence.

Two factors are primarily involved in the mass media’s sensationalism and its ill-service of the American people: the elimination of the Fairness Doctrine in 1987 and 90% of the US mass media being controlled by only five corporations (p. 35): Comcast, 21st Century Fox, AT&T-Warner Media, National Amusements and Comcast. This has resulted in catchy, over-the-top reporting with eye-popping headlines in place of more comprehensive PBS-like reporting, which has long stood out as anomaly, rather than the standard. It has also limited the variety of the media we ingest, where often even local news is owned by major corporations.

Just as bugs with a “zombie parasite” in their brain are driven to flout caution and are easily consumed by a predator, a parasite has infected our collective brain, driving us to climb up a ladder, where at the top, our heads are lopped off.

Five months into the pandemic, some US states and municipalities are finally issuing mask wearing orders. But even this is still much debated in many cities and states. In Florida, a Covid-19 epicenter, there is no state-wide mask order, indoor restaurants remain open and many people still go about life as normal there, where nearly 7,000 are infected and over 150 people die each day from the disease.

As almost every other country in the world has taken the pandemic seriously and the US remains, far and away, the world leader in Covid deaths and cases, we should begin to rethink American exceptionalism. Does it mean that the US has a particularly democratic system which all of the world should emulate? Efforts to limit mail-in votes during the worst pandemic in 100 years, federal agents’ brutal response to BLM protests and the president’s use of the police and the National Guard to clear protesters for a campaign appearance – this all calls US democracy into question. Does American exceptionalism mean that in a country where money is siphoned to corporate subsidies, rampant tax breaks for the wealthy and the bloated military industrial complex, that lobbyists have had their ultimate victory? The redirecting of money away from public well-being – Post Office, basic education and public health – has borne fruit in the most disastrous Covid response in the world.

Alas, we are a lost, divided and confused nation. No longer are we the laughing stock of the world, as when Donald Trump was elected, but its pity.

It is high time we become less “exceptional.”

As a prolific author from the Boston area, Peter F. Crowley writes in various forms, including short fiction, op-eds, poetry and academic essays. In 2020, his poetry book Those Who Hold Up the Earth was published by Kelsay Books and received impressive reviews by Kirkus Review, the Bangladeshi New Age and two local Boston-area newspapers. His writing can be found in Middle East Monitor, Znet, 34th Parallel, Pif Magazine, Galway Review, Digging the Fat, Adelaide’s Short Story and Poetry Award anthologies (finalist in both) and The Opiate.

His forthcoming books, due out later in 2023, are That Night and Other Stories (CAAB Publishing) and Empire’s End (Alien Buddha Press)